The Potlatch Papers: A Colonial Case History

Paperback | December 8, 1997

byChristopher Bracken

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Variously described as an exchange of gifts, a destruction of property, a system of banking, and a struggle for prestige, the potlatch is one of the founding concepts of anthropology. Some researchers even claim to have discovered traces of the potlatch in all the economies of the world.

However, as Christopher Bracken shows in this elegantly argued work, the potlatch was in fact invented by the nineteenth-century Canadian law that sought to destroy it. In addition to giving the world its own potlatch, the law also generated a random collection of "potlatch papers" dating from the 1860s to the 1930s. Bracken meticulously analyzes these documents—some canonical, like Franz Boas's ethnographies, others unpublished and little known—to catch a colonialist discourse in the act of constructing fictions about certain First Nations and then deploying those fictions against them. Rather than referring to objects that already exist, the "potlatch papers" instead gave themselves something to refer to; a mirror in which to observe not "the Indian," but "the European."

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From Our Editors

Variously described as an exchange of gifts, a destruction of property, a system of banking, and a struggle for prestige, the potlatch is considered one of the founding concepts of anthropology. However, the author here dismisses such a theory, arguing the concept was invented by 19th-century Canadian law for the purpose of control. 9 ...

From the Publisher

Variously described as an exchange of gifts, a destruction of property, a system of banking, and a struggle for prestige, the potlatch is one of the founding concepts of anthropology. Some researchers even claim to have discovered traces of the potlatch in all the economies of the world.However, as Christopher Bracken shows in this ele...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:283 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.9 inPublished:December 8, 1997Publisher:University Of Chicago Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226069877

ISBN - 13:9780226069876

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Maps
Send-Off
Folding
Three Zones
Limit
Fold
Gift
Giving
Nameless Distribution
The Mark of Expenditure
Patlach
Encountering Language
Words and Things
A Double Inscription
Doctoring
Correspondences
Potlack
White Purveyors
The Textual Gift
Destroying Property
Sacrifice
At the Limit, Fire
Eating
Giving Eating
Remembering Death
White Cannibals
Poet of Memory
Summary Offenses
Exact Information
Epilogue
The Image and the Gift
Another Fold
Notes
Bibliography
Index

From Our Editors

Variously described as an exchange of gifts, a destruction of property, a system of banking, and a struggle for prestige, the potlatch is considered one of the founding concepts of anthropology. However, the author here dismisses such a theory, arguing the concept was invented by 19th-century Canadian law for the purpose of control. 9 halftones.