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Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century [Paperback]

James Clifford
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 21 1997

When culture makes itself at home in motion, where does an anthropologist stand? In a follow-up to The Predicament of Culture, one of the defining books for anthropology in the last decade, James Clifford takes the proper measure: a moving picture of a world that doesn't stand still, that reveals itself en route, in the airport lounge and the parking lot as much as in the marketplace and the museum.

In this collage of essays, meditations, poems, and travel reports, Clifford takes travel and its difficult companion, translation, as openings into a complex modernity. He contemplates a world ever more connected yet not homogeneous, a global history proceeding from the fraught legacies of exploration, colonization, capitalist expansion, immigration, labor mobility, and tourism. Ranging from Highland New Guinea to northern California, from Vancouver to London, he probes current approaches to the interpretation and display of non-Western arts and cultures. Wherever people and things cross paths and where institutional forces work to discipline unruly encounters, Clifford's concern is with struggles to displace stereotypes, to recognize divergent histories, to sustain "postcolonial" and "tribal" identities in contexts of domination and globalization.

Travel, diaspora, border crossing, self-location, the making of homes away from home: these are transcultural predicaments for the late twentieth century. The map that might account for them, the history of an entangled modernity, emerges here as an unfinished series of paths and negotiations, leading in many directions while returning again and again to the struggles and arts of cultural encounter, the impossible, inescapable tasks of translation.


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Early on in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, James Clifford describes his new approach to studying cultures: "Where professional anthropology has erected a border, I portray a borderland, a zone of contacts--blocked and permitted, policed and transgressive." In the not-too-distant past, anthropologists traveled to remote areas and observed cultures that they assumed were not influenced much by the outside world. Clifford points out that since there is no such thing as an isolated culture today, the tools and assumptions of anthropology must change to suit the hybrid and fluid cultures that currently populate the world. In this book, Clifford examines a series of places where culture is in transition--places he calls "borderlands." He visits a few art museums, some Mayan ruins, and the New York subway. Everywhere he goes, he finds cultures colliding and changing. That's not terribly surprising, but his interpretation of these otherwise banal places is thought-provoking.

This book is a grab bag: a collection of academic lectures, travel-journal entries, meditations on history, and impressionistic recollections. In the chapter entitled "White Ethnicity," Clifford interweaves his memories of a subway ride across New York City several decades ago with paragraphs from an Audre Lourde essay on identity politics and paragraphs from John Wesley Powell's account of his exploration of the Colorado River. In less capable hands, this format could be quite muddled and confusing, but Clifford pulls it off nicely. Clifford uses these three "travel" narratives to explore the major concerns of this collection. Routes is an accessible, innovative guide to one of the major issues anthropologists are grappling with today. --Jill Marquis

From Library Journal

In this series of essays, Clifford (The Predicament of Culture, Harvard Univ., 1988) explores culture further, viewing it in motion and where anthropology stands in relation to it. The author focuses on a "concrete mediation" of the cultural figure "native" and the intercultural "traveler." He discusses anthropological work, especially ethnography, tracing its development using famous anthropologists, including Bronislaw Malinowski and Franz Boas, as milestones. Clifford asserts that "intensive participant-observation is probably anthropology's most enduring contribution to humanistic study," but he finds it "deeply problematic" and "urges its reform and dissemination." Viewing museums as "continuations of indigenous traditions of storytelling, collection, and display," he probes current approaches to the interpretation and display of non-Western arts and cultures. Recommended for academic and anthropology collections.?Mary J. Nickum, Bozeman, Mont.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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5.0 out of 5 stars An Anthropology for Postmodern Times Sept. 8 2001
Format:Paperback
I really had a hard time conceptualizing my own ethnographic research in sociology concerning a non-federally recognized Native American community in South Carolina (now a book: Native Americans in the Carolina Borderlands: A Critical Ethnography, Carolinas Press, 2000). The lights came on after reading the Predicament of Cultures by Clifford. His theme of "Borderlands" is so central to the experience of many cultures around the globe--including our own! To understand how people occupy and contend with borderzones between races, classes, cultures, and histories, turn to Clifford's work. His work is essential for the social analyst because we, all of us, are increasingly living within borderlands and, thus, the need for new conceptualizations of the nature of the social/cultural. Clifford is one of the leading figures within the growing movement toward new, critical, and alternative forms of ethnography. Routes is about travel and how we might conceptualize culture when it is "put into motion." A must-read for all ethnographers, as well as those concerned with postmodernity and postcolonialism.
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Format:Paperback
The roote/routes of transnational (as well as local) belonging are explored in all their full global/local complexity and poetics. Probing and interesting at many points. I use one of the poems/essays/travelogues, "Honolulu: The Year of the Ram" in my course on the literatures of Hawai'i, as it gives a tourist view of Hawaii and moves way beyond that in its critique of US militarism and the arrogant masculinist gaze of "anthropology." Clifford is, for me, a kind of global and local poet of the postcolonial condition, an honest and caring soul in the muck.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Deconstructing the histriocity of cosmopolitan Dec 17 2001
Format:Paperback
Clifford looks at culture in transition, identity construction in motion and the relationship between transnational movements of people and transnational conceptions of identity. This perspective of culture on the move is particularly important to understanding the rapid dynamics of culture, culture clash, cognitive dissonance and social re-embedding taking place in relationship to mass mediated electronic representations.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Anthropology for Postmodern Times Sept. 8 2001
By Michael Spivey, Ph.D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I really had a hard time conceptualizing my own ethnographic research in sociology concerning a non-federally recognized Native American community in South Carolina (now a book: Native Americans in the Carolina Borderlands: A Critical Ethnography, Carolinas Press, 2000). The lights came on after reading the Predicament of Cultures by Clifford. His theme of "Borderlands" is so central to the experience of many cultures around the globe--including our own! To understand how people occupy and contend with borderzones between races, classes, cultures, and histories, turn to Clifford's work. His work is essential for the social analyst because we, all of us, are increasingly living within borderlands and, thus, the need for new conceptualizations of the nature of the social/cultural. Clifford is one of the leading figures within the growing movement toward new, critical, and alternative forms of ethnography. Routes is about travel and how we might conceptualize culture when it is "put into motion." A must-read for all ethnographers, as well as those concerned with postmodernity and postcolonialism.
17 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roots/routes of transnational belonging explored. May 9 1999
By Rob Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The roote/routes of transnational (as well as local) belonging are explored in all their full global/local complexity and poetics. Probing and interesting at many points. I use one of the poems/essays/travelogues, "Honolulu: The Year of the Ram" in my course on the literatures of Hawai'i, as it gives a tourist view of Hawaii and moves way beyond that in its critique of US militarism and the arrogant masculinist gaze of "anthropology." Clifford is, for me, a kind of global and local poet of the postcolonial condition, an honest and caring soul in the muck.
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