Culture writing: Literature and anthropology in the midcentury Atlantic world

Research output: Book/ReportBook

3 Scopus citations


Focusing on the 1950s and early 1960s, Culture Writing argues that the period of decolonization in Britain, the United States, France, and the Caribbean was characterized by dynamic exchanges between literary writers and anthropologists. As the British and French Empires collapsed and the United States rose to global power, and as intellectuals from the decolonizing world challenged the cultural hegemony of the West, some anthropologists began to assess their discipline’s complicity with imperialism and experimented with literary forms and techniques. The book shows that the “literary turn” in anthropology took place earlier than has conventionally been assumed, in the 1950s rather than the 1970s and 1980s. Simultaneously, some literary writers reacted to the end of modernist artistic experimentation by turning to ethnographic methods for representing the people and cultural practices of Britain, France, and the United States, bringing anthropology back home. The book discusses literary writers who had a significant professional engagement with anthropology and brought some of its techniques and research questions into literary composition: Barbara Pym (Britain), Ursula Le Guin and Saul Bellow (United States), Édouard Glissant (Martinique), and Michel Leiris (France). On the side of ethnography, there is analysis of works by anthropologists who adopted literary forms for their writing about culture: Laura Bohannan (United States), Michel Leiris and Claude Lévi-Strauss (France), and Mary Douglas (Britain). The book concludes with an afterword that shows how the literature-anthropology conversation continues into the postcolonial period in the work of the Indian author-anthropologist Amitav Ghosh and the Jamaican author-sociologist Erna Brodber.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages220
ISBN (Electronic)9780190852672
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Anthropology
  • Barbara Pym
  • Decolonization
  • Ethnography
  • Laura Bohannan
  • Literature
  • Michel Leiris
  • Saul Bellow
  • Ursula Le Guin
  • Édouard Glissant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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