Just a foreword? Malinowski, Geertz and the anthropologist as native

  • Stefano Montes University of Palermo, Italy and University of Tartu, Estonia, Ülikooli 17, 51014 Tartu


Read through semiotic analysis, the narrative intrigue of (the evenemential and cognitive dimension of) the anthropologist’s work reveals the epistemological configuration encasing some central and interrelated questions in anthropology: the communication-interaction between anthropologists and other inter-actants, their invention-application of some metalanguages and the subsequent intercultural translations of concepts and processes. To explore this configuration, I compare a foreword written by Malinowski and another one written by Geertz. In these forewords, they resort to refined stories to frame complex argumentations. In Malinowski’s foreword, two superposing stories are told: (1) a tale of a subject’s performance newly endowed with professional competences (the ethnologist) and a discipline possessing a more modern and positive knowledge (Functionalist ethnology) and (2) a symmetric tale of exchanged messages (with relative sanction and counter-sanction) between an enunciator (who has to lay the foundations of this science) and an addressee (who has to confirm the validity of messages). To lay these foundations, the enunciator implicitly proposes an epistemology based on some values (such as ‘penetration’, ‘progression’, and the ‘overcoming of limits’) privileging the metaphor of space and the cumulative aspect of process. As far as Geertz’s foreword is concerned, the enunciator has recourse to two different stories: (1) one concerning the interaction between Geertz and his editor (rather than with natives) to justify his hermeneutic position and (2) another one, larger and including, concerning the reversal of causality relationships to reaffirm the value of coincidence. If in Malinowski’s foreword, stories are used to redefine some programmatic principles (‘discontinuity’ and the combination of ‘three different oxymora’) through which ethnology can be given a scientific nature and a new foundation, in Geertz’s foreword, on the contrary, value is given to ‘coincidence’ and ‘writing’ in its multiple forms and (paradoxically, for an interpretativist) a binary discursive epistemology and a style of thought privileging the nonterminative and imperfective process have been combined.


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How to Cite
Montes, S. (2006). Just a foreword? Malinowski, Geertz and the anthropologist as native. Sign Systems Studies, 34(2), 357-386. https://doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2006.34.2.05