Towards a Rooted Anthropology:
Malinowski, Gellner and Herderian
Many anthropologists think of their discipline as inherently more cosmopolitan than others. After all, unlike our colleagues in departments of history or sociology, we claim to deal systematically with the full range of human societies. We also tend to take it for granted that, in the globalised world of the twenty-first century, we are more cosmopolitan than our anthropological predecessors. Our distant ancestors were infected by the prejudices of imperialism; more recently the barriers of the Cold War imposed other kinds of blinkers and restricted mobility and communication between scholars. But does the lifting of most political barriers and the digital communications revolution warrant complacent assumptions? Of course everything hinges on one's definition of cosmopolitanism. The anthropologists of Victorian Britain and Wilhelmine Germany read each other's works more assiduously than is the case today, when German scholars must publish in English to stand a chance of being read outside the Germanspeaking countries. At the same time the persisting vigour of national scholarly associations and journals suggests that the dominance of the English language has by no means eliminated the significance of national traditions in our discipline (see Barth et al. 2005).
Before we set about analysing the cosmopolitanism of other people in other places, it may be instructive to ask some of the same questions of our own discipline. A comprehensive answer would require a careful examination of the intertwining of intellectual and social history, and that cannot be attempted here. This paper considers the impact of two scholars from Central Europe on social anthropology in Britain and proceeds to draw out more general themes concerning the possibilities for a rooted cosmopolitanism in our discipline. Bronislaw Malinowski liked to present his functionalist theory as a modern science. Those who signed up to this paradigm could largely dispense with the intellectual history of their discipline, just as they could dispense with historical speculation about the