Auto-anthropology as an anthropology of the individual: a proposal
Paper short abstract:
This paper proposes “auto-anthropology” as a viable method of studying the individual anthropologically. I shall examine several autobiographical studies by anthropologists and argue that anthropologically informed personal stories make a genuine contribution to the anthropology of the individual.
Paper long abstract:
This paper proposes "auto-anthropology" as a viable method of studying the individual anthropologically. By reflexively examining one's own life history in its cultural and social contexts "from inside" those contexts, "auto-anthropology" can illuminate a peculiar way of life in the form of anthropologically informed personal story. I shall examine classics such as Paul Radin's Crashing Thunder and Oscar Lewis's Children of Sanchez as well as more recent reflexive autobiographies by anthropologists, and proposes that these "auto-anthropological" works should be read not as case illustrations of larger culture but as genuine attempts at the anthropological study of the individual. The individual and his or her "way of life" revealed and told through his or her own words and concepts may be or ought to be the most important "subject" of anthropology in the post-postmodernist/post-poststructuralist era. It is no longer possible to confidently speak of "culture" or "society" not only because of deconstructionist critiques of such concepts but because of the ever flowing and ever diversifying worlds in this age of globalization. The individual may be the only tangible thread that we can grasp in the ocean of de-territorialized and globalized cultures and their bits and pieces. The individual may well be the last locus of anthropological study of the ever increasing and complicating "ways of life" in the world today. Finally, I shall propose that every anthropologist should attempt at "auto-anthropological" story-telling of his or her own life.
The individual in anthropology: a future paradigm in anthropology?