Anthropology and the New Cosmopolitanism: Rooted, Feminist and Vernacular Perspectives

By Pnina Werbner | Go to book overview

2
The Founding Moment: Sixty Years Ago1

Elizabeth Colson

When I was asked to speak about the early days of the Association of Social Anthropologists at the celebration of the 60th anniversary of its founding, I began to consider what I knew of the founders and speculate about their enduring impact on anthropology. As one way to check on the latter, I had a citation check carried out on ten of them for the period January 2005 to March 2006. Amazingly all ten are still being cited. The majority have been dead these thirty years or more, but what they wrote is still an active part of the intellectual heritage of anthropology. Another legacy is the Association itself even though it has grown out of all knowledge and no longer provides a forum for a small number of people who know each other well and read each other's work.


The Association

Ten people met in July 1946 to discuss the desirability of an association devoted specifically to the furtherance of the interests of social anthropology and social anthropologists. Some months later a committee drew up a list of other potential members, nine of whom, according to David Mills, were based in Great Britain while another 15 to 20 were scattered around the Commonwealth (Mills 2003: 9–10). They all held post-graduate degrees in anthropology, overwhelmingly from LSE. Fifteen years later, in 1961, the Association had grown to include 142 members. Here I am relying on the Ardeners (Ardener and Ardener 1965: 30). By 1990, by my own count, it had 500 members whose advanced degrees had been taken at some 55 different universities, including some outside the Commonwealth (Colson 1991: 50).

The first meeting I attended was held in London in late 1947 or early 1948, a little over a year after the original gathering. I think every member of the Association who was then in Great Britain came, which meant there were about fifteen of us in the room. We fitted easily around a table. I don't remember if anyone gave a paper, but the discussion was collegial and combative. Even then not everyone spoke up. As a young anthropologist newly admitted to the august

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