The Elephant in the Living Room That No One Wants to Talk About: Why U.S. Anthropologists Are Unable to Acknowledge the End of Culture


Greg Tanaka is on the core faculty in human development at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, California, where he is also codirector of the Center for Democracy and Social Change (


Findings from a four-year action research project at a highly diverse, West Coast U.S. university reveal that a large percentage of white students cannot trace their identities to a particular nation in Europe and are, as a result, unable to name the shared meanings of a particular ethnic culture. Each time Latino, Asian American, and African American classmates describe their families' ethnic histories, it is the European American student who feels dissociated. Extracted from a polyphonic novelistic ethnography, this essay focuses on an exchange among three students at a town hall meeting and explores the ramifications for social cohesion when members of “the dominant group” appear to be experiencing declining subjectivity. This reflection also raises two larger disciplinary questions: (1) How can 10,000 U.S. anthropologists continue to deploy the concept of culture at field sites outside the United States when so many in their own population cannot claim an ethnic culture of their own? and (2) Given the recent turn in events in the U.S. political scene, shouldn't anthropologists now begin developing new constructs for social analysis after race and culture? [culture concept, subjectivity, soul]