Colonial Entanglements and the Practices of Taste: An Alternative to Logocentric Approaches



Anthropology has over the last quarter century privileged language, ideation, and meaning as central tropes in the study of culture. Meaning has been construed primarily in terms of linguistic signification, resulting in logocentric approaches to its study. This preoccupation endures despite the embrace of practice theory and renewed attention to object worlds. In this article, I explore the implications of logocentric approaches for the study of what Thomas terms "colonial entanglements. I argue that there are both theoretical and methodological reasons for deprivileging meaning (logocentrically conceived) and for focusing instead on the embodied forms of practical knowledge that framed colonial relations. I explore the value of a taste-centered approach that exploits the strengths of archaeological sources. As a form of embodied practical knowledge, extant practices of taste shaped the reception (and rejection) of exotic goods as well as their recontextualization. By creating what Hebdige terms "cartographies of taste" based on a study of past object worlds, we can explore how existing practices shaped the reception of new objects. By viewing these "cartographies" comparatively in time and space, we can contextually analyze diversions and continuities in the practices of taste through time in relation to the interplay of production and consumption, supply and demand, and thus enrich our understanding of colonial conjunctures. An archaeological case study from the Banda area in Ghana is used to illustrate the value of taste as a conceptual tool that emphasizes the importance of embodied knowledge in social life. [Keywords: logocentrism, embodied knowledge, colonial entanglements, material culture, Ghana]