Books




The subject of Vassos Argyrou's study is modernisation, as reflected in the changing nature of wedding celebrations in Cyprus over two generations from the 1930s to the present day. He argues that modernisation is not a secular, progressive process that remodels the life of a society, ironing out local differences. Rather, it is a legitimising discourse. It is an idiom which Greek Cypriots employ to represent, and contest, relationships between social classes, old and young, men and women, city folk and villagers. At the same time, by involving modernisation, they are submitting to foreign standards, and accepting the symbolic domination of Europe.

'This is a book about symbolic domination in Cyprus through an analysis of weddings…. This is a sensitive and perceptive analysis. Weddings have been transformed from rites of passage to rites of class distinction’ (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute)
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Anthropology, the study of societies and cultures different to our own, is based on the humanist assumption that difference does not mean otherness and inferiority. In this book, Vassos Argyrou puts forward a powerful critique of both modern and postmodern anthropology that reveals the self-centered logic of anthropological humanism, offering the controversial conclusion that the anthropological project is forever doomed to failure. At the heart of the book is the idea that anthropologists are driven to produce knowledge not by a desire for power, as it is often assumed, but a by desire for meaning. Interpretation of Other societies and cultures allows them to construct an image of a symbolically unified, ethically ordered and hence meaningful world. Vassos Argyrou shows this assumption to be untenable because differentiation and distinction are in the nature of human being. He further argues that, paradoxically, by trying to uphold Sameness, anthropologists reproduce, inadvertently but inevitably, its contrary.

'A tour de force [and] one of the most stimulating and intellectually bracing books of anthropological theory in recent years’ (Comparative Studies in Society and History)
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Although modernity's understanding of nature and culture has now been superseded by that of environmentalism, the power to define the meaning of both, and hence the meaning of the world itself, remains in the same (Western) hands. This bold argument is at the center of this provocative book that challenges the widespread assumption that environmentalism reflects a radical departure from modernity. Our perception of nature may have changed, the author maintains, but environmentalism remains a thoroughly modernist project. It reproduces the cultural logic of modernity, a logic that finds meaning in unity and therefore strives to efface difference, and to reconfirm the position of the West as the source of all legitimate signification.

‘Argyrou's compelling argument has important implications for the future of conservation and development...the argument is convincing and covers many of the fundamental aspects involved in the creation of the environmentalist worldview’ (American Anthropologist)
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European thought is often said to be a gift to the rest of the world, but what if there is no gift as such? What if there is only an economy where every giving is also a taking, and every taking is also a giving? This book extends the question of economies by making a case for an ‘economy of thought’ and a ‘political economy’. It argues that all thinking and doing presupposes taking, and therefore giving, as the price to pay for taking; or that there exists a ‘cost of living’, which renders the idea of free thinking and living untenable. The argument is developed against the Enlightenment directive to think for oneself as the means of becoming autonomous and shows that this ‘light’, given to the rest of the world as a gift, turns out to be nothing.

‘Argyrou “draws” from a … classic anthropological theory and “gives” the reader an astute diagnosis, which even “lends itself” to further investigations to the give and take of thought’ (International Political Anthropology)
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