A Social History of Anthropology in the United States

By Thomas C. Patterson | Go to book overview

Preface

This book had its origins in a series of conversations I had with Antonio LauriaPerricelli that date back to the late 1980s. Both of us were teaching history of anthropology courses and were dissatisfied with the books we were using. In our view, they did not refer to the social and political contexts in which anthropology was born and nurtured in the United States, and they certainly did not address how anthropologists as active agents fit into and helped to shape those contexts. We planned to write a book together. We drafted an outline and divided tasks; however, the unforeseen exigencies of everyday life made it impossible for him to continue the project. As a result, preparing the manuscript and getting it ready for publication became my responsibility. Nonetheless, Antonio continued to provide encouragement and advice as I wrote, and many of his suggestions were incorporated into the manuscript. This book is dedicated in part to him.

My theoretical perspective was forged in the crucible of politics in the United States from the mid-1950s onward. I was appalled by the racism, xenophobia, and censorship rampant in the country; I was inspired by the civil rights movement at home and by anticolonial movements that gained renewed vigor and swept across the world in the wake of the Second World War. Fieldwork in Peru in the early 1960s exposed me to a wide range of writers whose works I had not read before. Like many of my contemporaries, I began to read Mao Zedong, Amílcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon and Jomo Kenyatta among others; European social critics such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir or Herbert Marcuse as well as anthropological colleagues from Europe and Latin America. From the early 1960s onward, I also began to read social theorists from the past - John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Herbert Spencer, Charles Darwin, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim and Sigmund Freud to name only a few - whose views get recycled, reinterpreted and reused each generation.

One of the goals in writing this book was to examine how such diverse sources of inspiration were brought together and deployed by anthropologists in one country - the United States - which arguably has more professional anthropologists today than any other place in the world. While the particular form of U.S. anthropology is more or less unique for historical reasons, the building blocks on which it rests are not; the latter are also used by anthropologists in countries as diverse as England, the former Soviet Union, Peru, India or Senegal. Anthropologists - such as Franz Boas or Bronislaw Malinowski - are known professionally throughout the world,

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