To a different canoe : a study of cultural pragmatics and continuity
Based on a study of the Puget Salish peoples of Washington State, this thesis explores an alternative view of cultural dynamics and practices. Adopting a relation perspective, according to which nature and culture are merged and not separate, a notion of cultural pragmatics is proposed to assist in this exploration. This notion refers to the unfolding and enfolding of relationships during people’s practical engagement with the world. Through it the boundary between “change,” “continuity” and “tradition” dissolves. As a result, “contemporary traditional” Puget Salish peoples, though necessarily differing because of differing contexts, are continuing the ideas and practices of their aboriginal ancestors. Moreover, the supposed adoption and assimilation of Euro-American goods and practices is recontextualized as the practical synthesis of these introductions within continuing Puget Salish culture and practices. The principle conclusions of the thesis are as follows: The genealogical model common in anthropological thought, is based on the separation of nature form culture. This separation problematizes cultural dynamics, disjoining the past form the present, and creates the situation in which determinations of continuity and change are accomplished by comparing the past with the contemporary. The relational perspective, on the other hand, considers nature and culture inextricably bound and focuses on individuals dwelling within a field of relationships. Framed by the view afforded by the relational perspective and the notion of cultural pragmatics, “change” becomes not a process in which something becomes different, but of snapshots taken during a continuing process of unfolding interactions. Thus, “change” and “continuity,” conceived of as a distinct in the genealogical model, are one and the same through the unfolding and enfolding of people’s practical engagement in the world.