Ethnographic macro-tropes and anthropological theory

Alan Rumsey*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    28 Citations (Scopus)


    Many accounts of the use of tropes in ethnography have not taken them seriously enough as potential sources of insight. Particularly important in this respect are 'ethnographic macro-tropes', which operate at the level of an entire ethnography to model its subject matter in particular ways. Thornton's (1988) pioneering work on the 'rhetoric of ethnographic holism' focused on one such trope as if it were the only available one: the trope of 'classification', through which textual part-whole relations are used to build up an image of corresponding social ones. Through a close reading of four sample ethnographies I show that other, quite different macro-tropes have also been used, and that their use has contributed in an essential way to anthropological understanding, in at least some cases running ahead of related developments in theory rather than merely changing in response to them.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)267-298
    Number of pages32
    JournalAnthropological Theory
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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