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Westview Press

There has been so much media hoopla about Roger Sandall’s The Culture Cult that its broad features are already well known. Sandall claims that a relativist mafia, whom he dubs the Culture Cult, holds unchallenged sway over contemporary anthropological discourse. As a result, academic anthropology is shot through with romantic primitivism, a bohemian vice that the cult inherits from Rousseau and Herder. Romantic primitivism is infatuated with difference, championing the irreducible idiosyncrasy of traditional cultures (the plural is emphatic) over the oppressive singularity of rational-progressive bourgeois Civilisation. In keeping with romantic-primitivist dictates, anthropology celebrates tradition over reason, stasis over development, gerontocracy over equality, the collective over the individual, and so on – the litany is a familiar one. As if this weren’t enough, romantic primitivism is also contagious. Anthropologists transmit it to their tribal objects of study, who fall over themselves to fit into the hidebound traditionalist cap that romantic primitivism has fashioned for them. Alarmingly for Sandall, this contagion can lead to land rights.

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