All Muddled Up: Learning from Roy Wagner’s Storytelling

Rather than focus on his inexhaustibly influential writings, this paper turns to Roy Wagner’s teaching and how, through form not just content, he pushed those he spoke with to challenge what counts as legitimate speech, truth, or how to do anthropology. Roy told stories, even when having a theoretical conversation. These stories twisted and turned, folded back on themselves, leapt ahead, and were always punctuated with theatrical cries. They were not the succinct, clear prose of American anthropological writing or the clinical precision of a targeted intervention with a set time limit, but they also were not just the whims and quirks of old age, position, or privilege. Roy’s meandering speech evoked a central question in the discipline: what does it mean to learn from and not just about? Furthermore, how do we, as anthropologists, scholars, or just people, embrace what we have learned by deploying it, not merely as persuasive support or telling anecdote in writings, talks, and classrooms, but as how we write, talk, and teach? This paper details how Roy’s discursive style was in and of itself the heart of his teaching. In doing so, I use as examples the ways I incorporated his teachings into my own research topic, methodology, and writing with Vezo women in Madagascar.
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