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Losing Culture

Nostalgia, Heritage, and Our Accelerated Times

David Berliner (author) Dominic Horsfall (trans)

ISBN: 9781978815353

Publication Date: May 2020

Format: Paperback

Also available as: Hardback  

Addresses why intergenerational cultural transmission is vital to humans, yet also considers how efforts to preserve disappearing cultures are sometimes misguided. Blending anthropological theory with case studies, this book teaches us how to appreciate the different ways we might understand loss, memory, transmission, and heritage.
£15.95

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  • Customer Reviews
We're losing our culture… our heritage… our traditions… everything is being swept away.

Such sentiments get echoed around the world, from aging Trump supporters in West Virginia to young villagers in West Africa. But what is triggering this sense of cultural loss, and to what ends does this rhetoric get deployed?

To answer these questions, anthropologist David Berliner travels around the world, from Guinea-Conakry, where globalization affects the traditional patriarchal structure of cultural transmission, to Laos, where foreign UNESCO experts have become self-appointed saviors of the nation's cultural heritage. He also embarks on a voyage of critical self-exploration, reflecting on how anthropologists handle their own sense of cultural alienation while becoming deeply embedded in other cultures. This leads into a larger examination of how and why we experience exonostalgia, a longing for vanished cultural heydays we never directly experienced.

Losing Culture provides a nuanced analysis of these phenomena, addressing why intergenerational cultural transmission is vital to humans, yet also considering how efforts to preserve disappearing cultures are sometimes misguided or even reactionary. Blending anthropological theory with vivid case studies, this book teaches us how to appreciate the multitudes of different ways we might understand loss, memory, transmission, and heritage.

Reviews

"Losing Culture is about nostalgia, combining self-reflection and rich ethnographic examples from Africa and Asia with a critical view of the disciplinary anxieties of anthropology. Nostalgia, in this wonderful book, is treated as one more thing that is, in our tormented world, no longer what it used to be."

"David Berliner stands at the crossroads, observing the natives, the philosophers, the heritage bureaucrats, the tourists, and other anthropologists as well, from all nationalities, when they come to look at – or even live – the past in the present. But what does he become himself? A cultural chameleon? When you have read Losing Culture, perhaps your anthropology will never be the same again."

"By linking the chameleon figure of the anthropologist with the theme of nostalgia, Berliner demonstrates anthropologists' important role in disabusing the general public of the illusion that "cultures" can be rebuilt in their original form. This subtle departure from conventional studies of heritage places a new and desirable emphasis on the ethical choices facing anthropologists when confronted with the politics of contested pasts. Of particular value is the unusual but well-grounded comparative perspective that Berliner draws from his findings in West Africa and Southeast Asia."
Illustrations 1 black & white image
Pages 168
Dimensions 203 x 127
Date Published 30 May 2020
Publisher Rutgers University Press
Subject/s Social theory   Social & cultural anthropology   Sociology: customs & traditions  
David Berliner is a professor of anthropology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. Between 2011 and 2015, he was co-editor of Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, the journal of the European Association of Social Anthropologists.

Dominic Horsfall is a translator, editor and writer with a special focus on anthropology. He received his MA in Modern Languages at the University of Cambridge and now lives and works in London.

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