Rethinking tradition: invention, cultural continuity and agency

Otto, Ton (2007) Rethinking tradition: invention, cultural continuity and agency. In: Wassmann, Jürg , and Stockhaus, Katharina , (eds.) Experiencing New Worlds. Person, Space and Memory in the Contemporary Pacific, 1 . Berghahn Books, New York, NY, USA, pp. 36-57.

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[Extract] In this chapter I want to contribute to an anthropological understanding of human agency by analysing the concept of tradition. I begin by reviewing the 'invention of tradition' debate and then go on to analyse the concept of tradition in relation to the question of cultural continuity and invention. I show that culture is a multiplex concept that refers to various modalities of patterned meaning and action, which can be more or less explicit for the human actors involved. I discuss 'habit' and the process of habitualization, 'custom' and the process of institutionalisation, and 'tradition' and the process of legitimation. Finally, I identify invented traditions as a special kind of tradition. All modalities of culture imply human agency and can be the object of explicit knowledge and influence, but the routine involvement of conscious action varies enormously. Traditions are the most explicit modalities of culture and require, therefore, the most conscious engagement of human actors. Since traditions are subject to human choice and strategic action, I will suggest that we can profitably study them as cultural, political and economic resources. I end this chapter by reflecting on the political implications of researching tradition: many anthropologists and other researchers have found that their descriptions and evaluations of traditions have had some very real and often unintended consequences for the people involved. This raises questions of an epistemological and moral nature.

Item ID: 16681
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 978-1-84545-327-5
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2011 05:45
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture @ 30%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950306 Conserving Pacific Peoples Heritage @ 20%
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