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Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century

James Clifford

ISBN 9780674779617

Publication date: 04/21/1997

When culture makes itself at home in motion, where does an anthropologist stand? In a follow-up to The Predicament of Culture, one of the defining books for anthropology in the last decade, James Clifford takes the proper measure: a moving picture of a world that doesn't stand still, that reveals itself en route, in the airport lounge and the parking lot as much as in the marketplace and the museum.

In this collage of essays, meditations, poems, and travel reports, Clifford takes travel and its difficult companion, translation, as openings into a complex modernity. He contemplates a world ever more connected yet not homogeneous, a global history proceeding from the fraught legacies of exploration, colonization, capitalist expansion, immigration, labor mobility, and tourism. Ranging from Highland New Guinea to northern California, from Vancouver to London, he probes current approaches to the interpretation and display of non-Western arts and cultures. Wherever people and things cross paths and where institutional forces work to discipline unruly encounters, Clifford's concern is with struggles to displace stereotypes, to recognize divergent histories, to sustain "postcolonial" and "tribal" identities in contexts of domination and globalization.

Travel, diaspora, border crossing, self-location, the making of homes away from home: these are transcultural predicaments for the late twentieth century. The map that might account for them, the history of an entangled modernity, emerges here as an unfinished series of paths and negotiations, leading in many directions while returning again and again to the struggles and arts of cultural encounter, the impossible, inescapable tasks of translation.


  • [An] interesting situation can occur, suggests cultural anthropologist James Clifford, when the issue is not who should have custody of the objects [in museums] but rather what they mean. As he explores the subject in the essays collected in Routes, he compels the reader to look at these matters in a totally new way...As Clifford puts it, the museum [has] had to become 'a contact zone,' in which the collection would 'become part of an ongoing historical, political, moral relationship' between the culture that produced the objects and the members of another culture who would come to view them. The idea of a 'contact zone' relationship becomes even more startling when the objects are not in a museum, but are located at a cultural site...[G]uided by Clifford's view of museums and cultural and historical sites, the observant tourist will never be able to see them in the same way again.

    —Michael Kenney, Boston Globe


  • James Clifford is Professor Emeritus in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Book Details

  • 416 pages
  • 1 x 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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