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  The ‘authentic’ was a key goal of the anthropologists\' search for a true understanding of foreign cultures. This was particularly so from the 1920s on, when field work became standard practice. A society was seen as more ‘authentic’ if it had not come into contact with missionaries or colonial influence. Many early anthropologists set about trying to capture a picture of that society in its pristine, uncontaminated condition; what James Clifford termed the ‘ethnographic present’, a picture of society forzen in time. This image of static societies was often used as a contrast to ever-changing Western culture.

Modern anthropology borrowed from the philosopher Theodor Adorno the idea of examining how authenticity is applied in contemporary Western culture. For instance, tourism (see tourism, anthropology of) can be seen as a search for an authentic experience usually in an exotic place. For those who stay at home, contact with authentic pieces of culture, whether in films, books or museums, allows them to incorporate the authenticity of another culture into their own personal experience. The problem with authenticity is that it presupposes a compatibility between the object seen and what is being represented.

Authenticity is also a key concept in examining how artefacts from other cultures have been evaluated and appropriated by the West. The collecting and marketing of art objects has increased the value of the authentic object, as opposed to imitations. In the same way that the idea of authenticity was applied to whole cultures, it is, in this capacity, a criterion by which their artefacts are evaluated. CL

See also ethnohistory; visual anthropology.Further reading James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture; , Dean MacCannell, Empty Meeting Grounds.



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