Anthropologists since Franz Boas and Margaret Mead have traditionally gone off to study "primitive" cultures. This collection of original essays breaks new ground in showing how anthropological theories and techniques can be applied to the culture of contemporary middle-class Americans. In Symbolizing America, ten well-known anthropologists pursue self and identity as cultural rather than psychological matters. Looking homeward, they ask "What Is American about America?" "How do we know?" and "What difference does it make?" They analyze such aspects of American culture as advertising, mass-audience movies, patriotic and ethnic parades, church minutes, college parties, greetings, and the dilemmas of adolescent sexuality. Concerned with familiar interactions, they arrive at new insight into the experience of daily life in America. In their symbolic and semiotic approaches, the authors express the variety yet surprising unity of a dynamic American culture.
Chapters include "Creating America," "Doing the Anthropology of America," and "'Drop in Anytime': Community and Authenticity in American Everyday Life" by the editor, Herve Varenne, Teachers College, Columbia University; "Freedom to Choose: Symbols and Values in American Advertising" by William O. Beeman, Brown University; "The story of [James] Bond" by Lee Drummond, McGill University; "The Melting Pot: Symbolic Ritual or Total Social Fact?" by Milton Singer, University of Chicago; "The Los Angeles Jews 'Walk for Solidarity': Parade, Festival, Pilgrimage" by Barbara Myerhoff and Stephen Mongulla, University of Southern California; "History, Faith, and Avoidance" by Carol Greenhouse, Cornell University; "The Discourse of the Dorm: Race, Friendship, and 'Culture' among College Youth" by Michael Moffatt, Rutgers University; "Why a 'Slut' is a 'Slut': Cautionary Tales of American Middle-Class Teenage Girls' Morality" by Joyce Canaan, Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies; and an epilogue, "on the Anthropology of America," by John Caughey, University of Maryland.