The writing style is an essential part of any science. Although the experiment’s results can be assessed with a certain degree of certainty, which excludes bias, the ability to write often determines the way the readers get to perceive certain subjects, be it literature, anthropology, history, sociology, or others. Certain styles in certain situations can either lend credibility to statements or end up alienating the potential audience by either boring them or presenting specific facts in an amateur way. The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the contents and writing styles of Insectopedia written by Hugh Raffles and a chapter written by James Clifford, titled Introduction: Partial Truths.
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Investopedia is an anecdotal treatise on insects, written by Hugh Raffles and published in 2010. Although the name suggests a degree of scientific value to the work, it is by no means considered a serious publication by most readers. The information provided in the book is incomplete, as it does not cover a range of topics varied enough to be considered an encyclopedia. The book is comprised out of 26 essays on various insect-related subjects, which are loosely connected and barely have any relation to one another.
The author provides a sympathetic point of view towards insects by using anecdotes and stories from personal practice in order to describe them, while at the same time making certain jarring comparisons with humans, especially when it comes to extermination of certain species, which he compares to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews (Raffle 94). Through these efforts, not only does he attract the attention of the readers, but he also humanizes the insects to a certain degree, distancing himself and the subject from cold and anatomical studies that most treatises on insects represent.
In comparison to Hugh Raffle’s book, James Clifford writes in a much more academic tongue. The purpose of his writings differs from those pursued by Raffle, as his task is to engage in an educated conversation with the reader on the matters regarding anthropology and ethnography, both of which are respected academic disciplines. In his writings, he uses a format that includes numerous essays, which is similar to Raffle. However, the essays are interconnected with one another, and the chapter follows a coherent structure.
Clifford (1) makes an argument for language as an imperfect tool of recording observations and findings, as any ethnographic notes would invariably carry on the biases and perceptions of those making them. While Raffle’s book is a reflection on the interconnection between insects and humans, Clifford’s work is a self-reflection on western ethnography as a science. Thus, his main point lies in the fact that ethnographic text does not provide us with impartial reflections of the new worlds, societies, and cultures. Instead, they provide us with the author’s perceptions of these elements, which cannot be compartmentalized or controlled. Therefore, by nature, every ethnographic account available in the literature is partial and deeply biased by default.
Investopedia and Partial Truths are two different texts that were made to pursue different goals. The point behind Raffle’s book was to spark interest and humor the reader without boring them in order to attract attention to various subjects mentioned in his book, while Clifford pursued to have an intellectual conversation with fellow ethnographic specialists and anthropologists. The intended purposes, personalities of the authors, and target audiences determined the language and writing style of either text.
Clifford, James. “Introduction: Partial Truths.” Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George Marcus, University of California Press, 1986, pp. 1-26.
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Raffle, Hugh. Investopedia. Random House, 2010.