Theorizing the Americanist Tradition


397 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-8020-4229-5
DDC 306.44'08997




Edited by Lisa Philips Valentine and Regna Darnell
Reviewed by Ronald R. Henry

Ronald Henry is director of the School of Translators and Interpreters
at Laurentian University.


Anthropologists are mediators between cultures. They work at striking a
balance between what is emitted by the teacher and what they can
describe. In this book, 25 men and women of knowledge refute the claim
that the Americanist tradition—as typified by Franz Boas, his
colleagues, and his successors—is atheoretical. The dialogue in which
these scholars have been engaged with their Native
teacher–consultant–informants reflects an essential methodological
approach that continues in the study of contemporary indigenous
American/Canadian people. The concept of cultural relativity, crucial to
the theoretical foundation of the discipline—although it may appear to
be endangered—clearly remains pivotal to cross-cultural studies.

A number of aspects of culture, as seen through discourse, text,
language, and traditions, are addressed here with particular regard to
authenticity. This too is a process (not merely a quality) derived from
the nature of Native understanding and the manner in which it is
communicated—communicated to the mediator, of course, in a potentially
interpersonal relationship sometimes developed over a period of many
years, as capacity to understand is seen to expand. Only then is the
knowledge conveyed further expanded to meet capacity. Only then is the
full power of language, style, and rhetoric fully deployed in the
reconstruction of events, including the mythological. Indeed, delivering
the full impact of a complete story requires knowing that the listener
is capable of grasping the entire story, its details, implications, and
broader context. Since the individual is inseparable from his culture
and its history, storytellers develop tales to expand consciousness as
they interact with people and events. They then share their mustered
power by revealing the fables and foibles of dogs and gods.

These Americanists develop all of this and much more with examples,
anecdotes, genealogies (Boas, Sapir, etc.), authority, and wit. Their
state-of-the-art papers focus on discourse that will be of special
interest to academics and students.


“Theorizing the Americanist Tradition,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,