Moving Away from Culture

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Trying to understand the concept of other is a complex one. It is not an easy task to pinpoint exactly what it means. In some way we are all others to someone and everyone else is also other to us. If the other is constantly changing then how do we strive to know the other. And at the same time the other cannot exist without us trying to understand ourselves. I do believe that culture is important and it helps us to understand ourselves as well as the other. I do not believe that culture is necessarily a tool in creating the other, but merely a tool to help us understand the other. Besides the anthropological viewpoint of many scholars claiming that culture contributes to othering, there is also psychological reasoning. In this discussion I will look at the viewpoints of these anthropology scholars who wish to move away from the concept of culture, because they believe that is plays such a fundamental role in othering. As well as my position in relation to the criticisms by these scholars. Archie Mafeje was very critical of anthropology as a discipline. He wrote about knowledge and how it was produced. He was against imposing Western ways on African (local) people. He was very concerned with taking local knowledge seriously. In his work two main concepts that are highlighted are endogeneity and epistemology of alterity. The epistemology of alterity would refer to how we discover the world and how we position ourselves as knowers of what we want to know – in basic terms, the epistemology of the other. (Mafeje, 1997). When dissecting these two concepts, you could look at Archie Mafeje’s argument about the word tribe. He argued the word tribe did not exist in any South African indigenous languages. Those who used the term tribe, used it on the basis of their own definition. It is important to remember that it was the colonialists and anthropologists would brought that term to Africa and anthropologists used the term in their research writing. When you dig deeper into the meaning of this term, you uncover that the term tribe means having exclusive rights to a given territory and manages it affairs independently of external control. This is how Mafeje exposes anthropologists, by arguing that they were violating their own rules. Because rights to given territory and managing affairs independently ended with colonialism. So how could they continue to use that term in their research, when describing African local people, when it was no longer justified. (Mafeje, 1997; Adesina, 2008). Archie Mafeje also mentions that new anthropologists who came to Africa even after independence, continued to use the same mode of writing and thinking. For instance, in the study of tribes, the term tribe has a specific meaning in Africa, yet that same term has a different explanation in other parts of the world. That would mean that there was irregularity in their writing and thinking. Their writing, which was information that was portrayed to the rest of the world described Africa in a very flawed and inaccurate manner. These inaccuracies have contributed to alterity, the idea of the ‘other’. And these labels are all legacies of colonisation. (Mafeje, 1997; Adesina, 2008). I understand Archie Mafeje’s position, but I do have a different perspective. I don’t believe that the anthropologists during colonial times knew how to do their research differently. I believe that they did their research as best they could at that time. Every human being tends to ‘other’, it is like an innate human behaviour. We all want to believe that the group we belong to (religious; cultural; ethnic; gender etc) is the right way to be human. When Archie Mafeje says that the anthropologist positioned themselves at a higher level to the subjects that they were studying. We need to consider that at the time the anthropologists were white, male, spoke English and those were all commonalities to the colonialists. In essence they would...
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