James Clifford (born 1945) is an interdisciplinary scholar whose work combines perspectives from history, literature, and anthropology. He grew up in New York City and was for thirty three years Professor in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz until his retirement in 2011. Clifford and Hayden White were the first faculty directly appointed to the graduate-only department at UC-Santa Cruz. The History of Consciousness department continues to be an intellectual center for innovative critical scholarship in the U.S. and abroad, largely due to a group of prominent faculty including Donna Haraway, Teresa de Lauretis, Victor Burgin, Angela Davis and Barbara Epstein who were hired in the 1980s. Clifford served as department Chair from 2004-2007 and was the founding director of UCSC's Center for Cultural Studies. He has been a visiting professor in France, England and Germany and was elected to the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences in 2011.
Clifford is the author of several widely cited and translated books, including The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (1988), Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late 20th Century (1997), and Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty First Century (2013). He was co-editor (with George Marcus) of the widely influential collection Writing Culture: the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (1986). Clifford's work has sparked controversy and critical debate in a number of disciplines, such as literature, art history and visual studies, and especially in cultural anthropology. His historical and rhetorical critiques of ethnography contributed to Anthropology's important self-critical, decolonizing period of the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then he has worked in a cultural studies framework that combines cross-cultural scholarship with the British Birmingham tradition. Since 2000 his writing has focused on processes of globalization and decolonization as they influence contemporary "indigenous" lives.
Clifford's dissertation research was conducted at Harvard University in History (1970–1977), and focused on the history of anthropology. He specialized in the French tradition, writing on Marcel Mauss, Marcel Griaule, Michel Leiris, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. His dissertation and first book, "Person and Myth" (1982) was a study of the missionary-anthropologist Maurice Leenhardt and the colonial history of New Caledonia in French Melanesia. A geographical interest in the Island Pacific continues to influence Clifford's scholarship on issues related to indigeneity, transnational flows, museum studies, visual and performance studies, cultural studies, and cross-cultural translation.