This book is concerned with the historical development of anthropology in the United States. The roots of anthropology lie in the eye-witness accounts of travelers who have journeyed to lands on the margins of state-based societies and described their cultures and in the efforts of individuals who have analyzed the information collected. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of anthropologists - e.g. Kathleen Gough (1968a, 1968b), Dell Hymes (1969), Talal Asad (1973) and Stanley Diamond (1969, 1974) among others - recognized that the practice of anthropology was intimately linked to commerce and colonial expansion. In their view, anthropology appears during episodes of class and state formation created by conquest abroad and repression at home. One anthropologist described it as the study of people in crisis by people in crisis. Both the anthropologists and the groups they studied are in crisis, but how they experience that crisis may differ because they occupy different places in the structures of power created by imperialist civilization (Diamond 1974:93).
The relationships between anthropologists and the communities they study have changed and will continue to do so because of the contradictions and problems inherent in development of society on an increasingly world scale. While anthropologists cannot prevent change from taking place, they have regularly chosen sides in the struggles that ensued. For myriad reasons, anthropologists have not always taken the same side. Not all anthropologists have related in the same way to civilization or to the processes of class and state formation linked with colonial expansion.
Some have been ardent boosters of the new social hierarchies forged by conquest and repression. They have claimed that the cultural practices of the ruling classes are civilized, refined, and superior, and that those of the less powerful classes at home and the uncivilized communities on the margins of the colonial state are crude and inferior. They have portrayed the rise of civilization in terms of a theory of history that depicts a series of progressive changes, the civilizing process, from an original, primitive condition to more advanced, diversified circumstances. They have identified the conquest of nature, material improvement, and increasing modernity as motors driving these changes. They have provided historical accounts of the development of stratified societies characterized by the rule of law and the demise of tradition. They have sought to explain how existing power relations came to be and why they are legitimate.