Ethnographic cognition and 'Writing Culture'

TitleEthnographic cognition and 'Writing Culture'
Publication TypeBook Chapter
AuthorsHeintz, C.
EditorsKumoll, Karsten, and Olaf Zenker
Book TitleBeyond Writing Culture
Year2010
PublisherBerghahn
Place of PublicationOxford, UK
Publisher linkhttp://christophe.heintz.free.fr/papers/Heintz08ethnographic.pdf
Abstract

I suggest that one of the best ways to pursue and go beyond the programme of Writing Culture is to do cognitive anthropology of anthropology. I will situate Writing Culture with regard to this field of research and I will argue that Writing Culture can contribute to the development of the cognitive anthropology of anthropology. This is because it is sensible to start the anthropological study of anthropology with an analysis of the cultural product – in our case, the ethnographic texts. The analyst can then pick up relevant properties of the cultural product and track down what caused them. Among these causes stand the cognitive processes of actual practitioners, namely working ethnographers. I argue that some rhetoric conventions analysed in Writing Cultures are informing the reader about the cognitive genesis of the ethnography. These conventions are relevant to the reader: in particular information about the cognitive genesis of an ethnographic text enables the reader to evaluate its ethnographic account. This gives me the occasion to briefly specify some cognitive processes at work in the production of ethnographies. These include, I argue, a reflexive and critical cognition that is distributed among the community of anthropologists, and – a cognitive process much studied by cognitive psychologists that enables ethnographers to make sense of the behaviour of indigenous people by attributing mental states to them (beliefs, intentions, desires, feelings).