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The Postcolonialism of Ernesto De Martino: The Principle of Critical Ethnocentrism as a Failed Attempt to Reconstruct Ethnographic Authority
Emilio Giacomo Berrocal Published online: 21 Apr 2009. To cite this article: Emilio Giacomo Berrocal (2009): The Postcolonialism of Ernesto De Martino: The Principle of Critical Ethnocentrism as a Failed Attempt to Reconstruct Ethnographic Authority, History and Anthropology, 20:2, 123-138 To link to this article:

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History and Anthropology, Vol. 20, No. 2, June 2009, pp. 123138

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The Post-colonialism of Ernesto De Martino: The Principle of Critical Ethnocentrism as a Failed Attempt to Reconstruct Ethnographic Authority
Emilio Giacomo Berrocal*
EmilioBerrocal 0 2 20 000002009 History 10.1080/02757200902875803 GHAN_A_387752.sgm 0275-7206 Original Taylor 2009 and & and Article Francis (print)/1477-2612 Francis Anthropology (online)

The year 2008 marked not only the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Claude LviStrauss, but also the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the founder of Italian cultural anthropology, Ernesto De Martino. De Martino died in 1965, leaving a legacy of extensive fieldwork research in Southern Italy, original works, an incomplete manuscript (entitled La Fine del Mondo), and an impressive set of suggestions regarding theory and research methodologies that deserve further exploration. In this paper, using the well known De Martinian principle of critical ethnocentrism, I focus on finding relationships between the theoretical and ethnographical activity of De Martino and so-called post-colonial thought. In particular I show how, in his first fieldwork experience in Lucania, De Martino could be considered the first post-colonial ethnographer, especially through his questioning of the role of subaltern people in making history and culture, and through his attempt at transforming social relationships into a colonial situation. Nevertheless, in spite of De Martinos deep commitment at transforming both his ethnological practice and his actual engagement with his subjects, his actual realization of the principle of critical ethnocentrism was somewhat vitiated. This paper attempts to tackle the reasons for this failure of promise. Principal among these was the constant, if somewhat hidden, presence of his mentor, the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, in De Martinos work, even in those situations where De Martino believed himself to be firmly distancing himself from Croce. Nevertheless, this paper suggests that an understanding of

*Emilio Giacomo Berrocal, Via Marte 19, Orvieto (TR), 05018, Italy. Email: ISSN 02757206 print/ISSN 14772612 online/09/02012316 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/02757200902875803


E. G. Berrocal

such a failure is actually instructive if we wish to understand the relationship between the anthropologist/researcher and the subaltern. Keywords: De Martino; Critical Ethnocentrism; Southern Italy; Subalternity

Introduction In 1993, the American anthropologist George Saunders introduced the work of the Italian ethnologist Ernesto De Martino (19081965) to the US anthropological community. In his article, Saunders focused on linking De Martinos theoretical reflections with the North American interpretative anthropology school of the 1970s, by pointing out how De Martino had anticipated the reflective and hermeneutical turn of American anthropology in the late twentieth century.1 Building on the work of Saunders, in this paper I present an interpretation of the writings of De Martino intended to uncover different types of relationships than those proposed by Saunders. In particular, I intend to focus on the so-called post-colonial thought that is present in all De Martinos theoretical activity. I will show how in his first ethnographical experience De Martino introduces a new type of ethnography that can be defined as post-colonial in the sense that it is meant to produce a postcolonial condition. In doing so, I depict the formulation process of De Martinos principle of critical ethnocentrism as a conflict between the ethicalpolitical dimension of the principle and the rational one. Such a conflict is personal and epistemological, political and scientific. As an example of this type of conflict, I consider the notes of his fieldwork, Note Lucane (Notes from Lucania),2 where De Martino implicitly introduces the idea that ethnography could be interpreted as a way of fighting against the colonial situation and the systematic subordination of the Other imposed by colonial regimes. I also show that in those notes De Martino tries to convey the idea that social relationships can be transformed by rethinking the relationship between the anthropologist and his subjects, In representing the conflict between the two dimensions of the principle, I reinterpret the troublesome relationship between De Martino and Croce. The two had a different conception of the role of subaltern people in history, which cannot be explained simply by the fact that in the late 1940s De Martino embraced Marxism while his mentor, Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, strongly contested materialism all his intellectual life. In my opinion, this difference must be approached in the light of De Martinos capacity to expand the limits of the so-called Crocian idealism. To better understand this issue, I will refer to De Martinos 1949 paper, Per una storia del mondo popolare subalterno (About the history of subaltern people) which can be considered as the programmatic manifesto of his next fieldwork activity and in which De Martino clearly distances himself from his mentor (De Martino, 1949). In fact, while De Martino focused on finding ways to help the Southern Italian populations emancipate themselves, his mentor still thought of them as animals, incapable of making history. But at the same time, what I will also show is that De Martino was not

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really challenging either his mentor or the bourgeois representation of the Southern populations, as revealed in the paper of 1949 and a subsequent paper of 1962. I will do this by commenting on what Cesare Cases has called the surrender of De Martino to Croce (Cases 2003). The Role of Epistemic Violence in the Principle of Critical Ethnocentrism In La fine del mondo (The end of the world), the last incomplete book of De Martino, published after his premature death in 1965 at the age of 57, the Italian anthropologist presented the well known paragraph Lumanesimo etnografico (ethnographic humanism) upon which the principle of critical ethnocentrism is formulated (De Martino 2002d). De Martino wrote La fine del mondo after a ten-year-long fieldwork research in Southern Italy started in 1949, and which stimulated him to develop the principle of critical ethnocentrism as a guide for the fieldworker. Questioning what he calls the paradox of the ethnographic encounterthat is, the paradoxical situation where a fieldworker tries to understand otherness through his/her own cultures categories, where the space for intelligibility of otherness is rather problematicDe Martino proposes as a solution the double thematization of oneself and otherness with the aim to get to the universally human in which oneself and otherness are comprised as two possibilities of the human being (De Martino 2002d: 392). This, according to De Martino, is what the fieldworker who is facing otherness has to do in order to avoid feeling naked like a worm (nudo come un verme) (De Martino 2002d: 392) when facing ethnological facts, as a result of experiencing the narrowness of his/her own culture, and the consequent temptation of abandoning his/her own history. In writing this, De Martino completed an idea that he had developed during the last three years of his life and which he presented in a paper entitled Promesse e minacce delletnologia (Promises and dangers of ethnology). By the promise of ethnological studies, De Martino means the possibility that ethnology can shed light on the fieldworkers history and culture while embracing and comprehending otherness; by the dangers, he refers to an injudicious employment of ethnological instruments of inquiry, such as what we would now call the dictatorship of relativism, into public debate, (De Martino 2002b). I maintain that to properly understand what De Martino means here, it is necessary to establish a visual relationship with the subtle line that divides a promise from being a danger in ethnological research. So in this paper I will let De Martino cross that line, either in the sense of the promise or in the danger of ethnology, by analysing in greater detail several statements he made on fieldwork activity. For example, underlying Lumanesimo etnografico is the conviction that comprehending otherness is not an easy task, because it requires the fieldworker to be open and ready to put in discussion (that is, question) the world in which he or she was born and grew up.3 De Martino believes that it is only by doing this that a fieldworker can understand otherness. Additionally, he believes that such openness is in reality already imposed on the fieldworker by fieldwork relationships.

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Keeping this point in mind, it is important now to note that De Martino understands all this and recognizes the intrinsic importance of all these issues before engaging in fieldwork activity himself. In 1948, in a book entitled Il mondo magico (The magical world), De Martino proposes a new way of approaching the magical powers of primitive cultures (De Martino 2003). In Il mondo magico, he poses the epistemological problem of the reality of magical powers in terms of the social role of the wizard and his ability to chase away and take control of the arising instability that threatens social order every time something unexplainable happens. Focusing on the symbolic efficacy of magicoreligious devices, De Martino introduces the concept of nature conditioned by culture that goes beyond the debate between nature and culture, that was en vogue in that period, in a manner that is directly relevant to the contemporary and anti-positivistic need of challenging the observational categories of an outside observer. In a way, by focusing on the concept of truth and on the correspondence between thought and external reality, De Martinos book follows the direction of the debates about rationality current in the 1960s. Such a direction cannot be found, for example, in Evans Pritchards book of 1937, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. By this I do not mean that Pritchards work was not revolutionary; it certainly was, but there still resides a hint of a positivistic prejudice in Pritchards treatment of witchcraft by suggesting that the Azande were wrong or mistaken (though perfectly rational and consistent) in establishing connections between their beliefs and external facts. By contrast, De Martino suggests the necessity of deconstructing the concept of facts that is, facts as cultural constructs. In this sense, De Martino is much closer to Wittgensteins criticism of Frazer. Following what Peter Winch said about Evans Pritchards text,4 De Martino had accomplished a full step towards a Wittgensteinian perspective, while Radcliffe-Browns successor at Oxford University had only partially done so. For its innovative point of view, Il mondo magico also represents the main point of rupture between De Martino and his mentor, Benedetto Croce. Croce, who had inspired De Martinos ethnological studiesas the latter had adapted to ethnology the historiographic method that Croce was introducing in that periodcommented twice on De Martinos book. The first time, he only provided a brief comment; the second, he completely shot down De Martinos book. According to Croce, De Martinos main mistake was in his basic premise and his presumption to try to render historic what cannot be so rendered. Although Croce recognized that De Martinos research was inspired by his recommendations to expand on his The Four Domains of Spirit (the title of the four-volume work in which Croce reinterprets Hegels philosophy) with other historical experiences, this could not allow him to confuse the Spirit of History with what we maintain are its historical manifestations:5
n le categorie della coscienza, il linguaggio, larte il pensiero, la vita pratica, la vita morale, n lunit sintetica, che tutte le comprende, sono formazioni storiche, prodotti di epoche dello spirito, ma tutte sono lo spirito stesso che crea la storia, la quale nei nostri libri dividiamo in epoche, non gi secondo la genesi storica delle categorie (che sarebbe una contradictio in adiecto), ma secondo il rilievo che di volta in volta nelle nostre costruzioni storiografiche ci conviene dare a uno o altro ordine dei fatti. Cos si suol dire che la Grecia cre la poesia, lalta

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poesia, o la filosofia, e il cristianesimo la coscienza morale, e let delle lotte religiose lidea della libert, e via discorrendo, ma col sottinteso che questo modo di esprimersi giova a concentrare lattenzione su particolari fatti accaduti, e con esso non sintende punto di ridurre a fatti accaduti leterno e la sua unit e le sue categorie. Neither the categories of consciousness, language, art, thought, practical life, moral life, nor the synthetic unity that groups all these things, are historical products, products of epochal manifestations of the spirit. Rather, they form part of the same spirit that creates history, in which in our writings we divide in periods, but already according to the historical genesis of these categories (which would be a contradictio in adiecto), but according to the rendering that we find useful to make from time to time in our historiographical constructions of the ordering of facts. In this way one could say that Greece created poetry, high poetry, or philosophy, and Christianity a moral conscience, and in the period of the religious wars the notion of liberty, and so on, but with the understanding that this mode of self-expression concentrates attention on particularly realized factsbut this does not mean that in so doing one intends to reduce such facts that occurred to the eternal, its unity and its categories. (Croce 2003: 248249)

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This was a response to the central point of deconstruction of western thought made by De Martino: the idea that the transcendental unity of self-knowledge (unit trascendentale dellautocoscienza), formulated by Kant, had wrongly assumed that this was a given, as if it had not really been brought about through a conquest, as it actually was; as if it had not been an historical conquest obtained in another epoch, but rather almost magically assumed. In addition, De Martino maintained that such an historical conquest is not an irreversible one, but rather is always under the threat of not being confirmed, at the risk of not being (il rischio di non esserci), employing the words that he introduced in anthropological debate from Heideggers philosophy and to which we will return later. That is why he focused strongly on the wizards ability to control and chase away social instability through his magical powers; on the wizards capacity of facing the risk at re-conquering social facts before the crisis had occurred. And consequently this is also why Croce believed that De Martino was venerating the wizard (De Martinos sanctification or rather, veneration, of the wizard), and that De Martinos choice to place the wizard at the beginning of our history, our civilization, was rather disconcerting (Croce 2003: 253), in that he rendered the wizard capable of doing what he could not do: that is, History. According to Croce, the wizard, and with him the humanity that he represented, could only understand when the Spirit manifested itself by reflecting after having seen it, but not transforming it. Hence the wizard could not be the ferryman of humankind from the natural state to a cultural one, as De Martino believed. This is where the two differed: while De Martino was ready to recognize not only the dignity of our civilization in the Other, but also the fact that the Other is in us, Croce could not accept this. And here De Martino is forcing the limits of Crocian idealism internally. I believe that, in reality, Croce was even more troubled by the fact that De Martino was starting to place the concept of the universally human at the centre of his thought, and that this could cause very problematic outcomes if it were done by an ethnologist, as De Martino soon became.


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In some ways, we can say that De Martino approached his fieldwork activity, begun immediately after having written Il mondo magico, as if it had been the natural continuation of his deconstruction of western rationality. However, while in the field he experienced something that he could not have anticipated while being an armchair anthropologist writing at his desk: he faced the ethnographic epochthe moment, in the ethnographic context, where the fieldworkers culture is suspended. If De Martinos critical ethnocentrism approach is a way to negotiate a route between optimismthat is, the possibility of comprehending othernessand its negationthat is, the incapacity of interpreting what is happening, of the ethnographic experienceit is probably because De Martinos encounter with the ethnographic epoch was astonishing, or, more precisely, it was as if he really experienced the moment of not being at risk. When De Martino writes about the role of epistemic violence in the principle of critical ethnocentrism in the Lumanesimo etnografico paragraph, he claims that the ethnographic encounter represents the best opportunity for western man to examine his own conscience (De Martino 2002d: 391). I believe that here De Martino is thinking about the images in the Note Lucane (Notes from Lucania), an ethnographic text written in 1950 about the Rabatani district of Tricarico, in the Italian southern region of Basilicata:
Dopo il mio incontro con gli uomini della Rabata, ho riflettuto che non cera soltanto un problema loro, il problema della loro emancipazione, ma cera anche il problema mio, il problema dellintellettuale piccolo-borghese del Mezzogiorno, con una certa tradizione culturale e una certa civilt assorbita nella scuola, e che si incontrava con questi uomini ed era costretto per ci stesso ad un esame di coscienza, a diventare per cos dire letnologo di se stesso. After my encounter with the Rabatani, I reflected on the fact that there was not merely their problem, that of their emancipation, but there was also my problem, the problem of a Southern intellectual from a petit-bourgeois class who, with a certain cultural tradition and a certain civilization absorbed at school, had encountered these people and who was therefore, as a result of that encounter, obliged to search ones soul, and to become, so to speak, an ethnographer of oneself. (De Martino 2002a: 132)

In that period as an intellectual De Martino was involved in the Questione Meridionale, the debate about southern Italy, and was considering documenting the folkloric world of the subordinated southern Italians as his contribution to the entrance of this people in History. He would do that as an intellectual assuming a war of position, as Gramsci would say. (Gramsci speaks about two kinds of war: la Guerra di movimento, that is the war fought by the army and so on, and la Guerra di posizione, an intellectual war pursued by committed intellectuals.) In his 1949 paper, De Martino had intimated such an intention a year previously, but the above excerpt seems to indicate that, once in the field, De Martino could no longer agree with the terms of the debate to which he had earlier contributed. Indeed, in the following excerpt, De Martino tries to explain that as his fieldwork progressed his problem was that he had become ashamed of himself. The following excerpt is reproduced entirely as a quotation because it is critical as well being literally valuable:
Dinanzi a questi esseri mantenuti a livello delle bestie malgrado la loro aspirazione a diventare uomini, iopersonalmente io intellettuale piccolo-borghese del Mezzogiornomi sento in

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colpa. Altri, forse, ravviser nel fondo di questa situazione una testimonianza del peccato originale: si liberer cos del peso di unanalisi incomoda, trasfigurando in cielo la responsabilit interamente umana di questa condizione umana. Ma io trovo qui solo la testimonianza della mia colpa, non della colpa. Io non sono libero perch costoro non sono liberi, io non sono emancipato perch costoro sono in catene. Se la democrazia borghese ha permesso a me di non essere come loro, ma di nutrirmi e di vestirmi relativamente a mio agio, e di fruire delle libert costituzionali, questo ha unimportanza trascurabile: perch non si tratta di me, del sordido me gonfio di orgoglio, ma del me concretamente vivente, che insieme a tutti nella storia sta e insieme a tutti nella storia cade. Io provo anzi vergogna del permesso concessomi di non essere come loro, e quasi mi sembra di avere rubato solo per me ci che appartiene anche a loro. O pi esattamente: provo vergogna di aver io consentito che questa concessione immonda mi fosse fatta, di aver lasciato per lungo tempo che la societ esercitasse su di me tutte le sue arti per rendermi libero a questo prezzo, e di aver tanto poco visto linganno da mostrare persino di gradirlo, compiacendomi anzi di civettare con la dignit della persona umana al modo che la intendono coloro che fanno gli intelligenti (Voi che fate gli intelligenti non capite proprio niente) Proseguendo nellanalisi, scopro che al senso di colpa si associa un altro momento: la collera, la grande collera storica solennemente dispiegatesi dal fondo pi autentico del proprio essere. Misuro qui la distanza che mi separa dal cristianesimo, che essenzialmente odio del peccato, salvezza sacramentale dalla storia vulnerata dal peccato, mentre la mia collera tutta storica perch tutta storica la mia colpa (come anche la colpa del gruppo sociale cui appartengo). La mia collera non pu avere proprio nessuno sfogo sacramentale, nessun compenso liturgico, amore cristiano ma rovesciato, amputato di ogni prolungamento teologico e costretto finalmente a camminare con i piedi. Appunto per questo suo carattere storico, la mia collera proprio la stessa di quella di questi uomini che lottano per uscire dalle tenebre del quartiere rabatano, e la mia lotta proprio la loro lotta. Rendo grazie al quartiere rabatano e ai suoi uomini per avermi aiutato a capire meglio me stesso e il mio compito. In front of these beings held down at the level of beasts, and despite their aspiration to become men, I personally, as a southern intellectual from the petit-bourgeois class, feel guilty. One may even perhaps recognize at the core of this situation a testimony of original sin. (If he were to do so) the ethnographer would free himself of the burden of an uncomfortable analysis, transferring to fate an entirely human responsibility for a human situation. But here I can only find the proof of my guilt, and not of general guilt. I am not free because these people are not. I am not emancipated because they are enchained. It is of negligible significance that bourgeois democracy has allowed me not to be like them, but to eat and dress comfortably, and to enjoy the fruits established by the Constitution because what is at issue here is not the me who puffs up his self-satisfaction through exposure to such squalor, but rather of the concretely living I, who shares a living history with them, and who will be historically judged by all. I am indeed ashamed of the privileges conceded to me of not being like them, and I almost feel as I have stolen and appropriated for myself that which also belongs to them. Or, more precisely: I am ashamed to have been granted such a tainted privilege, to have permitted society to have exercised all its seductions on me to render me free at this price, and to have so little intuited its guile even to the extent of relishing it, and even pandering to flirt with the notion of the dignity of the human being, as those who play at being omniscient do. (You, pseudo-intellectuals, in reality dont understand anything at all). Pursuing these reflections, I comprehend that with this sense of guilt is also associated another feeling: the anger, the big historical anger that unfolds from the deepest part of my being. I comprehend here the distance between me and Christianity, which is basically the act of hating sin, a sacramental salvation of history threatened by sin, but my anger is entirely historical because all that occurs in history is my fault (just as it is the fault of the social group to which I belong). My anger cannot find any sacred resolution, nor compensation through ritual relief; it is a Christian

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love, but it is demolished, amputated from any theological succour, and constrained finally to fumble on its own. Precisely because of this historical nature, my anger is precisely that of these same men who struggle to escape from the darkness of the Rabatani district, and my fight is their fight. I thank the Rabatanian district and the Rabatani for helping me better understand myself and my duty. (De Martino 2002a: 132133)

Without going further into all the implications of De Martinos fundamental aporia, at this stage it is important to recognize that in this passage De Martino is probably looking at himself from an outside point of view, from which he realizes how both his body and his mind have been disciplined by a system of power that maintains the Rabatani subordinated. As he stated in a quivering sentence that probably earned him harsh criticism from the intellectual community, De Martino did not intend to flirt with the idea of human dignity anymore, like those who consider themselves intelligent do, because he realized that such an intellectual flirtation is also complicit in keeping the Rabatani live like beasts. I believe that De Martino does not subscribe anymore to his 1949 article where he had previously stated that the irruption of the subalterns into history (lirruzione nella storia del mondo popolare subalterno) could provoke a cultural regression (De Martino 1949: 421). By this I intend to say that De Martino probably also accuses himself of having re-iterated those hegemonic ways of thinking that he wanted to fight and destroy. Probably De Martino can now see how he himself had embodied the structure of domination, and because of that he feels shame and anger, historical anger. To phrase such a perception in terms of Gayatri C. Spivaks criticism of Subaltern Studies, De Martino is now viewing himself as responsible of a double epistemic violence, that is the violence of representation made by the intellectual who wants to give voice to the subalterns without reflecting enough on the nature of the intellectual project itself, and on the meaning of the instruments used. I want to stress here the ethico-political dimension of the principle of critical ethnocentrism. By saying that the ethnographic encounter represents the best chance for Western man to examine his own conscience, De Martino intends to recognize not only the fact that the Western world had gained its hegemony by dominating the Other, but also to stress the role of the individual and his responsibility as a part of that Western world to this relationship of dominance. In his encounter with the Rabatani in 1950, De Martino could also note that even if he, in contrast to his mentor, was ready to recognize the subalterns awareness of being a part of History, that relationship of power that continuously maintained people under domination was produced over and over by a bio-political device. However, until then, De Martino had been consistent with the deconstruction of Western thought that he had begun in Il mondo magico. In addition, the fieldwork experience had added a dimension of extra value to the process of self-deconstruction as the enquiring ethnographer embedded in the structures of domination. This extra dimension is what makes the difference between merely being open to question ones world, and feeling the necessity of doing so because of contingent fieldwork relationships. In short, this extra value is motivated by a better understanding of the violence in the representation of otherness exercised by the Western world.

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This violence is clearly epistemic, but it is still a material violence with material consequences. I believe that De Martino understood this point as the excerpt quoted above shows. Hence, he had already understood what post-colonial authors imply when rediscovering and reinterpreting Frantz Fanons writings on the colonial situation. For example, in Edward Saids Orientalism, the foundational work of the post-colonial thought, Orientalism is not only viewed as a discursive construction made by Westerners to legitimate Western supremacy of the Oriental world, but it is also viewed as a sort of foreign language that Oriental people had been and are still obliged to speakin the past as in the post-colonial presenteven while enacting their resistance (Said 2001). In this light, I believe that De Martinos suggestion, that Western ethnographers examine their conscience, finds its roots in the way he had interpreted the acts of resistance by the Rabatani people. The Reconstruction of the Ethnographic Authority Through Local Subject Resistance In order to develop this last point, I have to introduce the concept of mimicry introduced by Homi Bhabha and the usage of such concept. In Homi Bhabhas work, the term mimicry is adopted to indicate the resistance agency of the colonized. According to Bhabha, mimicry is an exaggerated form of copying the language, the culture and the ideas of the colonizer by the colonized. However, this exaggeration is not only a mere repetition of the colonial discourse, but it is also adapted to the colonized world and it is translated according to the culture and desires of the colonized. Therefore, mimicry is a repetition, but it is a repetition that allows for differences. Thus, according to Bhabha, the ability of mimicry in a colonial situation is a way for the colonized to resist colonialism (Bhabha 2001). And since Bhabha has used this concept often referring to psychoanalysis, it is natural to question whether mimicry is a conscious, an unconscious, or a combination of both forms of resistance. By looking at the Note Lucane, I would say that the De Martino manages to reconstruct ethnographic authority only by questioning it. To better understand this central point, we need to return to the quotation where De Martino claims that their struggle is his struggle. In analysing this quotation, I aim to explore a list of possibilities that were not historically realized by De Martino. Once in the field, De Martino could have reinterpreted his role of intellectual as that of an intellectual who is committed to the emancipation of the southern subordinated world. However, it is important to note that he uses the expression southern intellectual:
Dopo il mio incontro con gli uomini della Rabata, ho riflettuto che non cera soltanto un problema loro, il problema della loro emancipazione, ma cera anche il problema mio, il problema dellintellettuale piccolo-borghese del Mezzogiorno, con una certa tradizione culturale e una certa civilt assorbita nella scuola, e che si incontrava con questi uomini ed era costretto per ci stesso ad un esame di coscienza, a diventare per cos dire letnologo di se stess. After my encounter with the Rabatani, I reflected about the fact that these were not only their problems, their problems with emancipation, but they were also my problem, the


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problem of a southern intellectual from a petit-bourgeois class, who, with a certain cultural tradition and a certain civilization absorbed through schooling, then met the Rabatani, and I decided that I was obliged to examine my conscience; I was obliged to become, in a way, a self-ethnologist. In front of these men kept as animals, despite their aspiration to become men, I personally, a southern intellectual from the petit-bourgeois class, feel guilty. (De Martino 2002a: 132)

I now proceed to analyze De Martinos words by imagining a series of possible scenarios. Let us imagine that his words are the result of sense of communion that arises as a result of interactions in fieldwork. This, then, is the universally human experience upon which the principle of critical ethnocentrism is based. This moment probably had been ephemeral yet intense, momentary yet memorable, and that is why De Martino remembered it for several years before he formulated it. We could describe this universally human experience that De Martino experienced during fieldwork in terms of expressions such as an anxiety of emancipation, or a wish for freedom, or using De Martinos actual paradoxical formulation: a human being who rescues himself from not being at risk. If we select the last expression, then who would be rescuing whom? De Martino or the object of his study? Is it both? Is De Martino experiencing the fact that he is not at risk? My answer to the last question is the following: De Martinos embracing of his identity as a Southerner is doubly related to this final statement (I thank the Rabatani for helping me better understand my duty, and my struggle is their struggle). It is clear, then, that without the first part (helping me better understand my duty), the realization that fighting along the Rabatani (my struggle is their struggle) is impossible, and without the second part, his identity as a Southerner was not going to be the object of his anthropological and political reflections. It is this double relationship that clearly indicates that De Martinos fieldwork in Lucania was an existential experience for him. We can, in fact, imagine that this was probably the first time in his life when De Martino seriously thought about his identity as a Southerner, and about all the things he had to suppress to become an intellectual and a part of the ruling class in the country. In this sense, the encounter with the Rabatani had awoken critical aspects of De Martinos personal history that he had forgotten about, or more precisely had not hitherto questioned. After this fieldwork encounter, De Martino recognized in himself a subaltern and realized that he, just as the Rabatani, had been subject (and was still subject) to the same systems of power that sustained the bourgeois domination of the country. While De Martino was reflecting on these issues, he also noted that the resistance of the Rabatani had an ambivalent side and was rather problematic. In De Martinos eyesthe eyes of an anthropologist trained to seize the difference between a twitch and a wink, to use an expression by Geertzthe Rabatani appeared to have embodied the patterns of expression and the thought processes of bourgeois hegemony. That is: if they superficially seemed to be challenging bourgeois dominance, deep inside they did not. Analysing De Martinos state of mind under Bhabhas framework, we can see that if on the one hand the half that threatens, which represents the resistance of the

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Rabatani against bourgeois superiority, awakens De Martino to his southern heritage, on the other hand the half that mimics and reproduces southern subordination troubles him. This is the point of no-return from which De Martino could have departed in his Lucanian fieldwork, and which could have initiated a process that would have led him to very interesting conclusions. For instance, let us suppose that De Martino asked himself: how can I fight bourgeois hegemony together with the Rabatani? Let us suppose that he answered this question by using the ethnographic tools of the twentieth century in a different way. Let us assume that he decided that in order to construct a new type of hegemony it was necessary to deal differently with the local people during fieldwork, and that that had to be considered the starting point of a communication strategy. We should thus look more closely at the strategic uses he could have employed of his ethnographic texts. To begin with, De Martino believed that the ethnographic text has to be territorialized, where by terrorialized he meant that the Rabatani could read the ethnographic texts and comment on them. By doing so, De Martino believed that the Rabatani could become more aware of the effects on them through the relationships established in the field. In addition to this, De Martino aimed at establishing an intimate relationship with the Rabatanis by working side by side with the locals in fighting the class in power. His desire was to introduce in local struggles a need for reflection about the way such struggles were carried out. To achieve this, De Martino sought to organize activities that could generate discussion among the locals, such as, for example, seminars on issues like the Questione Meridionale or public talks directly connected to local struggles. After doing so and receiving feedback on the quality of the ethnographic text, De Martino proceeded to territorialize a new ethnographic text and the process was repeated. This was called the process of establishing ethnographic relationships. Why did De Martino offer these two different procedures of territorialization? Because with the first process, De Martino aimed at creating an intimate relationship with what cannot anymore be called the object of his study. With the second process, De Martino aimed to deconstruct the relationship between his local subjects and the wider society in which they were located. In other words, De Martino wanted the Rabatani to understand themselves in order to struggle more effectively against the structures of domination they were subject to. He wanted the Rabatanis to understand the psychic life of such power mechanisms in the same way he had when he realized how both his body and his mind had been manipulated without him knowing it. And he had been able to understand all this by staying with them in the field. He wanted the Rabatanis to recognize, as he did, that their resistance was capable of posing a threat to the power authority and to realize it could be enacted. He wanted them to be able to work together in a different way. The purpose of this new way was to create a language that could represent the universally human, reflecting the experiences of the Rabatanis as well as enabling them to think differently about themselves. The second ethnographic territorialization process is a consequence of the first, and it would have been more successful if it had been pursued with the intention of producing post-coloniality, that is, the final stage of post-colonial emancipation, and much

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more so if this intention had worked both ways: both on the subjects and on the ethnographic author. It is doubtful, however, whether De Martino actually fully realised this potential. In summary, the image that emerges from De Martinos fieldwork activity in Lucania is that of a fieldwork researcher who is not only an ethnographer who writes about the Other, using again an expression by Geertz, but also an ethnographer who becomes a native, or better, who discovers himself as a native and who, consequently, becomes an organic intellectual-fieldwork researcher sentimentally connected to the fieldwork us. To avoid any confusion I need to clarify that the fieldworker who emerges from this fieldwork research activity is developing the pedagogical intellectual function as was envisaged by Gramsci. In the same way that Gramsci believed that the goal of the pedagogical activity of the intellectual is to end relationships of subjugation so that there would not be any more subordinated people in a new and equal society, De Martino thought that the fieldworker should aim to act differently from the way the anthropologist positioned himself in his relationship with the natives in twentieth century anthropology. He wanted his subjects to be anthropologists-ofthemselves as he did for himself, with the goal of creating a new awareness of their sameness and otherness. This was a novel approach for the period within which this research was conducted, but De Martino was not yet thinking of himself as a native. What he did manage to comprehend was to think of himself as a southern intellectual engaged in a struggle against southern domination, but this was not quite the same as the former. One could say that De Martino attempted to redefine the public use of anthropology, and while doing so rebuild ethnographic authority in a democratic manner. I conclude this section by claiming that De Martinos new strategy for the position of the fieldwork researcher can be called a strategic essentialism in the same way Gayatri Spivak proposes a cultural politics of feminism (2004). Turning Back to Reality: De Martinos Uncritical Ethnocentrism Until now I have focused on what De Martino could have done. In this section, I will turn to examine what he really accomplished. In the introduction to his last and best-known ethnographic work, the book Terra del rimorso (The land of regret) published in 1961, De Martino distances himself from his first ethnological activity. While writing almost entirely about the principle of critical ethnocentrism, which he later expanded in the Lumanesimo etnografico paragraph, De Martino refuted his past affirmations. In particular, he begins by affirming that when he started his ethnological research in southern Italy, he had probably exaggerated in questioning his own world to the point of almost erasing his past history (however, this is implicit rather than explicit).6 And, in a footnote,7 he concludes by saying that he does not agree anymore with his article published in 1949. In so doing, De Martino is fixing the boundaries for the political and scientific activity as he had not done eleven years previously in Note Lucane.

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For instance, he proclaims the aim of the research that he and his team carried out in Salento. If the aim is the same as in 1949, that is of studying the vision of the world, the religion and the history of the Southern people as cultural aspects of the Questione Meridionale, now he is rightfully declaring himself as a distant observer and not an involved participant:
Se vero che loggettivit scientifica si conquista per entro una originaria motivazione trasformatrice, e se vero che la efficacia della volont di trasformazione trae alimento dal progresso della oggettivazione scientifica, anche vero che si tratta di due momenti rigorosamente distinti, e che la scienza tanto pi operativamente efficace quanto pi conquista e mantiene, nel movimento generale della vita culturale, la propria autonomia. Nella nostra esplorazione etnografica noi ci impegnavamo dunque a scegliere il momento della conoscenza del fenomeno e a mantenerci fedeli a questa scelta If it is true that scientific objectivity is reached through an originating motivation to change, and if it is true that the efficacy of the will to change is nourished by the progress of scientific objectivity, it is also true that these are two strictly distinct processes, and that science is operationally effective the more it conquers and maintains its own autonomy in the general movement of cultural life. Therefore, in our ethnographic explorations, we focused on choosing the moment in which to know the phenomenon and to remain faithful to this choice. (De Martino 2002c: 35)

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It is clear that De Martino does not view himself as a native anymore, and he does not seem inclined and interested anymore in understanding the social function of the ethnological researcher as we imagined he could possibly have done. However, it is not in these words that we can find the clear abandonment of the potential in De Martino. To phrase such a perception in terms of Goyatri C. Spivaks criticism of Subaltern Studies (2004), De Martino is now viewing himself as responsible for a double epistemic violence, during his fieldwork activity in Lucania, it is also true that De Martino continued acting like that during all the rest of his intellectual life because he really believed in the intrinsic superiority of the Western world. In his 1962 paper Promesse e minacce delletnologia, De Martinowhile attacking for the first time the feelings about colonial and semi-colonial world (De Martino 2002b: 88) of his mentor Crocealso firmly declared that ethnology must be anything but Eurocentric (De Martino 2002b: 105). Yet this statement was not new to De Martino: he had already declared it in his first book Naturalismo e Storicismo in Etnologia (Naturalism and Historicism in Ethnology) of 1941, twenty years earlier. If, in 1941, De Martino was prepared to adopt the relativistic method of inquiry as he said in Il Mondo magico, by 1962 it appeared clear to him that relativism has not faced, in the twenty-year interval, the crises of the Western world as it should have done; that is, relativism has turned into a doctrine which, in seeing the Other as a self-sufficient world, was not disposed to treat the universally human through the traces of a common past. Thus, in the post World War II scenario, when a new world was coming into being and the old one was already dead, it remains important to De Martino to confirm that ethnology must be anything but Eurocentric, because for him the distinction between who studies and who is studied must be retained.


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Therefore, we can say that De Martinos usage of relativism was only to shed light and explain the superiority of the Western world, and that his universalism was in reality a particularist universalism as Mondher Kilani calls this kind of Western universalism. In short, a particularism that wrongly represents itself as universalistic. I believe that under De Martinos conception of relativism stands the constant presence of his mentor, Benedetto Croce. From this point of view, De Martinos full acceptance of Croces criticism about the making of History and Culture of the Others should not be called a surrendering to Crocean idealism. Conclusion De Martino was without doubt more ethnocentric than a critic of ethnocentrism. However, while in the process of formulating the principle of critical ethnocentrism, I think that he could have looked at his ethnocentrism in a more critical way, particularly as he discovered unexpected levels of sameness with his object of study. As De Martino had always historically articulated the ethnographic experience as a way of putting his own world into parenthesis, he did not place fieldwork interactions at the centre of his stay in the field. For this reason neither he, nor his object of study, could have enjoined the possibility of expanding their world limits as a precise consequence of their fieldwork interactions. De Martino became more aware of himself as an intellectual, and his Rabatini became more aware of themselves as Rabatini, but they may rarely have reached a common awareness of themselves together. Because of the theories that he had formulated in advance, for example in Il mondo magico, De Martino spent his fieldwork experience finding confirmations and not contradictions. Eventually, however, the contradiction arouse in front of him under the form of what I had defined the extra dimension of the process of deconstruction of ones self. Hence, if we claim that the reason why De Martino didnt trust himself with his otherness and didnt trust his sameness is his belief of Western superiority, then De Martino cannot be considered a post-colonial thinker. However, if we believe that De Martino was capable of recognizing the importance of what he didnt doat a personal, epistemic and political levelthen De Martino can be read as the first postcolonial ethnographer committed to the production of post-coloniality. In this sense, the new generation of native anthropologists could perhaps draw inspiration from De Martinos potential and unaccomplished work. Notes
[1] [2]
1 2

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Saunders (1993: 875893). De Martinos Italian texts quoted in the paper are translated with the assistance of the editor of History and Anthropology. They will be enclosed in typeset as displayed quotations. Original titles are left in the Italian language. The same applies for Croces texts. In using this expression, De Martino refers to Lvi-Strauss, who coined the expression to put in the discussion the system in which one was born and grew up. See also footnote 6.

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The reference is to the paper Understanding a Primitive Society of 1964. To analyse in more depth the stages of rational debate in anthropology, see: Dei F., Simonicca A., a cura di, 1990, Ragione e Forme di Vita, Franco Angeli, Milano. It is probably useful to recall Croces re-reading of Hegels philosophy. His philosophical aim of was that of a historiography of the Spirit, in the sense that philosophy has to look at and explain the real acts, the real facts, of the Spirit. Croce, together with another great Italian philosopher of the first half of twentieth century, Giovanni Gentile, were strongly antiCartesian, because they contested the dualism bewteen res extensa and res cogitans. In postulating the unity bewteen spirit and reality, Croce maintained that a history that is not contemporary could not exist, because both the will of the historiographer who looks at the past to understand what happenned, or past happenings, are made of the same material, that is the Spirit of History. For this reason, history is always history that is going to happen, and not that has already happened. In drawing a comparison between the Jesuit missionary and modern ethnographer, De Martino says: also the modern ethnographer who, even with a different intention, walks over the southern trails where once the Jesuits walked, cannot and should not avoid to ask himself the questions that Lvi-Strauss asked himself during the painful pit stop at CampoNovos: What have you come to do? What is your goal? What is your hope? It also happened to me ten years ago, during a visit to Rabata di Tricarico, to ask myself those morally challenging questions and to find out that my rising passion as a travelling ethnographer in Southern Italy impliedrepeating once again Lvi-Strauss wordsquestioning the system in which one was born and grew up, and this was taken as a symbol of expiation and blackmail. Later my role became clearer to me, and that is the utilization of ethnography with the goal of defining a religious history of the South as a new cognitive dimension of the so called Questione meridionale. (De Martino 2002c: 20). To understand the relationship between this text, Note Lucane and the principle of critical ethnocentrism, see Cherchi (1996). I will never accept the way in which my essay Per una storia del mondo popolare subalterno was edited. (De Martino 2002c: 40)

Bhabha, H. (2001), I luoghi della cultura (1994, original title: The Location of Culture), Meltemi, Rome. Cases, C. (2003), Introduzione (1973), in Il mondo magico, E. De Martino, Bollati Boringhieri, Turin, pp. VIIXLIX. Cherchi, P. (1996), Il Peso dellOmbra, Liguori, Napoli. Croce, B. (2003), Intorno al magismo come et storica (1949), in Il mondo magico (1948), E. De Martino, Bollati Boringhieri, Turin, pp. 242253, (Text originally contained in Croce, B. (1949), Filosofia e storiografia, pp. 193208). De Martino, E. (1949), Per una storia del mondo popolare subalterno, Societ, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 411435. De Martino, E. (2002a), Note lucane (1950), in Furore simbolo valore (1962), E. De Martino, Feltrinelli, Milan, pp. 119133. De Martino, E. (2002b), Promesse e minacce delletnologia, in Furore simbolo valore (1962), E. De Martino, Feltrinelli, Milan, pp. 84118. De Martino, E. (2002c), La terra del rimorso (1961), Net, Milan. De Martino, E. (2002d), Lumanesimo etnografico, in La Fine del mondo (1977), E. De Martino, Einaudi, Turin, pp. 389394. De Martino, E. (2003), Il mondo magico (1948), Bollati Boringhieri, Turin. Gramsci, A. (1964), Gli intellettuali e lorganizzazione della cultura (1949), in Quaderni dal carcere, vol. 2, A. Gramsci, Einaudi, Turin.


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Said, E. W. (2001), Orientalismo (1978, original title: Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient), Feltrinelli, Milan. Saunders, G. E. (1993), Critical Ethnocentrism and the Ethnology of Ernesto De Martino, American Anthropologist, vol. 95, no. 4, pp. 875893.

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