Afterword: Primitivist Encounters: Articulations and Asymmetriesby Francesca Merlan



Archaeology / Anthropology




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Terry Phillips

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John A. Newmeyer



Primitivist Encounters:

Articulations and Asymmetries

Francesca Merlan

Australian National University, Australia abstract This afterword presents a view of key contributions of the issue’s articles, positions those contributions in relation to precedent work, and suggests the need to place heightened emphasis on fundamental asymmetry and differential power to determine context on the part of participants to primitivist tourist encounter. keywords Primitivism, tourism, encounters, articulations, asymmetry


The articles collected in this issue have ably argued and illustrated theways of deepening our understanding of primitivist tourist encounters,thereby also enriching the wider study of encounter. In the Introduction,

Rupert Stasch illuminates the primitivist ideological formations that motivate this tourism and also come to be mirrored, at least sometimes and to some extent, in the responses of those visited. In his discussion of ‘double signs’ and ‘intrasocietal heterogeneity’, he has convincingly conceptualized the ways of developing ethnographically detailed and multi-perspectival ethnography of tourist situations. These twin emphases open up some genuinely new ethnographic and theoretical possibilities as compared to a commonly found ‘independent systems’ approach to tourism and encounter studies generally, and constitute a clear and major contribution of the issue. In this afterword, I suggest that, in addition, asymmetries in the power of different participants to set and determine context in encounter need to be seen as fundamental to the growth and solidification of patterning in primitivist tourist encounters; ethnos, vol. 80:4, 2015 (pp. 568–581), # 2014 Taylor & Francis and that such asymmetries often obscure the touristic experience of ‘channels of contact’ as well as apprehension of intrasocietal diversity.

In this afterword, I therefore aim to supplement the issue’s accomplishments in two ways. First, I make explicit what I see as the development of the themes of internal heterogeneity, and (to some extent) multiplicity of structural processes, in predecessor anthropological work, particularly by brief evocation of

Sahlins (1981, 1985). Though this work, I suggest, contained seeds of some of the directions we find in these articles, it was bound by assumptions about cultural ‘systems’ that have been the object of extensive re-consideration in the last couple of decades, including in this issue. Second, given my conviction concerning asymmetries as fundamental in primitivist tourist encounter, I pick up on the theme of internal social heterogeneity highlighted by Stasch in his introduction, and trace the theme’s relation to the asymmetry of encounter across social fields disjunct in scale and in socio-cultural principle. I consider how these accounts offer insights into issues of inequality and power relations, separateness and encompassment, between visitors and visited.

Primitivist Tourism and Prior ‘Systems’ Models of Encounter

The Introduction’s emphases on encounter in terms of the specific media of contact between participants, and its attention to ‘internal fault-lines’ of intrasocietal heterogeneity, may usefully be related to and distinguished from precedent work. Both themes stimulate insights concerning dynamics of differentiation and identification between those in encounter, and a more appropriately differentiated concept of socio-cultural elements involved in tourist encounter.

Now-classical work, stimulated by calls for modification of structuralist theory and integration of historical understanding in anthropology, asked what colonial encounters could teach us about cultures as systems and what happens to them in the course of such encounters (Sahlins (1981, 1985).

Though this work has been much discussed, I summon it up briefly here to inspect its connections to some of the directions taken in this issue.

Sahlins’ account of Captain James Cook’s fateful encounter in Hawaii famously foregrounded the identification of Cook with Lono, the indigenous god of seasonal rainfall and agriculture, with whose expected annual round

Cook’s landing coincided. It is not my purpose here to revisit ensuing debates concerning the evidence of the Cook/Lono identification, but rather to point to two things about it that are relevant to present discussion. ethnos, vol. 80:4, 2015 (pp. 568–581)

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First, a certain timely ethical impulse was evident in relation to the Cook/

Lono identification. This identification made it possible to read the Cook encounter with Hawaiians as a relativizing of European claims to firstness, of

European claims about the impact of their appearance upon Hawaiians, and at least a suggestion of the integration of the Cook/Lono figure into an existing cultural schema. If Hawaiians took Cook’s arrival as in keeping with their expectations of Lono’s annual progress, in what sense is the English arrival a ‘first’?

Not from the Hawaiians’ point of view. This ethical challenge to the triumphalism of European arrival is arguably at least partly paralleled in the present volume by an emphasis upon fuller ethnography of visited people’s perspectives, and better understanding of internal heterogeneity rather than presumption of a unitary visited ‘other’.

Second, the Cook/Lono identification was not a neatly shared structure of articulation between visitors and visited. This issue’s Introduction sets out a concept of ‘channels of contact’ in a usefully explicit way, focusing on possibly great differences of visitors and visited in relation to them. Many channels of contact are, indeed, not fully shared, as articles in this issue show; the Lono/

Cook identification was certainly not fully shared between arrivals and visited.

Given this, Sahlins saw the need to deal with the more complex issues of how the British intrusion articulated with different institutions, persons and interests within Hawaiian society. Sahlins treated those differences and resulting tensions as having causal force, contributing to if not outright determining a rapid shift from rapturous reception of Cook to his murder. Balance of relations between chiefs and priests was upset by competitiveness in their relationships to