The past as a scarce resource?.

A. Appadurai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The assumption that the past is an infinite and plastic symbolic resource, wholly susceptible to contemporary purposes, is widespread in contemporary anthropology. It is partly rooted in Malinowski's conception of myth as social charter and partly in Durkheim's formulation concerning the cross-cultural relativity of fundamental categories of human thought. This article is a critique of this assumption, and suggests the existence of culturally variable sets of norms whose function is to regulate the inherent debatability of the past. Such norms, which vary substantively from culture to culture, are nevertheless from a formal point of view subject to certain universal constraints. An example from south India is the basis for this argument, which also has implications for the theoretical analysis of social change. -Author

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-219
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1981

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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