Theory in Anthropology since the Enlightenment

By Reed-Danahay, Deborah | Anthropological Quarterly, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Theory in Anthropology since the Enlightenment

Reed-Danahay, Deborah, Anthropological Quarterly

Theory in Anthropology Since the Enlightenment

Fredrik Barth, Andre Gingrich, Robert Parkin, and Sydel Silverman, One Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology. University of Chicago Press, 2005.

This book developed out of lectures delivered on the history of anthropology to mark the inauguration of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany, in June 2002. The contributors are distinguished anthropologists who in two cases were key actors in the traditions of anthropology on which they report. In the present climate of reflexivity (in both the Bourdieuan sense of positionality and as a form of self-consciousness) in anthropology, there is a growing literature (at least in English) on the history of anthropology-including biographies of and autobiographies by anthropologists, general histories, and histories of particular aspects of national traditions, including institutions for training and teaching anthropology.1 Historians and literary critics have also taken an interest in the history of our discipline, following in the steps of George Stocking, Jr. (1992 and 1995) who has contributed so much to our understandings of our past.

The present work makes an important contribution in the midst of all of this other production in its bringing together a set of essays in one volume that address developments in four separate national traditions of anthropology-British, German, French, and American (U.S.). Following an earlier statement by Portuguese anthropologist João de Pina-Cabral, the convener of the lecture series on which the essays are based, Chris Hann, poses the question in his forward of whether or not there is a trend toward a "global" anthropology. In their own way, each author of these essays addresses this question. Each essay is unique, and reflects to some degree the idiosyncratic interests and intellectual history of its anthropologist-author as well as the particular national context discussed. The histories given here illuminate a mutivocality in the development of anthropology, and balance an emphasis on personalities and major figures in the history with one on the social, intellectual, and institutional contexts in which the discipline grew in each national context. These essays read like four separate mini-books, each with five chapters.

Fredrik Barth begins his overview of British anthropology in the early 19th century and takes it up almost to the present. Bringing his own theoretical sensitivities to this enterprise, he states early on in his essay that it is not sufficient to deal only with the history of ideas in anthropology, but "we must also take account of the interests and prejudices that prevailed in the larger society, to which these scholars had to accommodate, and of the particular organizations and resources in academic life that were available to them as the means of pursuing their goals" (3). In his first chapter, he explains the origins and rise of anthropology in Britain as connected not only to an overall interest in exploration and colonial expansion, but also to more general interest in knowledge about the wider world. Barth's second chapter charts the rise of the fieldwork tradition in British anthropology, and covers the period from the late 19th century to 1922-the famous year in which both Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Pacific and Radcliffe-Brown's The Andaman Islanders were published. Barth begins his discussion of the institutional history of British anthropology at the end of this second chapter, mentioning the position Sir James Frazer had at the University of Liverpool in the first decade of the 20th century and then the growing role of the London School of Economics (LSE), where Barth was later trained.

A third chapter deals exclusively with Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown, whose rivalry is legendary in anthropological mythology. For Barth, the divergent approaches of Malinowski, "multivocal and deeply inspiring, but theoretically ad hoc" (29) and of Radcliffe-Brown, who brought theory, structure, and a focus on political organization, were usefully complementary in the development of the field. …

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