Antonio Gramsci: Towards an ethnographic Marxism
“Culture” was always for Gramsci an important aspect of political struggle. In the Prison Notebooks he insists on the need for «a cultural front alongside the merely economic and merely political ones» (Gramsci 1995: 345). We should note, however, that the concept of culture we find in the notebooks is rather different from that of mainstream anthropology (see Crehan 2002). At the same time Gramsci’s approach to culture and the relation of culture to history can be seen as informed by an ethnographic sensibility, which is always determined to seek out, and take seriously, the narratives others use to make sense of their world and navigate their way through it. To clarify the nature of the ethnographic sensibility we find in the notebooks and the letters from prison, the article compares this sensibility to that of Bronisław Malinowski as laid down in the famous “Introduction” to Argonauts of the Western Pacific (termed by George Stocking, anthropology’s mythic charter). The article argues that Gramsci’s ethnographically-informed approach can help anthropologists and others trace out the complicated passage between the material structures that shape the basic social and political landscapes within which people live, and the narratives by which they live. And that understanding this is a crucial foundation for any effective political movement that would bring about a more just and fair world.
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