CULTURE AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS AS EXPERIMENTAL SYSTEMS:

MICHAEL M. J. FISCHER

Arguing that without a differentiated and relational notion of the cultural, the social sciences would be crippled, reducing social action to notions of pure instrumentality, in this article, I trace the growth of cultural analysis from the beginnings of modern anthropology to the present as a layered set of experimental systems whose differential lenses create epistemic objects with increasing precision and differential focus and resolution. Arguing that culture is not a variable—culture is relational, it is elsewhere or in passage, it is where meaning is woven and renewed, often through gaps and silences, and forces beyond the conscious control of individuals, and yet the space where individual and institutional social responsibility and ethical struggle take place—I name culture as a set of central anthropological forms of knowledge grounding human beings' self-understandings. The challenge of cultural analysis is to develop translation and mediation tools for helping make visible the differences of interests, access, power, needs, desires, and philosophical perspective. In particular, as we begin to face new kinds of ethical dilemmas stemming from developments in biotechnologies, expansive information and image databases, and ecological interactions, we are challenged to develop differentiated cultural analyses that can help articulate new social institutions for an evolving civil society.