Closures and Museums. Is a Non-Alterity Anthropology Possible?
Călin Cotoi


I had a miserable day today. The natives held a big potlach again. I was unable to get hold of anyone...It is unfortunate that the work here has to stop for a while.

Franz Boas


Museums displays are never innocent ones. They are always revealing and hiding at the same time, always instituting an alterity between Self and Other, between the knowing subject and the known object.

Anthropological museums have aquired a bad name in social and cultural anthropology alike for quite different reasons. The crumbling of the evolutionist theoretical background and the perceived inadequacy of survivalist anthropology were important factors in starting one of the first ?representational crises? of modern anthropology. Notwithstanding the differences between social and cultural anthropology the exemplarity of malinowskian fieldwork shaped the identity and legitimacy of any anthropological endeavors for years to come. The ?ethnographers magic? cannot be transported from the fieldwork to the museums without the risk of dispelling the very magic that confers credibility to any anthropological enquiry.

Because of the recent, more or less postmodern, dissapearence of the magic, the Entzauberung of anthropology?s core may open up a chance for a new articulation between museal display and contemporary anthropological discourse and theory.

We do not intend to engage in a comprehensive investigation, or to give a concrete museographic receipe in this sense. Our goal is restricted to the discussion of the conditions of possibility of a neo-Boasian anthropology, as a possible interlocutor for a renewed museum anthropology.

The neo-Boasians (Bunzl, 2004; Orta, 2004; Bashkow, 2004 etc.) are proposing a non-alterity anthropology. This paper tries to show that they are over optimistic and they are passing over, in embracing a counter-Enlightment tradition of thought, not only ambiguities but also nested alterities.

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