A Convegerence between Anthropology and Literature: How Reading, Writing, and Ethnography Intertwine

Munirah AL-Gharib


This text examines the convergent and double-sided relationship between anthropology as an ethnological study, which of necessity uses literary language - and writing itself as a subject for ethnography. Cultural Reader-response theory shows that every text involves some participation on the reader’s part and is not a solitary unchanging object. This response will itself be a function of social and cultural relations. At the same time, cultural and social life, studied by anthropologists, only becomes explicable through language and the results of ethnographic fieldwork are always, therefore, mediated by linguistic forms. The development of literary anthropology gained momentum in the 1980s but had already germinated in the pioneering work of Levi-Strauss whose work on kinship structures in the 1940s and his study of myth turned the attention of anthropologists towards the important and neglected dimension of language. Since then it has been recognised that an anthropologist’s work is diminished if theoretical and linguistic aspects are unaddressed. and the realm of socio-anthropology has been enriched. Disciplinary and genre distinctions have become very fluid in the past few decades and many university departmental studies now blend literary criticism with culture studies, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, folk discourses, and hermeneutics. While a standard definition of one of any two terms may be possible, it may not always be practical. Therefore, the definition of these two terms—anthropology and literature—needs to be updated from time to time to reflect ongoing developments and the advancements taking place in various fields. In particular, it is evident that coinciding with the linguistic turn’ in English literature studies, the discourse of anthropology has become permeable. A broad ‘literary anthropology’ can become possible as a science only if it maintains a dialogue between ideas, actions, and texts. The results and conclusions of this study substantiate the inseparable and interdependent relationship between two traditional approaches to investigating man as a social being.


Anthropology, Literature, Ethnography, Culture, Discourse

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.9n.5p.91


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