My aims in this article are twofold: first, to illuminate the activities of U.S. modern primitives by placing them in their cultural and historical context and, second, to use this example to make a general argument about resistance move- ments and their relation to existing social and cultural structures. In analyzing modern primitives I show how they mobilize both basic Western understandings of the world as embodied in cosmogonic mythology and classical economic theory (Sahlins 1996) and more immediate and historically particular American ideas about selves, society, and experience (Cannon 1989; Fox and Lears 1983; Lears 1983; McCracken 1988). In the process, I deploy a conception of cultural systems that understands them less as determinants of social activity and more as providing a framework for such activity—that is, as constituting the possibility of meaning. It is these "conditions of meaningfulncss" that I seek to explore for the practices represented in Modern Primitives.
This article focuses on the philosophy underpinning the non-mainstream body modification practices of `Modern Primitives'. This subculture seeks inspiration in the body modification techniques and bodily rituals of so-called `primitive societies'. Establishing their prioritization of body, sexuality, community and spirituality as analytical links, the author shows that these self-perceived radical opponents of Western modernity nonetheless remain captured in its foundational discursive assumptions. The author argues that the movement's enthusiastic turn towards `primitivism' represents a particular identity strategy within the late modern condition. Drawing on colonial discourse analysis, the author argues that the primitivist discourse originated as an ideology within colonialism and has informed the construction of the Western self-image. Modern Primitives' notion of `primitivism' is seen as a postcolonial legacy of this tradition of `othering', which inevitably reproduces stereotypes of racialized people.