label r shifted
Session A2
Rethinking Traditionalism: Myron Cohen and the Place of Ethnography in the Study of Taiwan’s History
謝力登 Derek Sheridan
Department of Anthropology, Brandeis University, USA

The work of American anthropologists in Taiwan during the Cold War has occasionally been criticized as looking at China “through Taiwan” (Hong and Murray 2005). Critiques like these, however, can miss both the changing intellectual historical contexts of anthropology as a discipline, and the retrospective contributions of Martial Law era ethnographic manuscripts to the historical archive of Taiwan history. In this presentation, I address these topics through an engagement with the work of Myron Cohen. As an anthropologist whose intellectual contributions to the study of “Chinese kinship” and debates about “traditional Chinese culture” are based on formative fieldwork conducted among the Hakka of southern Taiwan in the 1960s and 1970s, Cohen’s early work is perhaps paradigmatic of the role Taiwan played in America’s Cold War Sinology before Taiwan Studies. On the basis of two interviews with Myron Cohen, a close review of his written work, and a broader intellectual historical contextualization, however, a more complex picture emerges. For example, Cohen readily embraces the label of “traditionalism” applied to his influential early work. His own critical reflections on his scholarship, and his experience as an ethnographer with a longstanding and ongoing relationship with the people of Meinong (美濃/瀰濃 ), however, offers insights which might force us to reevaluate the negative connotations of “traditionalism.” I will discuss four sets of insights gleaned from our interviews with Cohen and a review of his work: 1) the intellectual origins of “traditionalism,” 2) the tensions between the ethnography of “traditional” practices and the “anti-traditionalism” of the early KMT, 3) the contribution of this ethnography to the eventual emergence of Taiwan Studies, and 4) the conceptual relationships between “Taiwan Studies” and “China Studies.” I will argue that Cohen’s work forces us to historicize the production of knowledge about “traditional Chinese culture” in Taiwan in ways that cannot be reduced to the Cold War alone, but rather to shifting affinities and mobilizations of the concept of “culture” and its relation to ethnography and history both within international anthropological practice as well as within the cultural politics of identity in Taiwan. From this perspective, Cohen’s past ethnographic work, his ongoing archival work in Meinong, and the social networks generated in his fieldwork have arguably contributed to a distinctly Taiwanese historical archive without being reduced to that alone.