James Clifford

James Clifford is a world renown anthropologist whose work
in the field continually sparks interesting debates. Clifford’s recurring argument is that the conventions of classical anthropology do not accurately describe the relationship between the culture being examined and the examiner. Clifford believes that classical anthropology only propagates misconceived assumptions about a culture based on the cultural customs of the examining anthropologist. Clifford’s findings in the field of anthropology pose “questions concerning the truth of objectivity of beliefs and the efficacy and efficiency of practices,” (1).

Clifford was striving to find a way of adapting anthropology and the study of other cultures so that communication differences, varying belief systems and cultural “styles of reasoning” (1) would be accounted for in the study of that culture.

The “West studies the rest” mentality that flourished under colonialism only furthered subjugation and as an anthropological study, only examined a culture’s reaction to being colonized.

“Attention to the poiesis of ethnographic representation has undermined the “God’s-eye-view” objectivity of classical realism. Ethnographic accounts are, and always have been, the products of complex, ambiguous interactions between ethnographers and their subjects. “(5)

Yet the levels of subjectivity are mounting in subject-interviewer anthropology. The examiner must choose which people to question and which questions they specifically will be asked. The subjects also are provided a level of subjectivity in that their answers are based on different social customs and conventions, and that the wording of the questions themselves could be misinterpreted across a cultural gap.

“By what warrant could the ethnographer assume that their views were common to or representative of the culture at large or some group within it?” (5).

Women were often excluded from the interview process in classical ethnographies.

According to James Clifford, "Ethnographic knowledge could not be the property of anyone discourse or discipline: the condition of off-centeredness in a world of distinct meaning systems, a state of being in culture, permeates twentieth- century art and writing." This just means that ethnographic knowledge can range from culture to language and anything in between. Ethnographic Self-Fashioning can be the process of creating ones identity in accordance to what is acceptable to society and to that specific culture. According to James Clifford's study on ethnographics on should not feel constraint to what society wants but should have the liberty to create themselves according to what makes them feel like themselves. One major obstacle that people face when self fashioning is language. Language can often times be a huge barrier between cultures but can sometimes be the bridge in between cultures. For example Spanish helps unite many Latin American countries that have many different unique cultures. In the case of Joseph Conrad, being polish and at the same time being an English writer, Clifford states, "it enacts a structure of feeling continuously involved in translation among languages, a consciousness deeply aware of the arbitrariness of conventions, a new secular relativism.


Ethnographics is a type of research often used in the social sciences. It is a way to study people and their ethnic groups and cultures. It is often used in anthropology to study other ethnic formations, their social welfare characteristics, as well as their material and spiritual culture. Clifford believed that a human is not bound to their culture but that it is an evolutionary process.

When studying something for its ethnographic self-fashioning (the process of constructing one's identity and public persona according to a set of socially acceptable standards) characteristics, it is important to take into consideration the work as a whole. For example in Toni Morrison’s Jazz, it is easy to see what an anthropologist in ethnography might find. Jazz is obviously rich in African American culture, because it brings up characteristics in jazz music. In the novel Jazz, Toni Morrison also shows the struggle African Americans had to go through in mid 1920’s. She uses the characters Joe and Golden Gray as self-fashioning characters because they are both searching for their parents (Gray just his father). They can both be studied for self-fashioning characteristics because they are both trying to figure out where they come from because they feel it is part of their identity and do not feel whole without this closure.

Joseph Conrad


Conrad is considered one of the greatest English novelist. He was polish born and became a great writer even though English was his third language that he did not learn until he was twenty years old. Wrote the Heart of Darkness, which is an African tale that deals with an identity crisis.

Bronislaw Malinowski


Malinowski was a Polish anthropologist, who had a great influence on structural functionalist sociology. He was a pioneer in ethnographic fieldwork. Famous for his Trobriand fieldwork, which has served as a founding charter for the twentieth-century discipline of of anthropology. Malinowski wrote The Diary, which is based on his Trobriand fieldwork and also deals with an identity crisis.


McCarthy, Thomas. "Doing the Right Thing in Cross-cultural Representation: A review of James Clifford." Ethics; Apr92, Vol. 102 Issue 3, p635, 15p

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York: Vintage; First Plume Printing edition, 1992.

Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature and Art ( Harvard University Press, 1988)