Between Civilizations: One Side of a Dialogue
My colleague in anthropology, Wang Mingming, has written an article criticising nativist anthropology. We both profess a vocation for academic learning and of anthropology in particular as a space in which knowledge of selves and others can be produced and criticized. But a space as such is filled with nothing. As Brian Barry's (2001) critique of pluralism points out about the space of dialogue, it must have a content for it to function. Call this content ‘civilization' and it provokes immediate questions of bias and hegemony. An ancient Chinese slogan for the idea of civilization is hua ren wen, yi cheng tianxia— activate and spread the intrinsic pattern in people to complete the universe. Universe is also imperium. How do we negotiate between two civilizations, so that the content remains an open one in which knowledge of all claims to universality can be tested, by argument, research, interaction? I shall present my equivalent of Brian Barry's insistence on a universal morality and a basis for antiracist policy. I will say how it extends to an anthropology that cannot be nationalist. Following this I will present my side of a dialogue with Wang Mingming on Chinese anthropology as one whose main topic is a universalizing civilization. It will serve as the sketch of a case study, a test, and a reflection on our joint insistence on the possibility of positive and critical anthropological knowledge. The question to be raised, if not answered definitively, is what is and what is not negotiable in maintaining the space for academic knowledge of cultural difference.
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