This landmark book addresses the central problem in anthropological theory today: the paradox that humans are products of social discipline yet producers of remarkable improvisation.
Synthesizing theoretical contributions by Vygotsky, Bakhtin and Bourdieu, Holland and her co-authors examine the processes by which people are constituted as agents as well as subjects of culturally constructed, socially imposed worlds. They develop a theory of self-formation in which identities become the pivot between discipline and agency: turning from experiencing one's scripted social positions to making one's way into cultural worlds as a knowledgeable and committed participant. They emphasize throughout that "identities" are not static and coherent, but variable, multivocal and interactive.
Ethnographic illumination of this complex theoretical construction comes from vividly described fieldwork in vastly different microcultures: American college women "caught" in romance; persons in U.S. institutions of mental health care; members of Alcoholics Anonymous groups; and girls and women in the patriarchal order of Hindu villages in central Nepal.
Ultimately, Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds offers a liberating yet tempered understanding of agency, for it shows how people, across the limits of cultural traditions and social forces of power and domination, improvise and find spaces to re-describe themselves, creating their cultural worlds anew.
This book brings a breath of fresh air into the otherwise unimaginative social discourse on 'social identity' that reigns in anthropology and psychology in our time. The perspective outlined in the book is a practice theory; practice conceived not merely as what human beings do, but also what they imagine in conjunction with doing. The authors restore the centrality of personal positioning in the contruction of cultural worlds, and bring anthropologists and psychologists together after their long intellectual separation.
Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds is a work of keen intelligence and originality, carefully and clearly written. The authors make an impressive argument about the way in which agency and structure are tangled up in each other, and provide a specific guide to sorting out their various skeins. An essential book for contemporary anthropological theory.
Inventive and interdisciplinary...an excellent volume that deserves a wide readership and will be of considerable interest to a number of psychology's researchers, theorists, practitioners, students, and subdisciplines.
(A) clear and informative account of how people reshape their sense of self, negotiate their cultural or "figured" world, and rebel against social norms The ethnographic examples include the efforts of undergraduate women to navigate the world of romance; the contested plights of women, especially lower-caste women in Nepal; creating an Alcoholics Anonymous identity by telling the right sort of narrative about one's life; the struggles to survive of persons suffering from mental disorders...Recommended at all levels.
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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