Ritual As Communication: Order, Meaning, and Secrecy in Melanesian Initiation Rites
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 13: 143-155 (Volume publication date October 1984)
Roy Wagner
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dear, sweet Simone,

This article wasn’t what I expected from the title — it was more and better. In a few pages Wagner touches upon a wide ranges of issues, concerns and questions — various theoretical perspectives, problems with definitions, concerns about information from informants, sufficiency of fieldwork, science in anthropology, and on and on. He introduces a lot of players and their critiques of one another and those who came before. I will have to return to this article and take written notes. I found it difficult to keep the players and ideas straight with just a read.

One of the more exciting things that came out of reading this article was discovering a series of interviews, many of them of anthropologists, on YouTube by user Ayabaya.

I’ve listened to the first part of an interview with Roy Wagner.
Here the link to the second part of that interview.
I also noticed that there is an interview with Fredrik Barth, whom Wagner mentions prominently in his discussion of ritual as communication.

I enjoy hearing stories of how people made their way to the study of anthropology, and I’m excited to view more of these interviews and get a feel for how anthropologists talk and use words and the the types of things they talk about. Wagner asserts that anthropologists love to hear themselves talk. Look at him, he says.

The thing that stuck out to me most in the first half of the interview was Wagner saying that the fact that his high school English teacher required students to stand up and explain what was being communicated in various Shakespearean passages really helped his development in the “art of explanation in anthropology.” He says that explanation is much more important than theory.

I enjoy theory and have some understanding of the usefulness and necessity of it, but I don’t see the necessity for a belief that theory represents some definite and real underlying truth such that it is the be all, end all… particularly in a field such as anthropology.

Warm thoughts,