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C u r r e n t A n t h r o p o l o g y Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002

2002 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved 0011-3204/2002/4301-0001$3.00

I wish to focus on the problem of knowledgewhat a


SIDNEY W. MINTZ LECTURE person employs to interpret and act on the world. Under
this caption I wish to include feelings (attitudes) as well
FOR 2000 as information, embodied skills as well as verbal tax-
onomies and concepts: all the ways of understanding that
we use to make up our experienced, grasped reality. We
all live lives full of raw and unexpected events,2 and we
An Anthropology of can grasp them only if we can interpret themcast them
in terms of our knowledge or, best, anticipate them by

Knowledge 1 means of our knowledge so that we can focus on them


and meet them to some degree prepared and with ap-
propriate measures. Thus a persons stock of knowledge
structures that persons understood world and purposive
by Fredrik Barth ways of coping in it.
As we know, this stock of knowledge varies greatly
between persons. It shows staggering ethnographic di-
versity among local human populations; it varies socially
among adults within such populations; and of course it
Whereas previous Sidney Mintz lectures have celebrated Mintzs varies developmentally, from the limited emotional reg-
work on inequality, racism, and ethnicity, I have chosen to speak istry and motor and voice control of infants to the com-
to the broadest scope of his research and teaching in anthropol-
ogy. A comparative perspective on human knowledge allows us plexity of insights, information, and repertoires of adults.
to unravel a number of aspects of the cultural worlds which peo- My claim is that we can greatly advance our anthropo-
ple construct. I argue that knowledge always has three faces: a logical agenda by developing a comparative ethnographic
substantive corpus of assertions, a range of media of representa- analysis on how bodies of knowledge are produced in
tion, and a social organization. Using ethnographic materials
from New Guinea and Bali and also from our own universities, I persons and populations in the context of the social re-
try to show how in different traditions of knowledge these faces lations that they sustain.
will interrelate in particular ways and generate tradition-specific In a brief exchange I was once privileged to have with
criteria of validity for knowledge about the world. Thus the tra- Clifford Geertz on the topic, he commented that my
jectory of a tradition of knowledge will be to a large extent en-
dogenously determined. This implies not a diffuse relativism of view of knowledge and its role in human life did not
anything goes but a relativism in which we can demonstrate seem to distinguish it much from what anthropologists
how already established thoughts, representations, and social re- have been calling culture. Indeed, it does focus on
lations to a considerable extent configure and filter our individ- many of the same data and seeks to analyse many of the
ual human experience of the world around us and thereby gener-
ate culturally diverse worldviews. same phenomena. But in calling it knowledge rather than
culture I think that we ethnographers will analyse it
f r e d r i k b a r t h is a Professor of Anthropology at Boston Uni- differently and find ourselves disaggregating our received
versity (232 Bay State Rd., Boston, Mass. 02215, U.S.A.). Born in category of culture in distinctive ways that hinge on
1928, he has taught for most of his career in Bergen and Oslo, what our ideas of knowledge evoke.
Norway. He is best-known for his publications from the Middle
East (Political Leadership among Swat Pathans [London: Ath- Knowledge provides people with materials for reflec-
lone, 1959]. Nomads of South Persia [Oslo: Oslo University tion and premises for action, whereas culture too read-
Press, 1961], and Sohar: Culture and Society in an Omani Town ily comes to embrace also those reflections and those
[Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983]) and some of actions. Furthermore, actions become knowledge to oth-
his contributions to theory (Models of Social Organization [Lon-
don: Royal Anthropological Institute, 1966] and Ethnic Groups ers only after the fact. Thus the concept of knowledge
and Boundaries [London: Allen and Unwin, 1969]) as well as the situates its items in a particular and unequivocal way
ethnographies from New Guinea and Bali cited in this article. He relative to events, actions, and social relationships.
is currently working on field materials from Bhutan. The present Knowledge is distributed in a population, while cul-
paper was accepted 2 viii 01.
ture makes us think in terms of diffuse sharing. Our
scrutiny is directed to the distributions of knowl-
edgeits presence or absence in particular personsand
the processes affecting these distributions can become
the objects of study.
Differences in knowledge provide much of the mo-
mentum for our social interaction, from gossip to the
division of labour. We must share some knowledge to be
able to communicate and usually must differ in some
knowledge to give focus to our interaction. An under-
standing of the balances of sharing and difference in
1. This paper was delivered, as the 2000 Sidney W. Mintz Lecture,
to the Department of Anthropology of The Johns Hopkins Univer- 2. I am referring to what Weber (1949:81) called the meaningless
sity on November 2, 2000. infinity of the world process.

1
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2 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002

knowledge that predicate social cooperation should con- braceabove all, what others whom we trust tell us they
stitute a vital part of any theory of human society. believe.
The knowledge component of our being is conceptu- As a consequence, much of our knowledge we have
ally separable from our relationships and group mem- accumulated by learning from othersincluding, indeed,
berships, the social dimensions of our lives. Yes, of the criteria for judging validity that we have learned to
course social organization is based on knowledgenot use. Though it is experience-based, most knowledge thus
least, the knowledge of social statuses and their asso- does not become private in any individual sense. This
ciated rights and duties, assets, and expertisebut the makes a great deal of every persons knowledge conven-
social aspect points specifically to the patterns of action tional, constructed within the traditions of knowledge
that unfold. Thus the social interaction that emerges on of which each of us partakes. My personal skills and
that basis can be distinguished from the knowledge that embodied knowledge are likewise largely constituted on
provides its base. This distinction will help us to escape the basis of activity into which I have been socialized,
from the analytical impediment of a concept of social some of them embodied through purposeful practice,
structure which confounds the two and has hounded some of them preconceptual, arising from experience
much anthropological thought. based on how my physical body functions in the world
In the following, I will reflect briefly on the above as (Lakoff 1989). My analysis will seek to show precisely
a productive theoretical position and then exemplify and this: how a knowledge that must have its wellsprings in
elaborate it with some empirical sketches from New individual experience yet becomes to large extent con-
Guinea, Bali, and contemporary universities. ventional in social circles and in turn what the processes
are whereby these conventional bodies of knowledge as-
sume their locally characteristic shapes.
Our academic prototype of knowledge probably re-
What Knowledge Is fers to the things that are contained in a textbook, an
encyclopedia, a dictionary. Such sources lay out knowl-
I do not think we should try to be too clever and start edge as if it were context-freea mode that collapses
practising as amateur philosophers or metaphysicians historical time in acquiring knowledge, elaborates tax-
rather than anthropologists. To the extent that we are onomies, and prizes coherence. It simulates a knowledge
acquainted with contemporary currents on these topics, without knowers. Some of our knowledge we do treat in
this may be best used to liberate us from a compulsive that way, but much of it we do not. It is important that
search for truth, rationality, and scientific method and we not think single-mindedly with this narrow prototype
encourage our ethnographic discovery. But we cannot in mind in our comparative study of knowledge, since
afford to be too simple, either. In an effort to seek middle such a mode, though it is no doubt salient for some pur-
ground, I turn to that towering but currently unfashion- poses in Western and perhaps in other literary traditions,
able philosopher, Bertrand Russell, especially to his 1948 is certainly not the exclusive mode of knowledge for any
popular overview Human Knowledge: Its Scope and person in any tradition.
Limits. Current anthropological attention to the concept of
Russell resolves for us the paradox of subjectivity and knowledge tends to focus on a particular syndrome of
shared knowledge. What a person knows, he points out, contemporary issues. Is knowledge best understood as a
is dependent on that persons own individual experience: thing or a relationship? How far can (and should) ideas
He knows what he has seen and heard, what he has be copyrighted and patented? Might a global code of in-
read and what he has been told, and also what, from these tellectual property rights provide a way to secure benefits
data, he has been able to infer (1948:9). An important to indigenous peoples from their heritage?3 Anthropol-
key lies in the last phrase, that knowledge can be based ogists are caught in the tension between resisting the
on inference. runaway commoditization in our own world and a desire
to defend indigenous rights within it. These are impor-
In virtue of certain events in my own life, I have a
tant issues but perhaps not the most felicitous way to
number of beliefs about events that I do not experi-
approach an anthropological study of knowledge. I sug-
encethe thoughts and feelings of other people, the
gest that we put them aside here to concentrate on a
physical objects that surround me, the historical and
search for general insights, language, and concepts for an
geological past of the earth, and the remoter regions
anthropology of knowledge on which, among other
of the universe that are studied in astronomy. For
things, a more effective defence of indigenous rights
my part, I accept these beliefs as valid, apart from
might draw.
errors of detail. By this acceptance, I commit myself
Geertz (1983:4) has stated that to an ethnographer,
to the view that there are valid processes of infer-
sorting through the machinery of distant ideas, the
ence from events to other eventsmore particularly,
shapes of knowledge are always ineluctably local, indi-
from events of which I am aware without inference
visible from their instruments and their encasements.
to events of which I have no such awareness.
By our acceptance of valid inference, we all extend the 3. For a review of this discussion, see Brown (1998). A useful dis-
reach and scope of our knowledge immensely, relying on cussion of indigenous knowledge in relation to development (Sil-
judgements based on whatever criteria of validity we em- litoe 1998) is found in the same issue.

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b a r t h An Anthropology of Knowledge F 3

If I read this correctly, my reaction would be yes, for a organization: their systematic interdependence arises by
generation of ethnographers steeped in a particular cul- virtue of the constraints in realization that these three
tural perspective, that has been true. What I am pro- aspects impose on each other in the context of every
posing is that we break with this framing and work to particular application. Specific micro-circumstances will
perform the mental, analytical operation of dividing the thus determine how the mutual influences between the
shapes, instruments, and encasements from each other, faces of knowledge are affected, and to the extent that
the better to analyse the internal processes of differently we can identify repetitive, persistent effects of mutual
constituted traditions of knowledge. constraint and influence in these particular realizations
of knowledge, we have identified processes of mutual
determination between the three named aspects of
A Framework for Analysis knowledge.
This perspective secures the space for agency in our
Where should anthropologists turn for a framework of analysis: it makes us give the necessary close attention
concepts and questions with which to explore the com- to the knowers and to the acts of the knowersthe peo-
parative ethnography of knowledge? It is important not ple who hold, learn, produce, and apply knowledge in
to be too clever and willing pupils of established Western their various activities and lives. Thus, as I shall try to
scholarship, lest we squander the opportunity for a fresh demonstrate, it is in the close analysis of action that we
perspective that can arise from the relatively unexplored shall see the mechanisms at work which effect the mu-
world of ethnography. As academics, we have been mar- tual determination between the aspects of knowledge
inated in Western philosophical discourse to the point that we have abstracted.
where we might too readily accept its current parochi- There, we can observe the interplay of circumstances
alisms as universal premises. We want to be able to dis- that generates the criteria of validity that govern knowl-
cover and be surprised by other lives and exercise the edge in any particular tradition. They arise through the
relativism whereby all of the traditions, bodies of knowl- effects on action of the constraints embedded in the so-
edge, and ways of knowing practiced by people are rec- cial organizationthe distribution of knowledge, its con-
ognized for our comparative and analytic purposes as ventions of representation, the network of relations of
coeval and sustainable, each on its own premises. Our trust and identification, and instituted authority posi-
first and major step must therefore be to try to lay out tions of power and disempowerment. But they are also
how these traditions of knowledge are configured and affected by constraints that arise from the properties of
how they are variously reproduced and changed. the medium in which the knowledge is being cast, which
I see three faces or aspects of knowledge that can be affect the ideas that can be conveyed through forms of
analytically distinguished. First, any tradition of knowl- representation that are felicitous, limited, or impossible
edge contains a corpus of substantive assertions and for those ideas in that medium.
ideas about aspects of the world. Secondly, it must be We may then be able to analyse the trajectory of a
instantiated and communicated in one or several media changing corpus of knowledge by identifying the poten-
as a series of partial representations in the form of words, tials and constraints that these criteria of validity and
concrete symbols, pointing gestures, actions. And feasibility provide for the production and transmission
thirdly, it will be distributed, communicated, employed, of knowledge in concrete traditions. This conjunction of
and transmitted within a series of instituted social re- factors will have the effect of pointing native thinkers
lations. These three faces of knowledge are intercon- and actors in particular directions of effort, creativity,
nected. and representation.
Being interconnected, do they mutually determine Finally, we may be able to lay bare some of the deter-
each other? That is my claim, as I wish to show in the minants of the forms of coherence or systematicity
exemplifications that follow. But to develop the argu- achieved in various traditions of knowledge, depending
ment as simply as possible, we need to invert the way on how items in the corpus are constituted, how these
we habitually think when we construct analyses. I am items are householded in the social organization, and the
not inviting you to take a highly generalized and abstract degree of precision and force with which messages are
unity (knowledge) and divide it into three parts (sub- cast in the media and representations that are employed.
stantive corpus, communicative medium, and social or- So far, I have tried to lay out a basically simple frame-
ganization) and then progressively break each of these work of disaggregation, dissection, and analysis. To be
parts down further till we finally arrive at the level of able to articulate the processes and connections more
particular human actions and events. On the contrary, clearly, my modelling has made the gross simplification
my thesis is that these three faces of knowledge appear of ignoring the multiple ways in which exogenous factors
together precisely in the particulars of action in every impinge on the processes I seek to analyse. To put them
event of the application of knowledge, in every trans- into the model as well, it seems to me that one would
action in knowledge, in every performance. Their mu- have to complicate it and expand it untenably. But in
tual determination takes place at those specific moments each particular empirical case, such externalities must
when a particular item of substantive knowledge is cast be taken into account and may be highly salient. One
in a particular communicative medium and applied in such factor is the ubiquitous one of the material circum-
an action by an actor positioned in a particular social stances, which determine the pragmatics under which

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4 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002

local human life unfolds. The other would deal with re- larger assemblies where seniors and novices engaged in
lations of power that arise outside the local social setting: extensive rites some parts of which took place before an
an environment of non-local others and their knowledge audience of the uninitiated women and children of the
systems, practices, and strengths will always impinge on community.
local worlds from the outside. To include them at this In native consciousness, the validity of this knowledge
point, however, would as far as I can see shatter the depended on its having been received from now deceased
framing of my present argument and militate against the ancestors under the constraints of secrecy. The secret
detailed exploration of systemic local processes that I initiation of male novices therefore provided the vali-
intend. The resulting exercise would then probably turn dating organizational form in which the knowledge was
into just one more generalized account of global pro- reproduced and transmitted. Among the Baktaman this
cesses and their localized impacts. For present purposes, involved seven degrees of stepwise initiation through
I adopt the narrowerand yet dauntingly complex which sets of novices advanced under the tutelage of a
purview. cult master and of their next-senior set of initiates. The
process started with cohorts of boys of estimated age
514 years (this being an area without marked seasons,
the Baktaman were without concepts of calendrical
Transmission of Knowledge and Its time), and it was not completed till the members of the
Trajectories of Change age-set were in their late thirties or early forties.
Wishing if possible to obtain a dynamic picture of this
Let me now specify more concretely how we may use tradition of knowledge, I tried to obtain indications of
the framework I have outlined. First, I will summarize historical changes in the initiation rituals among the
some of the materials and analyses I have been devel- Baktaman and their neighbours. Given their embraced
oping on the Ok region of New Guinea (Barth 1975, premise that all valid knowledge was knowledge that had
1987). This is a region of small, scattered local com- been passed on by the ancestors, there were no oral his-
munities. At the time and location of my first fieldwork tories of changing traditions, but working through the
in 1968 among one of its groups, the Baktaman, they particulars of the recollections of a few older Baktaman
were very recently contacted and thus just emerging men I did eventually learn of nine minor items of ritual
from a history of endemic warfare and limited com- that had indeed been changed or been subject to attempts
munication between adjoining settlements and none at change in their lifetimes. More strikingly, the riot of
with a more distant outside world. Subsistence was based variation revealed by comparing local and clearly cognate
on the cultivation of taro as the main staple, supple- communities in the larger region seemed to suggest the
mented by hunting, collecting, and modest pig raising. prevalence of rapid historical flux over time. I return
The most abstract and systematically developed tradi- below to what these materials on regional variation in-
tion of knowledge among them was cast in the form of dicate with respect to the trajectories of change in
secret rituals that dealt with growth, vegetative fertility, knowledge.
and support from ancestorsancestors, incidentally, First, according to the program of disaggregation and
who could be vindictive as well as bountiful, dangerous analysis that I have announced above, I should provide
even in the hands of their own cult masters. I shall try some more context for the particular forms of represen-
to demonstrate the gross impacts of particular features tation and the modes of transmission. The knowledge
of social organization and the communicative medium contained in the tradition was cast, as we have seen, in
on the form of knowledge that was cultivated in this mainly non-verbal codes of images and acts. By means
tradition of knowledge and its trajectories of marginal of ritual manipulation and juxtaposition in the rituals,
change. analogies were constructed between phenomena, and
The content of the Baktaman ritual/religious/cosmo- metaphors were created which were thus, as symbols,
logical tradition clearly falls within my concept of brought into harmony with each other to enrich each
knowledge: it provided people with a way to understand others connotations. Thus, for example, a series of anal-
major aspects of the world, ways to think and feel about ogies was demonstrated between different models of
the world, and ways to act on it. One might call it a growthleaves on the trees, human hair on the head,
mystery cult, recognizing that mystery is a philo- the fur of marsupials, the pandanus-leaf thatching of the
sophically rather sophisticated construction that entails temple, the subcutaneous fat of pigslinking all of them
not absence of knowledge but an experience of awe be- as images of the effects of an invisible force, somewhat
fore phenomena and questions for which one believes like heat, that makes taro plants and subterranean taro
there can be no comprehensible final answers. Animal corms grow.
species, ancestral bones, natural substances, fire, water, My claim is thus not, in the structuralist mode, that
colours, taboos, deception, pain, and fear, sacrifice, these images are constituted as a series of oppositions
spells, prayers, songs, and a small number of myths made encoding the contrast between growth and decrease.
up the symbols and actions of cult and communication. Such a representation of the knowledge involved trivi-
The sessions above all in which the tradition was cul- alizes it beyond repair. Rather, I understand them as cu-
tivated took place in small temples, attended by a hand- mulative and harmonizing metaphors, connecting
ful of senior men, or, at the rare times of initiations, in known aspects of the world to shape an elusive, complex,

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b a r t h An Anthropology of Knowledge F 5

and difficult-to-grasp appreciation of the pervasiveness of five years and often more like ten yearssince the
and mystery of growth. cult master was last asked to perform this initiation.
To my mind, the most compelling secret and sacred Meanwhile, he had stored the knowledge in his memory,
image of the mystery of taro growthnot revealed until secret and tabooed and perilous, without opportunities
the sixth degree of initiationwas provided by the brush for intermittent idle talk about the secrets or any no-
turkey, the bones of which were uniquely placed along tational system or mnemonic devices other than the sa-
with the ancestors bones in shrines within the temple. cred objects themselves to remember it by.
Now, the brush turkey is a large wild fowl that buries The initiation makes up a many-day, complex ritual
its eggs in large leaf-heap nests that it builds from forest sequence with considerable dramatic nerve. Now the
litter. There its eggs are incubated by the heat of com- cult master is supposed to make its secrets of the an-
postation, until the chicks hatch at a stage of develop- cestors suddenly and powerfully manifest, shaping the
ment when they can break out of the ground and literally messages in the visual idioms to make them compelling
fly away into the sky. Such paradoxical images are par- so that they will do their work to induce fertility and
ticularly favoured in Ok cults for the sense they create inform and transform the novices. This is emphatically
of the hidden mystery of a covert power of transforma- not an occasion for personal invention, which would
tionhere birds of the air that emerge from the very compromise the messages validity as the visions of the
ground in which the taro grows in sites characterized by ancestors. Yet a mere mechanical repetition of the ritual
an elusive, sourceless heat. To similar effect, the first of many years ago may not be adequate, even if the cult
small secret taught to little boys at first-degree initiation master were capable of the rote memory needed: it has
was to rub themselves on the forehead with pigs fat so to be a re-creation of revelation, with the force to compel
as to grow quicklybut also to rub dew on arms and the audience of both novices and more advanced know-
chest. While water was generally represented as a re- ers. In such a situation, one would expect the cult master,
moving agent that washes away other substances and in an honest effort to reproduce the mystery, to be very
must not be allowed to spoil the effects of increase from concerned to secure a maximally effective performance.
the pigs fat, dew on the leaves of the forest in the early This means that he must try to enhance the ritual in the
morning was tagged as a secret growth force: a miracu- ways that are possible: highlight the poetry of the images
lous inversion manifesting increase, where water itself and their harmonization, pitch the emotive register so
grows from nothing on the leaves of the forest in the as to move the audience maximally, and model the rep-
darkness of the night. resentations of cosmological ideas as clearly and graph-
The communicative medium that embodies such vi- ically as possible to intensify their thrust.
sions and knowledge is thus one that depends for its force A set of cross-pressures thus seems to frame the ritual
on the combination of the heightened experience in- performance and thereby its possible trajectories of
duced by secrecy and danger, the vividness of imagery change over time. Its character as revealed and trans-
of the selected natural symbols, and the complexity of mitted knowledge means that it should be stable, and
their harmonization through multiple revealed analogies because there are other knowing seniors present besides
and ritual associations. What is constructed as a corpus the novices changes can at most be moderate and incre-
of knowledge by these means creates a characteristic way mental. This also means that the trajectory of change
of knowing that might be described in externalist lan- will be path-dependent, since it is its latest performance
guage as poetica visual symphony that represents the that at every step defines the fount of tradition. The
ancestrally granted mystery of growth as something that nature of the medium requires that its idioms resonate
covertly permeates nature and creates mankinds daily emotionally and vividly with the audience, so the pre-
food. cision of the message can be relatively low but the im-
It follows from the basic criterion of validitythat portance of its illocutionary force is great. One would
these are secrets transmitted from the ancestors before expect the substantive effort and thus the marginal
they diedthat such knowledge should be unchanging. changes in the knowledge in such a situation to focus
Yet the regional variation and the slight changes I could on the richness of harmonization of idioms, the consis-
unearth within the Baktaman tradition bespeak the pres- tency and coherence of secret knowledge, and the shock
ence of flux and change. And, as we have known since and surprise value of new revelations to the novices, and
the pathbreaking study by Latour and Woolgar (1979) of therefore paradoxes and the ambiguities of deeper truths
knowledge production in a modern biochemical labo- hidden behind overt appearances or previous deceptions
ratory, the strictest of methodological and theoretical will be at a premium. Only thus can the mystery be
principles of validity are profoundly reshaped by the prag- reproduced, and thereby will its slow trajectory of cre-
matics of social organization and performance. ativity and change be determined.
What, then, might be the characteristic processes of Both the known variety of traditional cults in the Ok
knowledge production and change in an Ok tradition of area and the micro-details of marginal changes in the
knowledge? To look for clues we should place ourselves practices of the Baktaman seem to support the predic-
in the position of the key actor, in this case the senior tions of the model I have presented. The extensive and
initiator, who has the responsibility to re-create this complex ethnographic materials in which I try to show
symphony of the ancestors before the eyes of the novices. this to be the case have been published and must be
It would have been a long timea plausible minimum judged in a larger context than can be provided here. My

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6 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002

purpose in putting this brief sketch before you is to show structure, but I wish to avoid the usual circular argument
the kinds of claims I make by means of an analysis based that explains their characteristics by means of whatever
on this model of knowledge production and transmis- logic and structure we as ethnographers abstract from
sion. I am certainly not proposing that the specific dy- their empirical content. Our analysis becomes more il-
namics of the Ok traditions of secret knowledge can pro- luminating if we are able to identify the salient processes
vide us with a paradigm for other, or all, knowledge of production, reproduction, and use of knowledge that
systems. My main point is that in these materials we take place and shape the forms of knowledge. These pro-
can see the three faces of knowledge coming into play cesses will be lodged in the social organization of au-
and asserting their influence on each other and on the thorities, practitioners, and clients, in the instituted
shape of the tradition. These are processes that should modes of recruitment and replacement of personnel, and
be visible in the moments of manifestation of any tra- in the forms of communication by which each corpus of
dition of knowledge when the pressures and empower- knowledge is taught, learned, applied, and marginally
ments of its social organization, the constraints and po- changed. Moreover, an analysis along the lines of dis-
tentials of its medium, and the elements of knowledge aggregation that I have outlined will show that each of
in its corpus impinge on each other. these many traditions has a characteristic constitutive
dynamic that arises internally from the interaction of its
three faces. Although most individuals in Bali participate
simultaneously in several distinct traditions, the empir-
Coherence, Precision, and Generality in ical materials indicate that endogenous processes within
Traditions of Knowledge each tradition generate most of these features and that
cross-influences between traditions are far less evident.
In these materials from the Baktaman and their neigh- Let me focus mainly on Bali-Hinduism, since it is cur-
bours we have dealt with very small-scale processes of rently unique to Bali and therefore one degree less com-
transmission, involving a few score persons at a time in plex than most of the others in that internal processes
single chains of performances in small communities within Bali can be said to determine its present dynam-
with very limited intercommunication with neighbours. ics. The sum of Bali-Hinduism makes up an enormous
Circumstances become quite different where large pop- corpus of knowledgea complex and varied set of be-
ulations partake in a broader flow of knowledge within liefs, skills, and practices. Its favoured subjects are far
a diverse and multisited tradition. The most obtrusive more comprehensive than what we found in the New
questions under such circumstances seem to be three: Guinea example in that it embraces nature and cosmos,
the nature of subdivisions in the total body of what peo- health and life, ethnopsychology and human morality,
ple know, that is, the separate branches of knowledge and a panoply of supernatural entities that erratically
that coexist in the population; the degree of standardi- affect and may even invade and possess human beings.
zation and sharing of knowledge that is produced within The question I wish to raise is the extent to which and
each branch; and the form and degree of ideational pre- the sense in which this Bali-Hindu superfluity of cos-
cision, coherence, and generality that is developed and mology, ritual, morality, and religion can be described
maintained in each branch. These are issues I shall try as a coherent system of learning and, if so, the nature of
to explore in connection with ethnographic materials its coherencethe character of its systematicity. It
from North Bali. strikes me that such a question cannot even be raised in
First, the issue of branches of knowledge: In a complex the context of anthropologys usual cultural analysis,
civilization such as that of Bali it makes descriptive where the assumed fact of unity serves as an unques-
sense to divide the totality of knowledge into separable tioned premise to frame the investigation. In such a ho-
traditions. By this I mean not the cognitive domains of listic analysis, the analyst is usually content to look at
the linguist ethnographeror, indeed, the taxonomically a few key representations, explicate their overt structure,
inclined nativebut the bodies of knowledge that are and give an interpretation of the ideas, meanings, and
socially instituted. Among Balinese one finds many pro- symbols that they convey. Looking at it as a tradition of
fessions and many specialities, each of which produces knowledge, however, we should be able to disaggregate
and sustainsand often seeks to monopolizesectors of the knowledge into its three faces and investigate its
specific knowledge. Some of these sectors of knowledge constituting processes, thereby laying bare the proper
belong to larger traditions with different geographical dynamics that generate the traditions separation from
and historical roots and indeed clearly different criteria other traditions, its corpus, and the nature of whatever
of validity. In the treatment of sick patients, for example, coherence may obtain within it. Again, I must be content
one finds Bali-Hindu priests, balian healers, Muslim to illustrate and explicate a few steps of my analysis only,
teachers, and bio-medical doctors proceeding in their referring the critical reader to a more extensive ethnog-
characteristic ways on the basis of the knowledge they raphy published elsewhere (Barth 1990, 1993).
use and linked in different directions with broader In a complex ethnography, it is convenient to start
traditions of knowledge such as Bali-Hinduism, sorcery, with the instituted social organization to map out the
Islam, and Western medical science. fields of social action, though any one of the three faces
Each such tradition might be inspected by the anthro- of knowledge could in principle serve as our point of
pological analyst for its implicit logic and conceptual entry. On the highest level of organization, the premise

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b a r t h An Anthropology of Knowledge F 7

of Bali-Hindu cosmology is that Bali belongs to the help to the novice priest from the priests of other temples
godsnot all of Bali to a single pantheon of gods but but also direct inspiration from the god and honorable
each locality and function to a separate god/aspect of and successful improvisation. There is likewise the cir-
godhead. Each god has one or more local temples or cumstance to consider that Bali-Hinduism allows a great
shrines within temples, and there are in Bali an esti- degree of particularism and localization of ritual injunc-
mated 20,000 temples. Every temple is maintained by a tions, whereby spontaneous irregularities will affect the
local congregation and led by a priest. totality of the tradition less than they would in a more
The temples are the main arenas of Bali-Hindu wor- globalized system. Yet I cannot resist speculating on
ship in which Bali-Hindu knowledge is collectively ob- what might, for example, be the nature of continuity in
jectified, but there are many other arenas in which it is our own discipline if professors were appointed in similar
applied, discussed, and taught, such as in sacred text- fashion.
reading study groups, informal talk, the rites of passage The other challenge concerns how a degree of coher-
of family members, theatre and puppet performances, ence and consistency within the traditions corpus of
private ritual, and moral discussion and debate. Children knowledge can be evolved and sustained under such con-
and young people are not encouraged to delve deeply into ditions of erratic innovation. Most threatening to any
these questions lest they go mad, and adult engagements priestly and disciplined cultivation of sacred knowledge
usually take place in organized forms led by an instituted would seem the practice whereby gods regularly descend
authority. But these authorities make up a strikingly among their congregation and speak directly to people
multifarious set. There are the sacred text fragments that through possessed mediums, on an unpredictable and
are read only in restricted, ritual situations; there are potentially unlimited range of subjects, at every full
Brahmana priests of inordinate social rank and endoga- moon in 20,000 temples throughout Bali. There are cer-
mous high-caste origin who perform passage rites and tain institutionalized brakes on these events: the priest
consecrate new temples; there are village priests who holds the authority to translate or interpret obscure
direct the worship in every public temple; there are bal- statements by the possessed medium, and if the per-
ian healers; there are puppeteers and travelling troops of formance gets totally out of hand he may also diagnose
ritual performers; there are temple possession mediums the event as a case of possession by an evil spirit/devil
and private consulting mediums; and of course there are falsely posing as the god of the temple. Yet I have been
innumerable descent-group priests and family elders, as present in a session where a well-established priest made
well as episodes of spontaneous possession in every con- no attempt to divert the god from speaking through the
gregation. An even more striking feature is that among temple medium and scolding his priest for ritual errors,
the temple priests of Bali there is no system of training until the errant priest finally dissolved in hysterical
and authorization and no centralized or regional control sobbing.
of the incumbency of priesthood and priestly posts. Suc- Moreover, the presence of such a large cadre of temple
cession to the office of priest in a temple is determined priests, each independently authorized and engaging his
autonomously by the congregation of each temple, var- flock in worship, religious speculation. and moral in-
iously by succession within patrilines, by popular elec- struction, might seem an equally potent threat to any
tion within the congregation, or by selection by the god unity of dogma and cosmology. How can we imagine that
through a possessed medium. a religion with such a social organization can speak with
Such a social organization for a large-scale tradition of one voice and maintain and transmit a consistent and
knowledge raises a number of challenging issues. The coherent corpus of learning by means of its segmented
most salient questions are (1) What can ensure any degree multitude of priestly authorities? Considering the his-
of continuity in the corpus of knowledge in Bali-Hin- torical battles and not infrequent failures to do so in an
duism when the system for the training of its profes- organization as massive as the Catholic Church,
sionals is so singularly rudimentary? and (2) What can equipped as it is with its holy and authorized text, its
ensure any degree of coherence and consistency within seminars, investitures, and councils, and its disciplines
that corpus when it seems to leave spaces wide open for and excommunications, the situation of the Bali-Hindu
erratic local innovation? tradition seems indeed precarious. At issue are both the
On the first point, it should be emphasized that a tem- degree of standardization and agreement on knowledge
ple priest is expected to lead the most elaborate public between members or authorities within Bali-Hinduism
rituals with what look and sound like complex liturgies: and the kinds of coherence, logical or otherwise, that can
mantras in Sanskrit, Old Balinese, and Javanese, offer- be maintained between the items that compose Bali-
ings, purifications, and blessings, the production and ma- Hindu knowledge.
nipulation of intricate ritual objects, and so forth. I have Balinese themselves do seem to value the idea that
a number of vivid testimonies from current priests who everything must be exactly right. In social life, one begs
claim to have been taken aback and totally unprepared forgiveness if I may have made a mistake, and ritual
to be suddenly designated the successor of a deceased errors can have catastrophic consequences. Moral and
incumbent in a temple session where the possessed me- philosophical debate likewise often involves abstract
dium pointed gods finger at him or the congregation principles and systematizing logic. The ideology thus
suddenly demanded his consent. As a limitation on this seems to embrace standards of rigour and exactness as
apparent anarchy, these same accounts may mention paramount ideals. But what might provide the exacting

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8 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002

standards by which to judge error and correctness? Given ritual error and disaster but not necessarily so in their
the imprecision of the media through which Bali-Hindu actual physical execution to avoid the dire consequences
knowledge is largely objectified (ritual objects, blessings, of error. Most of the ritual objects are subcontracted and
obscure mantras, vivid art forms, a cast of mythical and produced by others, and then it is their producers, not
theatrical figures), such a declared ideal may indeed be the sponsors of the ceremonies and offerings, who will
a trifle spurious. And the ambiguity of representations suffer the consequences of any ritual error that might
is only exacerbated by some general Balinese philosoph- occur. Indeed, if they are executed with rigour, care, and
ical tenets, for example, that everything in the world is good intentions, even their producers will probably es-
in a state of flux and if its current instantiation drifts cape the bad consequences of errors. Or other escape
too far towards one extreme it may flip to the opposite devices may obtain. For example, in the case of exhu-
extreme or that any one form or phenomenon may, in a mation for cremation, it is vitally important that all the
particular situation, appear as a manifestation of an ap- bones of the buried person be retrieved and burned. But
parently quite different phenomenon. one may choose merely to take a handful of earth from
A traditional ethnographic procedure would be to the grave, which then symbolically stands for the
search for empirical regularities in the ethnography of whole and complete skeleton. We are in a world con-
Bali so as to ascertain the extent of agreement that ob- structed on principles of sociality and morality, not me-
tains between Bali-Hindu authorities and to abstract the chanical causality.
common principles on which their knowledge is based The power of such a system of knowledge should
from a systematic inventory of that knowledge. But therefore be measured in terms of the productivity of the
nothing like the necessary data for such an assessment images, insights, and explanations that it provides for
are available: ethnographies have hardly scratched the reflection and action on the complexities of interper-
surface of local and regional variation or expressive sonal relations and of individual health and success and
wealth contained in the Bali-Hindu tradition. Might we, disaster, not in the rigour of its abstract generalizations
then, try to do as I did with the New Guinea materials about an impersonal, physical cosmos. And its coherence
referred to above and look for processes of knowledge will be located more in its social organization and in the
production, innovation, and marginal change? Again, the communicative medium and images it offers than in the
surfeit of productivity in the variety of representations abstract logic governing its corpus. Bali-Hinduism pro-
and expressions militates against establishing any kind vides a singularly rich vocabulary and set of images for
of canon or time line against which marginal empirical discourses and judgements on worshipfulness and co-
innovations and changes could be identified and mea- operation, virtue and evil, harmony and danger. The role
sured. of its priesthood and the pressure on each priest and
But perhaps the whole issue I raise is contrived and religious paragon is to maintain that productivity and
too narrowly conceived. Speaking of knowledge we engage the congregations in their ritual work. It is not
too easily focus on generalization, consistency, and a log- to work out a consistent set of dogmas or abstract gen-
ical coherence in which an ideal system of knowledge eralizations about the world. Thus, the particular kind
is seen as one which derived its corpus from a few ab- of composition that characterizes its corpus arises not
stract principles by systematic deduction. But knowledge from a failure for other purposes but from the strengths
in its different modalities can range from an assemblage that the medium of representation and the dynamics of
of disconnected empirical detail to a theory of every- the social organization provide to those who apply it in
thing, and even among ourselves in the West it is prob- action.
ably greatly weighted towards the former rather than the
latter form. Consider, for example, the details of houses,
trees, slopes, and paths that we carry about in our minds Modern Academic Knowledge
regarding every neighbourhood we know and how con-
stantly in use its ungeneralized detail is in our daily lives; Any attempt to give a general account of knowledge
consider the mass of specific empirical information that must be reflexively applicable to its own pursuitsin
we file under rather simple taxonomies of animals and this case, both to academic knowledge in general and to
plants. So let us return to basics and ask first just how our own anthropology in particular. But can the simple
Bali-Hinduism is used as knowledge, that is, used to perspective I have used to approach Ok cosmology and
interpret and act on the world. Bali-Hindu thought illuminate modern academic knowl-
Observing and listening to people using it shows us edge?
that it is mainly employed to interpret a social and moral I am treading here on treacherous ground, where any
worldindeed, one that embraces far more than the statement is easily read as signalling one or another of
moral world which a Western person constructsand to the familiar, contestable positions in the debates that
act socially and virtuously in it. And the rigour and ex- have preoccupied Western philosophers and methodol-
actness that persons cultivate are concerned precisely ogists for centuries. Yet I may need to make my preju-
with these social and moral aspects, not with the phys- dices clear. To my understanding, modern academic
ical and material. The enormously elaborate represen- knowledge is a way of knowing that has emerged his-
tations, towers, and offerings at a cremation, for example, torically through the union of a number of ideas. It hails
must be intended to be scrupulously correct to avoid from the Enlightenment and rationalist individualism.

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b a r t h An Anthropology of Knowledge F 9

Its global systemization through what Latour (1987) calls a clearer picture of resulting practices within universities
centers of calculation nurtured its spectacular accu- and disciplines. As in the case of Ok cosmology and Bali-
mulation, scope, and power. Its emergent idea of re- Hindu thought, what might seem relatively minor de-
search, in the strict sense of systematic procedures for tails of social organization can have, I suggest, great im-
producing previously unknown knowledge, implied a pact on the academic knowledge that is produced and
radical shift from the ideals of scholarship found in other husbanded. Some evidence of these effects in our own
literate traditions, which valorize the encyclopedic com- discipline in Britain have recently been discussed under
mand of existing bodies of knowledge. The ideological the heading of audit culture (Shore and Wright 1999).
and organizational features of this vision of knowledge In contrast to Humboldts heroic scenario of original,
were perhaps most clearly epitomized in the Humbold- critical research pursued by autonomously driven schol-
tian university concept. I take it as indisputable that the ars, the short-term gains of research and development
resulting forms of knowledge have proved immensely have played an increasing role in university rhetoric of
effective and have revolutionized much of modern self-justification. Continuing this trend, we are currently
thought and modern political economy. seeing a trivialization of the work done in universities
An anthropological perspective invites us to go beyond in Britain and elsewhere under the pressure of demands
the narrower questions of scientific methodology, or for justification through public accountability. A so-
truth and rationality, and instead observe the overall cir- cial democratic concern for the usefulness of the uni-
culation and deployment of modern knowledgethe in- versitys services to society and a neoliberal suspicion of
terleaved phases of its construction, representation, dis- the efficiency of the use of funds in any institution not
tribution, and reproduction and the uses made of it by directly related to the market combine to demand such
positioned actors and teams. This is congruent with the accountability through procedures that monitor univer-
approach I used to analyse Ok and Balinese materials, sity research and teaching by quality assessment. To
where I focused on their representation and transmission this end a political technology of self-monitoring, audits,
of knowledge and their practices of use, not on a critique and other quality assurance initiatives has been in-
of underlying methodological principles. A similar per- stituted. According to Shore and Wright (1999:565), by
spective on modern knowledge makes it fully amenable the 1990s every British anthropology department was
to the approach for which I plead. I thus see no problem subject to a cycle of academic audit one year, a compet-
in disaggregating sectors of academic knowledge into the itive ranking of research output the next year, and a
same three faces as other knowledge: the bodies of sub- teaching-quality assessment the third year. Any unsat-
stantive assertions it contains, the characteristic media isfactory department was given 12 months to remedy its
and representations in which it is cast and communi- position, after which core funding and student places for
cated, and the social organization within which its ac- that unit were withdrawn. By 1997, two further agencies
tivities take place. We then observe their interplay, es- were designed: an institute for the accreditation of aca-
pecially in the criteria of validity and the constraints on demic teachers, which expected faculty to devote five to
performance that are generated not in an imaginary and eight days per annum to remaining in good standing,
universalized space but in the particular moments of re- and an ambitious quality-assurance agency to standard-
alization of action. ize degrees, set subject benchmarks, formulate target
Looking separately at the media of representation and outcomes for each programme in each institution, name
communication allows us to discover how very unlike academic reviewers for each discipline, and scrutinize
each other the different branches of academic knowledge quality-assurance mechanisms in each institution on a
are. Mathematical knowledge has its computations, six-yearly cycle.
gross anatomy its atlases, microbiology its technical ap- What is put in the hands of this bureaucratic leviathan
paratus and chemical models, and so on. These repre- is nothing less than the power to replace and reshape the
sentations shape both thought and action and thus the criteria of validity governing anthropological knowledge
practices of scholars in different disciplines. Emily Mar- in Britain. If traditional scholarly criteria of validity have
tin (1987, 1994; Kirschner 1999) has furthermore uncov- not been totally eclipsed, they certainly will be signifi-
ered the role of broader networks of ideas and framing cantly supplemented by this regime. The only way for
metaphors in how science is represented: the language scholars to survive in such a situation, Shore and Wright
of industrial production in reproductive medicine (and point out, is to design their research with the measuring
the hidden curriculum of traditional gender knowledge instruments of the quality-assessment bureaucracy in
that it incorporates), the images of war games and the mind and create a paper trail to provide evidence of per-
body boundary anxieties that permeate immunology. Be- formance that is measurable and will give a positive
sides shaping popular knowledge in these fields, such score. Thus, inevitably, the design of the measuring in-
imagery must also affect the construction of research strument defines what will be valued. Since the organ-
projects and thereby the production of new knowledge. ization controls resources and the granting of legitimacy,
There is much empirical and analytical work to be done the criteria of validity for British anthropology will, from
along such lines in each of the different, particular dis- now on, represent a balance between the simplicities
ciplines of science, humanities, and social science. imposed by the measuring capacity of the audit mech-
Clearly distinguishing the modes of representation anism and the vicissitudes of patronage and factionalism
from the organizational face of knowledge also allows us among the select few who hold positions in its bureau-

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10 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002

cracy. It seems discouragingly safe to expect less imag- they patently have in various human populations, rather
ination and creativity and more triviality from scholars than a normative critique or expose of how scientific
governed by this regime, and to that extent the model research is pursued. Obviously, it would not be very fruit-
predicts the trajectory of anthropological knowledge in ful for anthropologists to study the varieties of human
Britain. knowledge only to dismiss most of them for faulty
The technology of reviews and academic audits will method. People construct their worlds by their knowl-
be familiar to all of us. Yet there is reason to hope that edge and live by it, and therefore an anthropology of
its effects on scholarly performance in, for example, the knowledge should ask how these varieties are variously
United States will be less than in Britain. Control is produced, represented, transmitted, and applied. This ac-
somewhat less centralized in American academia, and count must be relativist, of course, and will have only
much arbitrary power is held by individual university marginal and limited use for concepts of truth and falsity,
presidents. Paradoxically, this may favour the conditions rationality and irrationality. Truth is not the bottom line
of creativity among colleagues in America. The perform- (Putnam 1981:130). But such a relativism certainly does
ance of a university president is, after all, in part judged not mean that anything goespace Feyerabend (1975).
by the presidents proximity to academic excellence and The illustrations I have given suggest that each tradition
fame, and entrepreneurial success in recruiting famous of knowledge will be characterized by distinct and in
faculty enhances the presidents own status. This in turn their own ways stringent criteria of valid-
sets up a quest for fame among scholars in every disci- itypresumably in some kind of systematic relation to
pline, allowing a different set of criteria of validity for the uses to which that knowledge is put.
the knowledge they produce and a different structure of Much of the controversy around the strong program
rewards. The quality-assessment technologies may in science studies arises from the objection by many nat-
therefore prove to have both fewer uses and less levelling ural scientists that such an approach misses the whole
effects in America than in Britain. point of science: its discovery of truth through its en-
gagement with nature itself as the external referee and
thus the ultimate explanation of all scientific knowledge
General Reflections (Sokal and Bricmont 1998:85, 97). Now, all knowledge,
as noted in the definition, engages nature in that it is
Unsurprisingly, it emerges from the preceding section used to interpret and act on the world, and we need to
that the perspective I have applied to the analysis of Ok be precise and discriminating in our description of how
and Balinese knowledge can be used to illuminate sig- different representations of knowledge and different so-
nificant aspects of academic knowledge as well. That ciologies are linked to different practices of application
must be so, as I see it, because its first and basic move to nature. Baktaman cultivators pile leaves and uprooted
is to set up dimensions of description (corpus, medium, vegetation around their taro plants because the taro
social organization) that are based on truisms about all likes the smell of rotting vegetation. They doubtless
knowledge. The issue is where a more comprehensive have accumulated agronomical experience that this prac-
and detailed analysis along these lines might take us in tice affects the world, that is, the growth of taro. They
our understanding of how academic knowledge works. do not pursue their representation further to determine
In my small example above, I focussed on a few features if it is indeed the smell and not some other consequence
of the social organization of universities and anthropol- of their practice that makes the taro thrive. But the image
ogy and on the criteria of validity and the practices that of representation that they use seems perfectly adequate
they generate, not on an analysis of methodology in the in motivating their mulching practice. What sense would
strict sense. In this respect, my mode of approach is it make for us to translate their image literally and then
somewhat like what since the 1970s has been called the fault it as if it motivated practices that they do not fol-
strong program in science studies (Barnes, Bloor, and low? I propose that in our description of knowledge we
Henry 1996), characterized especially by its agnosticism need to be very meticulous in our recording of how items
with respect to the truth or falsity of specific items of of knowledge are connected withno: are part of
knowledge.4 specific practices. We should not, in the fashion of early
But my purposes are different: an exploration of the ethnographers, lose ourselves in what strikes us as the
ethnographies of human knowledge, in the forms that bizarre imagery.
Will such meticulousness allow us to disregard nature
4. Or see the principles articulated by Bloor (1991:7): 1. It would as the tribunal of knowledge and explain the content and
be causal, that is, concerned with the conditions which bring about trajectory of knowledge purely by social and represen-
belief or states of knowledge. Naturally there will be other types
tational factors? Certainly not, if we have the hubris to
of causes apart from social ones which will cooperate in bringing
about beliefs. wish to explain human knowledge ex nihilo. But a social
2. It would be impartial with respect to truth and falsity, ra- and representational description will take us a long way
tionality or irrationality, success or failure. Both sides of these di- in specifying the pathways of feedback from action on
chotomies will require explanation. the worldfrom natureto socially positioned thinking
3. It would be symmetrical in its style of explanation. The same
types of causes would explain, say, true and false beliefs. and acting persons, reaping experience that is profoundly
4. It would be reflexive. In principle its patterns of explanation shaped by the specific tasks, purposes, and representa-
would have to be applicable to sociology itself. tions of knowledge that they construct. Thus if our idea

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b a r t h An Anthropology of Knowledge F 11

of change is one of a marginal changelike a differential bution, forms of coherence in shared knowledge, and the
equation of what is happeningthen we can, or rather trajectory of change in cultural meanings. I agree with
we must, bring a battery of those persons presumptions Barth that meaning construction, transmission, and ap-
and schemas for interpreting the apparent results of ac- plication in daily social transactions are symbolic ac-
tion to bear on what new knowledge may ensue. Raw tions that take place among socially situated persons
nature obtains very limited access and at best only a with particular communicative intentions. In psychol-
small voice through this tight grid of human construc- ogy, the preferred subject of theoretical discourse is men-
tions. tal process. Robert Krauss and I have articulated the so-
But perhaps some persons are as literal-minded as the cial cognitive processes that mediate the development
old ethnographers were and use conventional represen- of shared meanings. Our claims (1998:53) are as follows:
tations to think in unconventional contexts. Baktaman
cultivators sometimes wonder, as I found them doing,
whether, given that the taro can smell, it can also hear. Using language to represent a state of affairs can
(It probably cannot see, because it is beneath the ground.) evoke or create an internal representation that dif-
Smell also plays a certain role in their ritual: they blow fers from the internal representations of the same
wild ginger in contexts that I never felt I understood. state of affairs evoked or created by other means of
Perhaps odor serves as a model, an image, for action at encoding. The internal representations evoked or
a distancea problem I once heard them spontaneously created by language use can affect a language users
address in wondering how it was that the ancestral skull subsequent cognitions. The form that a linguistic
in the temple could effect growth in the taro of distant representation takes will be affected by the contexts
gardens. Change in every tradition of knowledge surely of language use, including the ground rules and as-
arises from within it, through idle speculation, and by sumptions that govern usage; audience design; and
transposing models and mixing metaphors, as well as the immediate, ongoing, and emerging properties of
from the external feedbacks from the world that are in- the communication situation. Through communica-
terpreted in experience. Such speculation must press on tion, the private cognitions of individuals can be
the boundaries of conventional knowledge. Can we dis- made public and directed toward a shared represen-
cover and describe the specific form of the reality checks tation of the referent.
that such speculation runs into? Surely, the very fact that
These claims link the use of language in communi-
change in traditions of knowledge is demonstrably path-
cation to the emergence of socially shared cognitions,
dependent shows us that these human constructions are
which are core elements of cultural meaning systems.
not subject to any massively external test of nature and
As Langacker (1967) argues, when a thought is translated
that we need a much less simplistic way to model the
into a speech the speaker must cast it in a form that is
interpenetration of a corpus of knowledge and its set of
appropriate for linguistic operations and pertinent to
applications to action on the world.
the communication function. Thus, interpersonal com-
To unravel more of the processes and dynamics of the
munication is the primary process by which private
human varieties in knowledge, it seems that we have an
unending program of discovery and analysis ahead of us. thoughts are socialized. Audience design in communi-
cation provides a good illustration of how a private idea
is transformed into a shared representation. Typically, a
communicative message is addressed to an actual or po-
Comments tential audience and has been formulated to be under-
standable by that audience. Regardless of whether the
audience consists of some specific other person, a spec-
chi-yue chiu ifiable collection of individuals (students in an intro-
Department of Psychology, University of Hong Kong, ductory anthropology lecture), or a category of individ-
Hong Kong, Peoples Republic of China (cychiu@ uals (readers of current anthropology), in formulating
hkusua.hk). 23 ix 01 communicative messages a speaker must take the ad-
dressees knowledge, beliefs, and motives into account.
Barth has managed a significant conceptual achievement Speakers describing the Star Ferry Terminal in Hong
in proposing to develop a comparative ethnographic anal- Kong refer to it differently depending on the listeners
ysis on how bodies of knowledge are produced in per- apparent familiarity with Hong Kong. Thus, inevitably
sons and populations, in the context of the social rela- the speaker will modify the communicative message in
tions that they sustain. In this proposal he identifies the direction of the assumed knowledge of the listener.
three interconnected faces of knowledge: a substantive Moreover, the verbal representation of the referent in the
corpus of assertions, a range of media of representation, communicative message could overshadow the speakers
and social organization. This schematic framework of- original mental representation of the referent. Verbal
fers new insights on the interpersonal and cognitive overshadowing is particularly important for internali-
foundations of cultural meanings. zation of shared representations because it enables
Many social psychologists have sought to identify the shared representations established in communication to
interpersonal factors that determine knowledge distri- replace private representations.

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12 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002

As Barth mentions, people sharing a cultural context lapses together the notion of development, such as the
are positioned in a common social organization and par- growth of trees or children, and the notion of spread,
ticipate in similar social practices. Because communi- such as the growth of an epidemic or a religious tradition.
cative acts are goal-directed behaviors, culturally salient Both kinds of phenomena may be described as growth,
perlocutionary intentions (intentions to bring about but the first kind implies gradual change within a
some particular consequence by an act of speaking) may bounded and persisting system (like a human body),
also constrain the pattern of language use within a cul- while the second implies more or less faithful replication
tural group, evoking similar linguistic representations within an ever-shifting social network. When Barth in-
and giving rise to shared meanings. vestigates the growth of knowledge, which kind of
In short, there are different metaphors and modes of growth does he have in mind?
discourse in anthropology and social psychology for de- Taken by itself, his Mintz Lecture might lead one to
scribing the processes and dynamics of the human va- think that Barth is mainly interested in the first sense
rieties in knowledge. An interdisciplinary perspective of growth, that is, development within a systemthe
might offer a more complete picture with different layers system of knowledge, in this case, found within a given
of detail and generality. One facet of Barths conceptual society. Indeed, for present purposes, he deliberately
accomplishment is that he offers a concrete analytic omits the many exogenous factors that he knows must
framework for establishing common ground for the two impinge upon the systemic local processes that he is
disciplines to communicate their insights on how cul- attempting to model. Such strategic simplification is a
tural meanings develop and change in interpersonal necessary stepif not a necessary evilin all model
transactions. building, and there is little doubt that Barth gains in-
sights into endogenous processes by temporarily ignoring
exogenous ones. In particular, he is able to shed consid-
l a r s ro d s e t h erable light on the issues of (1) how knowledge in the
Department of Anthropology, University of Utah, 270 Ok region has changed and diversified, given the su-
S 1400 E Rm. 102, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, U.S.A. preme value that the Baktaman place on cultural con-
(rodseth@anthro.utah.edu). 28 ix 01 tinuity, and (2) what makes Balinese knowledge persist
and cohere over such a wide area when there is no
While he is still best known for his early work on po- churchlike authority to curb erratic local innovation.
litical leadership and ethnic identity, Fredrik Barth has Both change and persistence are seen here as endoge-
now devoted the majority of his long career to the an- nously determined processes, as in the growth of a tree
thropology of knowledge. We can detect the beginnings or a child.
of this project as early as 1966, when he wrote, The Yet a careful reading of Barths other works, especially
problem as I see it is to understand how any degree of Cosmologies in the Making (1987) and The Guru and
systematization and consistency is established and the Conjurer (1990), makes it clear that he is intensely
maintained between the different values that coexist in interested in cultural growth as a distributed processa
a culture (1966:12). Rejecting structuralist and func- matter of knowledge spreading from individual to indi-
tionalist accounts that attribute cultural integration vidual within a social network and perhaps spilling from
merely to logical or psychological consistency, Barth set one network to another through the activities of gurus
out to investigate the creation of consistency through and other long-distance travelers. To balance our image
personal transactions and other social processes. He took of Barths approach, it is worth remembering his em-
as his inspiration a statement by Boas, originally pub- phasis in an earlier context on the way knowledge often
lished in 1896: If anthropology desires to establish the slips the grid of existing institutions: I wish to grasp
laws governing the growth of culture it must not confine general features of the management and transmission of
itself to comparing the results of growth alone, but when- knowledge, and the resulting informational economy of
ever such is feasible it must compare the processes of communities and regions, not the structure of particular
growth (Boas 1940:280, emphasis added; cf. Barth 1966: instituted relations (1990:648). A related aspect of
22). Barths approach is his emphasis on the factors that make
Comparing processes of cultural growth is exactly some forms of knowledge more portable or more
what Barth has done in New Guinea and Bali (not to catching than others (see also Sperber 1996). In the
mention the several other societies in which he has con- Mintz Lecture we see how a corpus of knowledge is de-
ducted fieldwork over the past 35 years). The resulting pendent on endogenous media and social organization;
monographs (Barth 1975, 1987, 1993) and articles (e.g., what we do not see in any detail is how a given idea or
1989, 1990, 1992) constitute an exemplary body of work, assertion escapes that corpus of knowledge and spreads
perhaps the single most important model for empirical beyond its original medium and social milieu. The lim-
research within the emerging neo-Boasian paradigm (e.g., itation of this approach has been identified by Barth him-
Rodseth 1998, Bunzl 1999, Lewis 2001). Here I would self (1990:641), and the question he posed in that earlier
like to focus on the Boasian metaphor of growth as a context is especially fitting for an occasion honoring Sid-
way of analyzing both the scope and the limits of Barths ney Mintz: How might we do better, and start building
anthropology of knowledge. a social anthropology which could inform regional and
The concept of growth is deeply ambiguous. It col- historical syntheses, and thereby achieve the dynamic

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b a r t h An Anthropology of Knowledge F 13

character needed to give an account of variable and actly how actors of a given kind in specific circumstances
changing humanity? decide to reproduce, tinker with, invent, forget, or sup-
press a given substantive proposition. This is an actor-
centered view of agency, which takes intentions and ca-
j o h n ro b b pabilities for action as its starting point. But what about
Department of Archaeology, Cambridge University, the reverse perspectivein which bodies of knowledge
Cambridge CB2 3DZ, U.K. (jer39@cam.ac.uk). 2 x 01 are preexisting and actors are constituted through their
relation to them, in other words, through their public
Whether we call the object of our study culture or acts of knowing? A related question concerns which
knowledge, what matters is how well our conceptu- kinds of knowledge are best analyzed using Barths
alization of it can elucidate a particular situation. Barths point of view. His examples seem to suggest that this
formulation is especially fruitful because it isolates four works, basically, for things that people have choice about
very important points: (a) that we need to consider dis- believing or at least may be modeled as having choice
cursive and non-discursive knowledge together rather about: which interpretation of an ambiguous precept to
than separately; (b) that people within a single group foment, for instance, or whether to write a research grant
participate differentially in multiple social knowledges, to investigate DNA, cold fusion, or extrasensory percep-
which thus become a social resource; (c) that the repro- tion. Its not clear where to fit in habituated actions be-
duction of knowledge is an act of agency situated in low the threshold of consciousness, inculcated feelings
unique circumstances; and (d) that we can seek to ex- and attitudes such as shame, and such abstract unques-
plain the long-term history of knowledge in terms of tionables as Rappaports (1979) ultimate sacred postu-
cumulative generations of reproduction. lates or Bourdieus (1977) generative principles.
Because this perspective is potentially applicable to Barths essay thus should perhaps be read as an extremely
many media and kinds of knowledge, it raises exciting stimulating staking out of a well-delimited part of the
new questions for history and archaeology. If one views problem of agency and social reproduction.
material things as products and instruments of bodies of
knowledge which are neither unquestioningly repro-
duced nor unalterable, then Barths vision can supply one a l a n ru m s e y
bridge for linking the micro-sociology of social action Department of Anthropology, Research School of
with the creation of long-term historical traditions. For Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National
example, some archaeologists have begun to consider University, Canberra, A.C.T. 0200, Australia. 25 ix 01
material culture in terms of how the knowledge required
to produce it is maintained and reproduced. Perles (2001) Barth says that among the Baktaman
provides one example: Would an inland community in
the most abstract and systematically developed tra-
the Greek Early Neolithic have been able to maintain a
dition of knowledge . . . was cast in the form of se-
complex and detailed body of seafaring knowledge by
cret rituals that dealt with growth, vegetative fertil-
engaging in very few voyages with long gaps between
ity, and support from ancestors. . . .
them? A similar approach is inherent in many symbolic
By means of ritual manipulation and juxtaposi-
interpretations of material-culture change; the long cen-
tion in the rituals, analogies were created between
turies of remodeling monuments such as Stonehenge
phenomena, and metaphors were created which
must be interpreted as a historical trajectory of change
were thus, as symbols, brought into harmony with
created by generations of ritual participants speaking an
each other to enrich each others connotations.
inherited language of stones. It is especially interesting
Thus, for example, a series of analogies was demon-
to consider knowledge about knowledge (Barths cri-
strated between different models of growth . . . link-
teria for validity)for instance, which genres of knowl-
ing all of them as images of the effects of an invisi-
edge must be adhered to rigidly and which allow free
ble force, somewhat like heat, that makes taro
play of improvisation and elaboration. This kind of gen-
plants and subterranean corms grow.
erative agent-oriented approach is absolutely necessary
for any kind of regional analysis of cultural variation (as One of the main points of his pathbreaking (1975) ac-
Barths own work [1987] illustrates wonderfully; cf. count of these traditions (which is consistent with his
Knauft 1993), especially where phenotypic differences present account) is that their object is essentially inef-
in cultural practices have clearly arisen from common fable. The symbols are concrete, mainly visual ones
roots (for example, Robb 2001). which in their use among the Baktaman are never sub-
What is more difficult is to determine the limits of jected to the kind of explicit exegesis through which
this approach. Although Barth notes that his definition Barth himself is able to link them all and to suggest a
of knowledge overlaps with anthropologists tradi- common theme such as the invisible force described
tional definition of culture, in practice his analytical above. Any attempt to do so is, as I think Barth would
strategy limits the depth with which knowledge pene- agree, a compromise that renders them more intelligible
trates the actors. In other words, it separates actors from from what he calls the externalist viewpoint but strips
the act of knowing. As an analytical tactic, this allows them of the capacity they give to Baktaman initiates to
us to investigate with great effectiveness and detail ex- experience what otherwise might be misery or boredom

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14 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002

. . . as the very epitome of the good life (Barth 1975: bob simpson
236)and, indeed, of their capacity to inform such Department of Anthropology, University of Durham,
highly efficacious practices as the mulching of taro 43 Old Elvet, Durham DH1 3HN, U.K.
mounds. (robert.simpson@durham.ac.uk). 17 ix 01
A somewhat similar compromise is, I suggest, in-
volved in Barths present attempt to be as explicit as In a fitting tribute to the scholarship and intellectual
possible about what he means by knowledge. He is of virtuosity of Sidney Mintz, Barth has produced an en-
course not the first social theorist to take this as a central gaging and provocative invitation to consider knowledge
term of analysis. One thinks, for example, of Karl Mann- as an important theoretical and methodological locus for
heim (1936) and the large body of ensuing work done ethnographic enquiry. Knowledge is one of those slippery
under the banner of the sociology of knowledge, of concepts that, along with, for example, family, or-
Foucaults (1972) vision of an archeology of knowl- ganization, tradition, and individual, enable an-
edge, and even of C. S. Peirce, whose foundational work thropologists to talk to one another without getting too
in semiotics had no place for a notion of structure but bogged down in the specificities of culture and setting.
was all about the growth of knowledge. But it is probably By drawing our attention to corpus, media, and social
fair to say that no anthropologist has made knowledge organization as crucial variables brought together in very
as central a working concept as Barth has. The anthro- different ways in a range of social, economic, and his-
pological context is crucial here, fornotwithstanding torical circumstances, Barth has gone some way toward
his own (1975:15971) aversion to positional or con- suggesting a systematic approach to the study of knowl-
trastive accounts of meaningthe sense that Barth edge across radically different contexts. The approach is
wants to give to the term knowledge is best under- one with which I am broadly sympathetic, and I have
stood in terms of the explicit contrast he here develops found a focus on knowledge as the subject of transaction
between it and its presumed other, namely, culture and contestation useful in my own analysis of traditional
(differentially distributed versus diffusely shared, dis- healers in Sri Lanka (Simpson 1997). However, whilst
tinct from reflection and actions, etc.). the lecture succeeds in setting off numerous conceptual
But when Barth attempts to define knowledge pos- and analytical rabbits in some interesting and suggestive
itively, he vacillates between descriptions which are too directions, there are some important omissions. In par-
broad to operationalize (what a person employs to in- ticular I am interested in what has happened to tradition,
terpret and act on the world . . . [including] feelings (at- creativity, and, above all, performance in this otherwise
titudes) as well as information, embodied skills as well stimulating exposition.
as verbal taxonomies and concepts) and ones which are I draw attention to these dimensions of knowledge
too narrow to be adequate, even as descriptions of his because I think they would significantly strengthen the
own analytical procedure (a corpus of substantive as- arguments that Barth presents. Leaving universities aside
sertions). His proposed threefold disaggregation of for the time being, the forms of knowledge that he uses
knowledge (substantive corpus, medium and represen- to make his case are not just any knowledge but ritual
tations, social organization) has much to recommend it, knowledge, and as such their immanence is made tan-
as does his processual approach in general, but it is not gible through performances made up of audiences, ac-
clear that social organization can be separated out as tion, and various kinds of embodied authority. As Leach
the distinctly actional dimension of knowledge, since all (1976) once suggested, ritual is practical philosophy; even
three faces of knowledge are involved in every trans- if it is not necessarily coming up with answers, it is at
action in knowledge, in every performance, and since least posing intelligible questions about existential ver-
social organization is partly a matter of sedimented fields ities such as suffering, life, death, and conflict. Yet, the
in which actors are positioned. Nor is it always clear power and authority of this knowledge do not simply
how to distinguish knowledge as substantive corpus come down to assertions of its primordiality; they are
from medium and representations, since knowledge of achieved through the repeated performance of persuasive
the latter is crucial in any society and a substantial part ritual acts. Medium and message, as Marshall McLuhan
of what is differentially distributed. (1964) and others since have argued, are powerfully in-
But it would be grossly unfair to hold Barth to the letter tertwined in the communication of this kind of knowl-
of his own attempted exegesis here of what he means by edge. Thus, practice informed by tradition is always si-
knowledge. The brilliance of his work has always been multaneously old and new; convention and inven-
most evident in the use he has been able to make of such tion are two sides of the same coin. Convention has to
terms as what Karl Popper (1972) would have called be continually invented and re-presented, whilst implicit
searchlights for the illumination of human social life in the notion of invention are conventions from which
in a wide variety of ethnographic settings. In this respect practice deviates. Focus on the activities of those who
their effect is rather like the ineffable forms of coherence are responsible for the performance of things traditional
among disparate experiential realms that are achieved (healers, priests, elders, shamans) ought to throw light
through the concrete metaphors of Baktaman ritualan on the mechanisms and techniques whereby perform-
effect which makes Barths general account of knowl- ance in the present comes to carry the unmistakable
edge even more reflexively applicable than he may stamp of tradition. In this view, tradition is not a mere
have anticipated. receptacle of invariant knowledge; rather, it is made up

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b a r t h An Anthropology of Knowledge F 15

of fundamentally creative and interpretive acts on the knowledge, practice, culture, or structure, because his
part of the carriers of tradition which are intended to broad view of knowledge encompasses all these features
make it appear invariant, ancient, and primordial (cf: Bell and, furthermore, he attests to their mutual determi-
1992 and Fuller 1997). Tradition is in effect a history of native effects on each other. These terms are the ones
creativity (Simpson n.d.), and the exponents of tradition with which we narrow down and make visible the sub-
bear an existential responsibility (Pye 1991:30) be- ject of our inquiry for specific analytic purposes. We
cause they must adapt to their present circumstances make the terms appear to have certain distinct features,
the knowledge and skills passed on to them. The creative and in this regard they are as useful as the ends to which
act is to do this in such a way as to deny change and we put them. What analytic ends are met by Barths own
temporality and to fabricate for their audiences a sense glosses on this nexus of human behaviour and concep-
of transmitted invariance and timelessness: a perfor- tualization?
mative illusion of considerable ingenuity and persuasive Despite avowing the mutual interconnection of the
power (cf. Smith 1982:53). three faces of knowledgecorpus, mode of transmis-
All of this would appear to take us a long way from sion and representation, and social organizationBarth
modern academic knowledge, but, as Barth demon- argues that the knowledge component of our being is
strates, there is much that might be learned from the conceptually separable from our relationships . . . the
ways in which Ok cosmology or Bali-Hindu thought is social dimensions of our lives. While this seems intu-
socially organized and routinely transacted. Yet, outside itively acceptable to us as Westerners, it is also the case
of laboratory studies we have remarkably little by way that along with what we learn as a corpus of propositions
of ethnographic research on contemporary academic we also absorb the techniques of nescience that confi-
practice. Paying attention to the details of that practice gure the limits of that corpus and its vehicles of repre-
not just in different disciplines but also in different coun- sentation. But what we do not, cannot, or are not sup-
tries (see Gledhill 2000) seems like a good idea if we are posed to know for whatever social reason is not as easy
to comment reflectively on what we do in the name of to represent to ourselves as the explicit portions which
responsible teaching and scholarship. Yet again, the per- embody what is overtly bequeathed to us in the social
formative dimensions of knowledge are underplayed. For world.
example, the revolution in information and communi- Because Barth separates the corpus of propositions
cation technologies not only has had a massive impact
from their mode of transmission, he creates the problem
on the shape of academic knowledge (the corpus) but also
of what is or is not transmitted under certain condi-
is radically changing its performance and transmission
tionsthe examples he uses come from his non-Western
(analogies with the impact of literacy on oral traditions
field areas of Western Province, Papua New Guinea, and
would not be out of place here). Teaching that once took
Bali. In response to the dilemma of the Baktaman ritual
place in a socio-moral context with some parallels to the
adept, who must reproduce ancestral secret knowledge
performance and transmission of Ok or Bali-Hindu
despite the long duration of its nonperformance and non-
knowledge now takes place in a radically altered context.
transmission, I pose the dilemmas of contemporary in-
The expansion of information and communication tech-
nologies and the audit, surveillance, and monitoring they digenous Australians living in settled Australia, who face
make possible means that knowledge transactions are the challenge of recovering their precolonial traditions
increasingly virtual, technological, and information- after a long period of dispossession and forced forgetting
based. Democratization of information ushers in new of them in order to reclaim native title rights to their
forms of authority and accountability. Whereas tradi- ancestral lands. The Australian states and federal gov-
tional ritual performers are required to put their energies ernment have been inclined to accept that these
into making things that are changing seem the same, the traditions have been washed away by the tide of his-
energy of academics seems currently to be driven to- tory (as one federal court judge opined in a recent land-
wards masking the stability and continuity of their mark native title case) and that consequently contem-
traditions in order to create a disembodied knowledge porary Aborigines have lost their tradition.
that appears new and innovative at every turn. The pos- From one point of view, the comparison between the
sible implications of this trend are profound, and Barth Baktaman and Aborigines in settled Australia is only
is to be congratulated for suggesting some of the frame- structural. After all, the perception of loss among the
works we might construct in order to make possible a Baktaman is an endogenously engendered one, while
comparative exercise in the global ethnography of many indigenous Australians were forced through vari-
knowledge. ous oppressive actions by settler society to relinquish
their language, religion, myth, and so forth. But, as, I was
james f. weiner told by an Aboriginal Australian whose native title claim
Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, I have been researching, any given generation knows ex-
Austrialian National University, Canberra, A.C.T. actly what it knows at any given time. If indigenous
0200, Australia (james.weiner@anu.edu.au). 21 ix 01 knowledge of country became mediated through Abo-
riginal employment on white-owned pastoral stations in
Barths definition of knowledge is on the face of it in- the late 19th and 20th centuries, it is indigenous knowl-
nocuousit doesnt matter whether we are talking about edge of country nevertheless. Its continuity with a pre-

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16 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002

vious regime of knowledge of country in a landscape senting not obstacles but productive questions they
devoid of settlers is nevertheless patent. show the productivity of an anthropological focus on
While Barth does an excellent job preserving the pro- knowledge.
portions of the dilemma of how much we should know Chiu points to the important ways in which the com-
between the very differently scaled worlds of the Bak- munication of a thought shapes that thought through a
taman and the Balinese, I am less sure how his third subtle interaction of the need to cast it in a form appro-
example, that of academic knowledge, relates to the first priate to the medium in which it is being encoded, the
two cases. From my Australian perspective, at least Brit- operations that can be performed in that code, the con-
ish universities are focusing on research output that ac- straints of convention, audience design, etc. This shapes
ademics would find acceptable, and the priority seems the thought as a vector in subsequent cognition and use
to be preserving the ability of academic departments to and in the production of shared meanings. Though Chiu
sustain themselves in the terms he evidently favours. In seems to favour language over other forms of codifica-
Australia, however, research output barely ranks against tion, this schema appears equally relevant to all the me-
postgraduate student degrees awarded. To my mind this dia of communication that must engage the ethnogra-
means that a wedge has been driven into the nexus of pher. Indeed, the recent work by Whitehouse (2000) takes
academic research and scholarly transmission of a dis- some steps in this very direction. We should welcome
ciplinary methodology through postgraduate supervi- the promise that Chius invitation to interdisciplinary
sion; it is no longer necessary to demonstrate scholarship discussion offers.
to supervise its reproduction in Australian universi- Rumsey helpfully explicates the problems I face in my
tieshere, then, is the real danger of separating knowl- attempts to identify the ineffable objects of Baktaman
edge from its hierarchies of transmission. Further, re- knowledge in an externalist and English-language mode.
sources are being diverted away from the Ph.D. program He further points to difficulties inherent in my concept
as such to shorter postgraduate degrees that will attract of knowledge. I might say that I intended less than to
full-fee-paying students. The result can be pre- define knowledge positively (what a person employs
dictedthe current emphasis is on producing postgrad- to interpret and act on the world . . . etc.). It is enough
uates not with purely academic qualifications but with for us to recognize that it is where persons engage in
more tailored degrees in applied disciplinary knowl- such tasks that we should look for empirical manifes-
edge and practice, designed to facilitate their employ- tations of knowledge. The idea of a corpus, however,
ment outside of the university sector. While I am in no refers to only one of the three elemental faces of knowl-
doubt of the value of such courses, given that more an- edge and not its totality, though it is meant to embrace
thropologists in Australia are currently employed out- all forms of templates and skills, non-linguistic as much
side the universities than within them, I am not sure as linguistic. Rumseys other query regarding my char-
how long it will take, left unchecked, for this mode of acterization of social organization as another face of
transmission to remove altogether the need for scholarly knowledge is very well taken. I hoped to identify a social
reproduction of disciplinary knowledge. The ultimate ef- domain embracing all the interactional affordances and
fect of this practice by Austrialian academic depart- constraints on performance at the moment of action. But
ments, particularly anthropology departments, may since all interaction arises from a prepositioning of the
come to resemble the response of indigenous Australians interacting parties and since we need to retrieve all the
in the early 20th century: Faced with exile and incar- relevant institutional statuses, conventions, and capac-
ceration if they were caught speaking their own language ities under this heading, that is not adequate. Too many
or practising their precolonial customs, they ceased to substantive aspects of social knowledge and too many
do so, leaving subsequent indigenous generations the ar- predistributed skills of communication seem to be folded
duous task of creating the conditions for its reappearance into this face at present. I have not been able to find a
and reembodiment. There may come a time when Aus- form of words that serves my intentions better and tags
tralian antropologists will face the laborious task of reas- what I wish to disaggregate; perhaps the problem is that
serting the continuity between academic anthropology my construction attempts to schematize too much. At
and that which seems to be replacing it. But, to repeat the same time, I do not wish to lose its marginalist po-
the words of my indigenous interlocutor, every genera- tential, which depends on modeling a minimal set of
tion knows what it must knowand can know. factors that impinge on actors at the moment when
knowledge is made manifest in action.
This is where I accommodate the focus on perform-
ance that Simpson misses. His observation that my main
Reply illustrations are limited to ritual is important. It is es-
sential that we be able to analyse knowledge of different
domains and different ways of knowing. Though I could
fredrik barth not pursue it in the narrow compass of an article, I claim
Boston, Mass., U.S.A. 9 x 01 that it can be done. The result would be to demonstrate
how diverse the different traditions of knowledge indeed
I very much welcome the remarks of my respondents, are. It would also compel me to give a different account
each of which is constructive and challenging. By pre- of the central problem of so much of philosophy and

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b a r t h An Anthropology of Knowledge F 17

methodology, namely, how nature impinges on some or it disappears. Unlike all other modern institutions,
forms of knowledge in a much more determinate way we have no other place to turn for skilled recruits in the
than it does in those forms that I discuss here. hundreds of different disciplines: unless the university
Robb points up my partiality to the actor side of the sector is allowed to produce full-fledged scholars, it will
actor/structure antinomy. What about the reverse per- not be there to serve any of its other functions in 20
spective, he asks, in which bodies of knowledge are pre- years time.
existing and actors are constituted through their relation I have saved Rodseths comments till last, since they
to them? I acknowledge that in resisting the structur- allow me also to articulate my homage to Sidney Mintz.
alists single-minded emphasis on the aggregate I tend Rodseth generously places my work in an emerging neo-
polemically to stress the agency of individuals so as to Boasian tradition and points to the fruitfulness of the
escape the stasis of the preexisting. That is why Russells generative mechanisms I analyse for tasks of historical
framing of the problem of knowledge was so attractive and regional synthesis, as much as for the analysis of
to me. A more disengaged way is to conceptualize the endogenous transformations. I would be very satisfied if
two as parts of a dialectic. Yet the point of my exercise the perspective we discuss here were recognized as one
is to identify the processes that generate these vast bod- that allows us to resume some of Boass large and central
ies of accumulated public knowledge. Wallerstein (1988: tasks for anthropologyambitions that have been side-
531) speaks of culture as the residue of pastness but chal- lined in much contemporary work. He laid claim to an
lenges the usefulness of that view by the counter that immensely ambitious scholarly space for anthropology.
we only know pastness in the present. My strategy is His broadest intent was to develop a discipline that could
precisely to capture that present knowledge in its dis- address the dynamics of human society and culture with
tributed modality, to see the traditions of knowledge in empirical rigour but generalizing intent, through histor-
their moment of manifestation as they are deployed and ical syntheses as much as close analysis of mechanisms.
identify the reproductive consequences and marginal This is a vision and a practice that we should all in our
changes which that deployment produces. In this view, various ways be more prepared to shoulder and that Sid-
the only other kind of knowledge, located elsewhere, ney Mintz has honoured in his scholarship.
would be in textbooks, archives, data banks, and the
minds of othersbut it needs to be retrieved in the pre-
sent to have consequences. Through the lense of the mo-
ment of action, could we not capture the whole? So,
commenting on Robbs illustrations, I would say that References Cited
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