Social Anthropology

Social Anthropology

Social Anthropology

Social Anthropology

Synopsis

An introduction to the central concerns of social anthropology, presenting an alternative to standard texts. More concerned with the life-worlds of underdevelopment than the primitive or the exotic, it draws on material which evokes current problems of policy and administration in the Third World. The author raises questions of vital importance to contemporary investigation and analysis, and pointers to the future for anthropology.

Excerpt

Anthropology has proved too useful to be left just to anthropologists. Whether as a method of research or as a mode of analysis, anthropology has been taken up by both policy-makers and scholars in other disciplines. Nor is its use limited to developing countries, though it is there historically that anthropologists’ comparative perspective has generated its most significant insights into society. Whereas most textbooks on the subject outline the problems professional anthropologists have tried to solve, this ‘Alternative Introduction’ shows what a reader can do with anthropology and with the monographs anthropologists have written.

There is a need for a ‘usable anthropology’ consisting of those debates—on models, theories and the various evidence for them—which people trained in other disciplines can handle and develop in their own contexts. Most disciplines have at the core certain very serious arguments over the soundness of their techniques and their sources of information, over the rightness of limiting the discipline to a particular set of perspectives and excluding what are, arguably, merely new intellectual fads. A usable anthropology side-steps these inner, intra-disciplinary wrangles (without denying their importance) and offers instead the tools of anthropology as tools and not as some golden key that unlocks ultimate reality. The pay-off for anthropologists in this lies in seeing what others, in using anthropology, can transform it into—and so increase the intellectual ‘power’ of the discipline. It is sensible, then, also to put on display, alongside the latest intellectual ‘technology’, analytical tools that anthropologists now regard as outmoded or inept for the job, and explain why these tools have proved too blunt to use. Many of these tools had of course themselves been borrowed by anthropologists from other disciplines and re-ground (perhaps crudely) for anthropology’s particular purposes; yet who knows whether another discipline may not hone those same discarded concepts into the sharpest of scalpels?

The reader, then, is assumed to be a user of anthropology. Any ‘Alternative Introduction’ needs to be, in computer jargon . . .

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