It is the collective stance of the authors of this volume that symbolizing as a creative, and constrained, activity is at the heart of the cultural process. The next two chapters consider different problems associated with the scholarly telling of this process as it unfolds through the people who live in the United States and relate to its institutions. This process is what we call "American culture." To remain consistent with our assumption that this process is a very general one from which it is difficult to escape, we must also insist that what is usually referred to as "description" or "analysis" is itself a symbolic activity made possible and constrained by the environment in which it is done. An analyst cannot retreat behind the pretense that he or she is simply using the language of pure description that Western culture would somehow have developed. As I explain in the first chapter, the anthropologists' participation in a culture does not mean a total inability to go beyond what is offered. Such oversocialized views of humanity have been left behind. What our condition requires, however, is that we continually reflect on the operations we are conducting when we tell our observations and analyses to an audience. It is for such reasons that I say, anthropologists do not "describe" America, they "tell" it.
To the extent that they "tell" America (if not tell on it), anthropologists also create it for specific purposes. America is not an event to be mapped, as LÚvi-Strauss taught us long ago (1963a ), it is a model crafted to help (some of) us understand what happens around us. America does not tell itself. It must be told by human beings, through specific rhetorical means that will appear convincing to a special audience. This recognition of the conditions of work on America is not a justification for ethnographic license. Rather, it is a call for greater rigor in the overall task of the social sciences, the deepening of our understanding of human beings. The development of these sciences could in fact be seen as the evolution of these calls for various types of rigor. At the end of the nineteenth century sociologists and philosophers established that human beings could be understood only in terms of their sociability. The Boasians moved onto insist that rigor in this new endeavor consisted in recognizing that human sociability can proceed in many different ways. Human creativity in society was thus reaffirmed against determinist biases. In the course of this insistence on the role of culture, new questions were raised about the nature of observation and the link between observation and theory. The 1950s and 1960s directed our attention to this issue. This led to the more complex view that insists it is necessary to take into account the participation of the observer and his cultural baggage. Given this evolution toward a more exacting view of the total research activity, it is not surprising that we now insist on the need to pay attention to how the observer relates to his audience through the symbolic means (writing, lecturing, etc.) at his disposal.
The two essays that follow attempt to make explicit the theoretical, analytic, and ethnographic grounds that allow anthropologists to make certain types of statements about what happens in the United States. In the process, I point out those statements I consider inappropriate. Given the abstract character of this search, I begin with a common, concrete d, observation" that is often reported by those who tell America-the observation that, as it is normally put, "Americans are friendly." I show under what conditions this statement might be accurate, what it is a reflection of, and how it might be put so as to throw more light on everyday action in the United States. This leads me to raise fundamental questions about the relation of action to structuring constraints, the place of differentiation, homogeneity, and diversity- matters that must be addressed in any model of, or tale about, America.
The second chapter focuses on the actual ethnographic tasks and on the constraints, resources, and possibilities that frame the work anthropologists can perform when they encounter the United States.