Afterword: Mysteries of Culture



All humans face the same epistemological dilemma: They must rely on an inherently limited—albeit life-giving—frame of reference to understand a world (which includes other people and cultures) that can never be completely understood in humanly particular terms. Given our common lot, anthropologists and “Natives,” and outsiders and insiders, are never absolutely different, for difference is a matter of degree. Further more, the reality of difference, for all humans, is to be found in semiotic processes like translation and interpretation. Even terms that seem neutral to us, like individual and society, are culturally distinctive concepts that would not be commonsensical to all people, everywhere. Even the most familiar meanings are never completely transparent, not even to those “Natives” who use them with ease. Thus, anthropological outsiders and the insiders they study (and who study them) must struggle to transcend their own familiar rationalizations in their attempts to understand one another.