chapter  10
19 Pages

Aesthetics, culture and the ordering of race: Boas and the Boasians

In his classic essay ‘What is an author?’ Michel Foucault argues that ‘the author’s name, unlike other proper names, does not pass from the interior of a discourse to the real and exterior individual who produced it’ but rather ‘manifests the appearance of a certain discursive set and indicates the status of this discourse within a society and a culture’ (Foucault, 1998b: 206). This is not, though, true of all discourses: only ‘a certain number of discourses’ are ‘endowed with the “author function” while others are deprived of it’ (206). Foucault’s main concern is with the functioning of the author’s name in the fi eld of literary discourse. He does, though, at the end of the essay, remark more speculatively on the functioning of the author in the fi elds of science and knowledge practices more generally. The questions I want to pose here, drawing on these remarks, concern the functioning of an author’s name in the fi eld of anthropological discourse. What role does this play in the circulation of anthropological texts within anthropology, across the boundaries between anthropology and adjacent disciplines, and in the broader public sphere? The anthropologist in relation to whom I put these questions is Franz Boas, undoubtedly a key author fi gure – indeed, perhaps the author – of twentieth-century anthropology.