Among the Anthropologists: History and Context in Anthropology. (Books Reviews: Theory)

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KUPER, ADAM. Among the anthropologists: history and context in anthropology. x, 214 pp.' bibliogr. London, New Brunswick: Arhlone Press, 1999. [pounds sterling]45.00 (cloth)

This collection of Adam Kuper's essays brings together eleven papers mostly published previously. The earliest dates from 1989; the most recent is the text of the Bradford Morse Distinguished Lecture on 'South African anthropology: an inside job', delivered at Boston in 1997, and not, I believe, hitherto available. Some will be well known to anthropologists, having appeared in journals such as Man and Social Anthropology or in edited collections; others were first published in Encounter and The Times Higher Education Supplement. Some have been revised.

Editions of an author's collected papers are not unknown in anthropology, though not common. There were, famously of course, Radcliffe-Brown's Structure and function in primitive society (1952), Evans-Pritchard's Essays in social anthropology (1962), and Leach's Rethinking anthropology (1961), each setting out a theoretical and methodological stall, an approach to the discipline which profoundly touched and often influenced the generation(s) of students who read them. Kuper would not, I fancy, make that claim for this or his other publications. For although he certainly has a theoretical standpoint on anthropology and on the social sciences, he is not best known for his contribution to grand theory -- how few of his contemporaries in Britain indeed are! Rather, and leaving aside his African and other ethnographies, his achievement is to be first and foremost among the British-based historians and interpreters of anthropology, British, American, and South African. Anthropology and anthropologists, first publi shed nearly thirty years ago and now in its third edition, remains the best, most authoritative, and most judicious overview of the 'modern British' school ever to have appeared.

Kuper's stamping-ground, then, is the history of anthropology and the location of theory in that history, as in another of his recent books, Culture, the anthropologists' account (1999), with its excellent chapters on Geertz and Sahlins. So what do the essays in the present volume say about him when put together? Well, let him speak for himself In the specially written Preface, Kuper explains that the essays 'reflect a point of view about how theories in anthropology emerge and are put to work'. This point of view is illustrated by the image (perhaps the reality) of a 'broad conversation', to which theories are 'simply more or less interesting contributions'. Theoretical schools come and go, but these represent currents of opinion rather than coherent theoretical positions', and whether they are successful or not hinges on the 'insidious workings of prestige and patronage as well as for more elevated reasons'. …