The notion of culture (especially as it functions to distinguish “cultures”), despite a long usefulness, may

Anthropologists and cultural geographers have long recognized the colonial and imperialist contexts within which their forebears worked. These contexts serve as a focal point for much of the discussion in Part Two of the Reader. Clearly, nineteenth and early twentieth century scholars from Europe and North America who worked in Latin America, Africa, and much of Asia and Oceana carried out their work under the colonial flag and with the kind of impunity that their connections to imperial power afforded them. Yet Abu-Lughod finds that contemporary scholars have failed to really come to terms with the fact that the idea of culture as a “whole way of life” came about because European and North American scholars were able to study “others” in a colonial situation in which those scholars also held considerable power over those “others”. Work on culture today needs to not simply acknowledge this history, Abu-Lughod argues, but actively work against it by developing critical challenges to the idea of culture as we know it today.