Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Thinking Language Politically: Cultural Representation and Alterity in the European Enlightenment
Authors: Michaud, Monica Lynn
Advisors: Huet, Marie-Hélène
Contributors: French and Italian Department
Keywords: Anthropology
Subjects: Romance literature
European studies
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Abstract This dissertation focuses on the comparative cultural discourses that emerged in works written by eighteenth-century European travelers and philosophers. As they concentrate on Hottentots, Tahitians or Native Canadians' institutions and customs, these texts also construct a system, similar to language, whose ambition is to define social interactions and to measure their respective values. In contrast to earlier travel accounts, largely motivated by religious conviction, Enlightenment travel writing became increasingly concerned with the identification of cultural structures among "Natives" in an attempt to find a common ground that could provide a universal model of human relations. Although not always in agreement, travelers and philosophers paid specific attention to customs of hospitality, commerce, and marriage as a basis for their comparison among various nations. This dissertation proposes to examine these representations of alterity as a form of "cultural language" characteristic of the period. The first chapter analyzes Peter Kolb's text, L'Etat présent du cap de Bonne-Espérance, which sums up, and adds to, western perceptions of the Hottentot society as the population most distant from Europeans. Several identifiable Hottentot institutions are shown to be ultimately untranslatable and the source of numerous cross-cultural misunderstandings (including the European naming of the "Hottentot" people). The second chapter discusses Rousseau's Discours sur l'origine de l'inégalité parmi les hommes and shows how his hypothetical definition of man in the state of nature would mediate all subsequent discourse on native cultures. In the following chapter, I point to the politicization of cultural language in Raynal's monumental Histoire des deux Indes. The last chapter revisits Bougainville's Voyage and Diderot's Supplément au voyage de Bougainville to show that both authors dealt with the impossibility of defining universal cultural systems, prompting reflection upon the complexities of translation and cross-cultural interactions. The conclusion suggests that the recurring appeal to customs and institutions as keys to understanding the functioning of social groups signals the emergence of a new anthropological discourse fascinated by the possibility and the limits of universal models, and preoccupied with the validity of moral comparisons.  
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:French and Italian

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
Michaud_princeton_0181D_10158.pdf1.37 MBAdobe PDFView/Download

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.