How to Do Theory

I was looking through Blackwell Publishing’s website for its series on anthropology – The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader, The Anthropology of Media, The Anthropology of the State, and so on.  Then I came across this book by Wolfgang Iser, How to Do Theory:

This succinct introduction to modern theories of literature and the arts demonstrates how each theory is built and what it can accomplish.

  • Represents a wide variety of theories, including phenomenological theory, hermeneutical theory, gestalt theory, reception theory, semiotic theory, Marxist theory, deconstruction, anthropological theory, and feminist theory.
  • Uses classic literary texts, such as Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn, Spenser’s The Shephearde’s Calender and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to illustrate his explanations.
  • Includes key statements by the major proponents of each theory.
  • Presents the different theories objectively, allowing students to decide which if any, they subscribe to.
  • Gives students a sense of the potential of theory.
  • Includes a glossary of technical terms.

The table of contents lists this:

8. Anthropological Theory
Basics of Generative Anthropology
An Anthropological View of Literature

Say what?  A lot of contemporary anthropological theory actually comes from outside anthropology (my work, for instance, draws quite a bit from Stuart Hall and Benedict Anderson, a smidgen more from Sasskia Sassen, and just a dash of Foucault), but specifically anthropological critiques tend to rely ultimately on familiarity with ethnographic literature.  Which is to say that an anthropological view of anything is in the end predicated on having a certain body of knowledge and not on specific analytical techniques, with the techniques used by anthropologists actually being quite diverse.

So what would a literary theorist tell readers to give them an idea of what an anthropological view of literature is?  Not only that, since the book is about How to Do Theory, what would the author tell readers to have them be able to conduct anthropological critiques of literature?  Suddenly I want to read chapter eight of this book.  Surely one chapter isn’t enough to list the anthropological knowledge even a third year undergrad should possess.

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