The Foundations of Social Anthropology

The Foundations of Social Anthropology

The Foundations of Social Anthropology

The Foundations of Social Anthropology

Excerpt

This book is not a Textbook on Social Anthropology. It does not attempt to summarize either the knowledge we possess of primitive societies or the advances we have made in their study. At least, such a summary is incidental to the main theme of the book, which is concerned, rather, with the logical premises that underlie our knowledge of societies (whether they be primitive or otherwise) and with the prerequisites, conceptual and technical, of any enquiry meant to lead to this knowledge. If the clumsily informative titles of earlier scholars were still in fashion I might have called my book 'Prolegomena to the Study of Society: being an Enquiry into the Nature of Sociological Knowledge'. As it is, I speak simply of 'Foundations'.

This book, then, is about Method. But I trust that it does not thereby qualify for Poincaré's cynical comment: 'Nearly every sociological thesis proposes a new method which, however, its author is careful not to apply, so that sociology is the science with the greatest number of methods and the least results.' The methods here analyzed are constantly applied--by others as well as myself. Also, they have produced results, to which the literature of anthropology amply testifies. In a different sense, however, there is some lack of agreement between anthropological method and practice. For much that is fundamental in the method of social anthropology has been applied tacitly as well as unguardedly, without full awareness of all that it implies. Indeed, judged from this viewpoint, it seems true to say that anthropology has been concerned too much with results, and too little with thinking about method. I have attempted to 'think about method'; and here my task has often resolved itself into bringing into the open what other anthropologists have left unexpressed, rendering tacit methods explicit, and exhibiting their full import. Much of what I shall have to say will thus be a restatement of things well known. Yet I felt that they needed restatement, both in explicit terms and in some new . . .

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