The role of anthropology in developing the “culture concept” in public discourse
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A concept of “culture” lies at the heart of much anthropological theory and is also central to public discourses regarding the identity and social integration of migrants, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other cultural ‘Others’ who seek a place in contemporary European societies. This paper interrogates these discourses, exemplifi ed through discussions about the integration of Romanian Roma migrants in France today, and suggests that popular ideas about culture do not correspond to the relativist and historically contingent stance adopted by most anthropologists. Instead, discriminatory positions toward minority groups are sometimes justifi ed using an outdated cultural evolutionary model; attempts to challenge this model, however, may result in the perpetuation of this same ‘primitive’/’civilized’ distinction. The paper also discusses how anthropological perspectives on culture are viewed with suspicion by researchers in the activist community and by some scholars in other disciplines. The paper poses the question, therefore, of how contemporary anthropological thinking about culture can contribute to these different discourses, and suggests ways in which anthropologists working both inside and outside of the academy can make their ideas about culture more accessible and relevant to public and other scholarly perspectives.
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