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Cars, Canoes and other Metaphors of Moral Imagination

Edited by David Lipset and Richard Handler

224 pages, 29 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78238-375-8 $95.00/£60.00 Hb Published (August 2014)

eISBN 978-1-78238-376-5 eBook

  Recommend to your Library

“This book offers ethnographic journeys into the daily work of cultural imaginations by giving attention to what is generally neglected: their vehicles. Not only functional supports or futile material dresses, cars, boats or planes are here delightedly addressed as morale-boosting devices engaged in situated social relations… These essays show that vehicular units are always participation units—they are always vernacular units of cultural agency.”   ·  Pierre Lanoy, Université Libre de Bruxelles

“…An excellent and original volume, a fine example of what comparative anthropology can achieve. Furthermore, in addition to its main topic and objectives (about particular metaphors, what they ‘do’ and how they ‘work’), it addresses key issues in the study of objects, material culture, and techniques, namely the involvement of materiality in non-verbal communication.”   ·  Pierre Lemonnier, Université d'Aix-Marseille

Metaphor, as an act of human fancy, combines ideas in improbable ways to sharpen meanings of life and experience. Theoretically, this arises from an association between a sign—for example, a cattle car—and its referent, the Holocaust. These “sign-vehicles” serve as modes of semiotic transportation through conceptual space. Likewise, on-the-ground vehicles can be rich metaphors for the moral imagination. Following on this insight, Vehicles presents a collection of ethnographic essays on the metaphoric significance of vehicles in different cultures. Analyses include canoes in Papua New Guinea, pedestrians and airplanes in North America, lowriders among Mexican-Americans, and cars in contemporary China, Japan, and Eastern Europe, as well as among African-Americans in the South. Vehicles not only “carry people around,” but also “carry” how they are understood in relation to the dynamics of culture, politics and history.

David Lipset is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota and has conducted fieldwork among the Murik Lakes people in Papua New Guinea since 1981. He is the author of two books, Gregory Bateson: Legacy of a Scientist (1982) and Mangrove Man: Dialogics of Culture in the Sepik Estuary (1997) as well as articles on culture, masculinity and modernity in Melanesia. His most recent book (co-edited with Paul Roscoe) is Echoes of the Tambaran: Masculinity, History and the Subject in the Work of Donald F. Tuzin (2011).

Richard Handler is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia, where he is Director of the Program in Global Development Studies. He has written extensively on nationalism and the politics of culture, museums, and the history of anthropology. His most recent book is Critics Against Culture: Anthropological Observers of Mass Society (2005).

LC: GN438.V45 2014

BL: SPIS388.3409

BISAC: SOC002010 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Anthropology/Cultural; SOC053000 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Regional Studies

BIC: JHM Anthropology; JFCD Material culture


List of Figures

Introduction: Charon’s Boat and Other Vehicles of Moral Imagination
David Lipset


Chapter 1. Living Canoes: Vehicles of Moral Imagination among the Murik of Papua New Guinea
David Lipset

Chapter 2. Cars, Persons, and Streets: Erving Goff man and the Analysis of Traffic Rules
Richard Handler


Chapter 3. “It’s Not an Airplane, It’s My Baby”: Using a Gender Metaphor to Make Sense of Old Warplanes in North America
Kent Wayland

Chapter 4. Is Female to Male as Lightweight Cars Are to Sports Cars?: Gender Metaphors and Cognitive Schemas in Recessionary Japan
Joshua Hotaka Roth


Chapter 5. Little Cars that Make Us Cry: Yugoslav Fića as a Vehicle for Social Commentary and Ritual Restoration
of Innocence
Marko ivković

Chapter 6. “Let’s Go F.B.!”: Metaphors of Cars and Corruption in China
Beth E. Notar

Chapter 7. Barrio Metaxis: Ambivalent Aesthetics in Mexican American Lowrider Cars
Ben Chappell

Chapter 8. Driving into the Light: Traversing Life and Death in a Lynching Reenactment by African-Americans
Mark Auslander

Afterword: Quo Vadis?
James W. Fernandez

Notes on Contributors

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