In his book Anthropology: a Students Guide to Theory and Method, Stanley Barrett explains one of the major tenets of postmodernist anthropology as “challenging the anthropological authority”, i.e. contesting the right of an anthropologist to analyze a culture that is not their own.
A second major theme of the theory is that, because ethnographies are subjectively influenced by the disposition of the author, they should be considered fictions in the sense that they are fabricated, second hand versions of the story. Clifford Geertz, considered a founding member of postmodernist anthropology, advocates this theme stating that, “anthropological writings are themselves interpretations, and second and third ones to boot”
Other major tenets of postmodernist anthropology, as described by Barrett, are:
These dispositions have lead several anthropologists to abandon some of the discipline’s most important methods such as fieldwork and cross-cultural comparisons.
Critics of the theory suggest that several of postmodernist ideas, such as avoiding fieldwork, are dangerous to the discipline. Barrett asserts that, “an anthropology devoid of fieldwork is a contradiction of terms” (Barrett 1996). They also advocate the idea that though ethnographies are not completely objective they still represent truth, just an incomplete truth. On the point of anthropologists only doing work in their own cultures Margery Wolf states that, “it would be as great a loss to have first-world anthropologists confine their research to the first world as it is (currently) to have third-world anthropologists confine theirs to the third world”. Most critics, however, do agree with the postmodernist ideas of relativism and dialogical texts.