The Negro Family in British Guiana

The Negro Family in British Guiana

The Negro Family in British Guiana

The Negro Family in British Guiana

Excerpt

It has been my privilege to watch the growth of Dr. Smith's book from the time when it was only an aspiration for a field study to its final fledging. It has been an exciting experience. Following modern anthropological tradition, Dr. Smith has welded field observation and theory into a unitary argument. He has done it with the skill and economy of an old hand; so much so that his scrupulous checking of each step in the theoretical analysis against the detail of field observation may easily escape the reader. I stress this because Dr. Smith's manner is so self-effacing, his exposition so close-knit, and his main hypothesis so obviously right once it has been stated, that the quality of the field work behind the book may simply be taken for granted. But it is the quality of the field work that, in the end, distinguishes the best from the merely good monograph in social anthropology; and this best calls for special acumen and insight, and for the ability to share the feelings and ideas of one's hosts without sacrificing discipline and detachment.

These capabilities can only be encouraged, never taught, in the classroom. They come out in the telling detail, reported almost by the way rather than in the set piece on a conventional topic. Dr. Smith makes shrewd use of such telling detail. An instance is the description of the ambiguous attitudes of a child brought up by its grandmother when its own mother is also a dependant of the grandmother. It makes us see in a flash why Dr. Smith's analysis of the 'matrifocal' household from the angle of its child-rearing and economic functions, and not from the more usual side of the legal and moral notions of family and marriage, is so illuminating.

Even more effective is Dr. Smith's use of numerical data. His central theme is the Guianese Negro family. As is well known, there is no topic in the whole range of the social sciences that has been so much written about as the family systems of mankind. But a large part, if not most, of this voluminous literature is useless for . . .

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