BDwyer said, "anthropology is such a broad church with no really unified perspective - some see it as inherently political emanating out of cosmopolitan centres - like myself, whilst others see it as simply ethnography."

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Anthropology once had a unified perspective in that a few academics in the main imperial centres took on themselves to talk about humanity as a whole. Foucault, in the last chapter of The Order of Things (Les mots et les choses), argues that this 'human science' was the last dying gasp of a western pretension to universality reflected in the end of empire (rather like Hegel's owl of Minerva). In any case, the collapse of the European empires after 1945 did usher in a new era for anthropology, whether or not you buy F's thesis about the human sciences.

I would say that the 70s saw the break up of a unitary field into a variety of non-communicating sub-disciplines. This is when medical anthropology, feminist anthropology, development anthropology and all the rest took root. Before then, there were specialists, but they all had some sense of being part of one enterprise. I think there is more than demography to this.

Anthropology has always been plural because national and it was the pretension of anthropologists in Britain, France and America to speak for everyone in an unmarked way. Perhaps it still is for some. But I would argue that the old imperial anthropologies are involuted and in decline. Anthropology is booming in Brazil (the second largest association) and in Scandinavia. It is big in countries like India and Nigeria (where it still means tribal anthropology on the whole), while the old countries of temperate zone new settlement aren't doing badly either.

This diversity should make us cautious when granting 'Anthropology' a singular status as a noun. I believe that an expanded academy has contributed to this fragmentation, along with the collapse of empire and the proliferation of national anthropologies. One hope I have for a revived unitary sense of our subject is as an interdisciplinary project geared toward comprehending the new and old bases for the formation of world society in our time.
In case anyone has missed it, I am copying John's apt comment here:

It must have been sometime in 1966. I was a first-year graduate student at Cornell. Jack Roberts mentioned to me that he could remember when the entire membership of the American Anthropological Association could meet in a ranch house outside Tucson. The field was so small that everyone read everything that anyone else wrote. By the time I attended my first AAA, in 1969, as I recall. The annual meetings attracted several thousand people, already fragmented by cross-cutting topical interests and geographical specializations. A handful of classic authors and texts provided some connective tissue. The four fields were joined rickety 19th century ideas that made putting primatologists and linguists, archeologists and a grab bag of cultural anthropologists in the same business. But already connections were thin. Wandering from one session to another was like moving from one world to another or, perhaps a better analogy, moving from one booth to another on a midway. There was room for big cat acts and geeks, clowns, acrobats, tests of strength and games of chance. How they all came together in one place remained, except for the four fields, a mystery. And that was four decades ago.
First, a round of applause for everyone contributing here (and, though the two groups largely overlap) the people contributing to the History of Anthropology group discussion of favorite works. Both threads are, in my view, showing us the best of what OAC can be, a place to learn.

Second, a special word of thanks to Keith for reminding us that anthropology is no longer an exclusively North American or European enterprise. To his list of places where anthropology is flourishing outside of North America and Europe, I would like to add East Asia, especially Taiwan and Japan. I wonder how many here are aware that the largest anthropological literature in a non-Western language is written and published in Japanese -- not surprising, if we stop to recall that Japan had its own imperial projects before WWII. Anthropology is also flourishing in Taiwan, where the Institute of Ethnology is one of Academia Sinica's oldest and still highly respected research units. Historically focused on studies of Taiwan aborigines and Hokkien or Hakka-speaking Chinese living in Taiwan, the Institute is now cooperating with anthropologists in the Peoples Republic of China on research on minorities living in West and Southwest China.

Like Ryan I am on good terms with both lumpers and splitters. But if asked to describe myself I would say networker. To me my anthropological training makes me a node where a particular combination of intellectual flows converge: biology, linguistics, sociological and literary theory, social and intellectual history. To these my checkered life and career have added philosophy and history of science, Asian (mostly Chinese and Japanese) area studies, advertising, marketing, and, most recently, social network analysis. I find myself attracted to clusters that contain individuals with some, though by no means all, of these interests. That is, come to think of it, why OAC works so well for me.
Keith said, "Anthropology once had a unified perspective in that a few academics in the main imperial centres took on themselves to talk about humanity as a whole. Foucault, in the last chapter of The Order of Things (Les mots et les choses), argues that this 'human science' was the last dying gasp of a western pretension to universality reflected in the end of empire (rather like Hegel's owl of Minerva). In any case, the collapse of the European empires after 1945 did usher in a new era for anthropology, whether or not you buy F's thesis about the human sciences."

Keith is in good company in arguing that anthropology is the child of imperialism. But I think there are grounds for an alternative interpretation: that Western social science generally and anthropology in particular were primarily a reflection on the changes in European society. As I have tried to develop this argument in Understanding Culture: An Introduction to Anthropology Theory, I will not reherse it in detail here. But think, for example, of Durkheim's The Division of Labour in Society; it's all about the changes in Europe. Studies beyond Europe were primarily used to contextualize this focus of change in Europe. Eventually, of course, extra-European studies became of interest in their own right, one of the benefits of engagement with the broader world.
Philip, I didn't say that anthropology is the child of imperialism. It was an invention of the movement for liberal democracy in the 18th century and became an explanation for the success of western imperialism in taking over the world in the 19th. The shift to ethnography was primarily nationalist in inspiration. To take just my branch, Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown adopted Durkheim because they were more interested in explaining national society than anything else and used their exotic ethnography to argue that the sociology of 'simple' societies supported a functionalist understanding of complex society at home. So the postcolonial critique of anthropology as the handmaiden of empire was quite misleading. Their loyalty was always to the liberal metropolitan elite and they regularly came into conflict with racist colonial regimes.

Foucault's argument is more subtle than a 'child of imperialism' line. His book is an attempt to depict the western project of making the human being an object of a scientific division of labour, a project that he felt sure was running out of steam c.1970. He singles out ethnology and psychoanalysis as by far the most lively of the human sciences and asks why this should be so. His answer is interesting, but I won't spell it out here. They each study everything and invigorate the other disciplines, while running in the opposite direction methodologically.

He claims that we must explain the 'historicity' of ethnology (20th century social and cultural anthropology), meaning why did it take its characteristic form at that time? He suggests that it is related to the problem of late colonial empire, that is its impending loss, and involves a compensation for that loss, a final assertion of the West's ability to project its own vision of humanity as a universal. This could be put to the purpose of defending imperialism or maybe of shoring up the state at home. In any case, the loss of colonial empire changes the conditions for being an anthropologist.

I like this argument because it points to the need for us to explain the historicity of our moment. Anthropology clearly has not ended, but is redefining its purpose for the 21st century. The result may be unifying or fragmented, that's up to us. But my preferred story is that fragmentation was the consequence of the collapse of empire and unification in future would be reinforced by the palpable strides humanity is making to form a single society on this planet.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Keith said, "Anthropology once had a unified perspective in that a few academics in the main imperial centres took on themselves to talk about humanity as a whole. Foucault, in the last chapter of The Order of Things (Les mots et les choses), argues that this 'human science' was the last dying gasp of a western pretension to universality reflected in the end of empire (rather like Hegel's owl of Minerva). In any case, the collapse of the European empires after 1945 did usher in a new era for anthropology, whether or not you buy F's thesis about the human sciences."
Keith is in good company in arguing that anthropology is the child of imperialism. But I think there are grounds for an alternative interpretation: that Western social science generally and anthropology in particular were primarily a reflection on the changes in European society. As I have tried to develop this argument in Understanding Culture: An Introduction to Anthropology Theory, I will not reherse it in detail here. But think, for example, of Durkheim's The Division of Labour in Society; it's all about the changes in Europe. Studies beyond Europe were primarily used to contextualize this focus of change in Europe. Eventually, of course, extra-European studies became of interest in their own right, one of the benefits of engagement with the broader world.
Thanks for that clarification, Keith. I was not intending to misrepresent your view.

As for "the palpable strides humanity is making to form a single society on this planet," this is a dream held for quite a while. My mother was a member of the United World Federalists. However, globalization not withstanding, "a single society" might be well beyond our reach. For the forseeable future, I would be tickled pink to see Iraq and Afghanistan unified as single societies.

At the same time, unification does not always bring out the best. China has been very good at unifying--think of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Sinkiang Uigur (not very) autonomous province--and yet I have a hard time being enthused. Iran too is fairly well unified, but in a good way? My Baluchi friends have their doubts.

Even the EU is supposed to be decentralizing--don't laugh. Remember the Region of Regions?

So what does this mean for world anthropology? That we should stop trying to universalize our conceptions and understandings? OAS readers may be tired of hearing me endorse Ralf Dahrendorf's conception of intellectual life as a marketplace of ideas, of critical examination, of integrations, rejections, and reformulations. Is this not a viable model for world anthropology? Perhaps fewer of us have been in the marketplace previously; now we welcome all: the more the merrier!
I've noticed something not stated in my textbooks or in actual words by my professors - but something every anthropologist from the most liberal Marxist to most Conservative Republican/Libertarian I've had teach me or talk to me has - it's an appreciation for others viewpoints and ways of life. The implicit (not stated) idea that what is right for us is not necessarily what is right morally or ethically for another group of people. It may seem a real simple concept or perspective, but I do think it is a small one or something to sneeze at. This to me is what unifies anthropology and anthropologists be they the first year community college major or world famous like Jane Goodall, etc.

Anthropology has always been more core unified in it's methodologies rather than applications or perspective that it seems weird that a core perspective has developed in spite of such disparate views on other topics? Yet I think in this aspect it has. What do you think?

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