Theory in Anthropology

Theories guiding our thinking, and thinking about theory.

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Discussion Forum

Foucault and Consensus 17 Replies

Started by Joel M. Wright. Last reply by Valentini Nov 19, 2013.

Recent Prestige Theory 4 Replies

Started by Bill Guinee. Last reply by Paulo Augusto Franco Jun 21, 2012.

What's wrong with Quine? 78 Replies

Started by Amiria Salmond. Last reply by John McCreery Dec 15, 2011.

What use is Anthropology? 25 Replies

Started by Liz Challinor. Last reply by Youdheya Banerjee/Bandyopadhyay Sep 18, 2011.

Gramsci's notion of hegemony 8 Replies

Started by Toby Austin Locke. Last reply by Eugene L. Mendonsa Aug 11, 2011.

Do anthropologists now doubt that peoples and cultures are different from one another? 44 Replies

Started by Philip Carl SALZMAN. Last reply by Michael Francis Nov 9, 2010.

Post-Subjective Anthropology 69 Replies

Started by Philip Carl SALZMAN. Last reply by Amiria Salmond Oct 15, 2010.

Is structuralism an elaboration of dialectics? 32 Replies

Started by Joel M. Wright. Last reply by MAI Saptenno Oct 4, 2010.

Assemblage, Structuration, Praxis 10 Replies

Started by Joel M. Wright. Last reply by Joel M. Wright Sep 14, 2010.

Capitalism and Flow 8 Replies

Started by Joel M. Wright. Last reply by Joel M. Wright May 18, 2010.

From Marxist anthropology to .......??? 34 Replies

Started by Philip Carl SALZMAN. Last reply by Joel M. Wright May 10, 2010.

Closing down Philosophy? Call to action.

Started by Heike Schaumberg May 1, 2010.

Can anthropologists cheat? 17 Replies

Started by Philip Carl SALZMAN. Last reply by John McCreery Feb 2, 2010.


Started by fahmid al zaid Dec 25, 2009.

Perspectivism vs. Domestication of Nature (?)

Started by Ricardo Samuel Monteiro Dec 20, 2009.

How can comparative analysis contribute to future progress in anthropology? 33 Replies

Started by Philip Carl SALZMAN. Last reply by John McCreery Dec 11, 2009.

theory of 'joining the tribe'?? 2 Replies

Started by Sinead Devane. Last reply by Sinead Devane Dec 8, 2009.

What do we want out of a theory? 26 Replies

Started by Philip Carl SALZMAN. Last reply by John McCreery Dec 2, 2009.

Any theory on Ecology of Poverty? 2 Replies

Started by Ranjan Lekhy. Last reply by Ranjan Lekhy Nov 29, 2009.

Comment Wall


You need to be a member of Theory in Anthropology to add comments!

Comment by Jah Paz on January 25, 2013 at 5:04pm

I'm sorry for sending the msg to everybody on the group, I thought I was posting it to the shared wall... opes...

Comment by Diego Ballestero on March 21, 2012 at 10:52am

My name is Diego Ballestero, I'm an Argentine anthropologist graduated from the Universidad Nacional de la Plata. Since 2010 I am living in Germany to finish my PhD. My main research topic is the history of anthropology in Argentina between1890 and 1930.

I hope to contribute elements of discussion to the group!

Kinds regards

Comment by Adrian Andreescu on February 4, 2012 at 11:11am

You might find of some interest the recent article - "Rethinking Prayer and
Health Research: An Exploratory Inquiry on Prayer’s Psychological

International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2, pp. 23-47,

Comment by Dr Nasir Uddin on March 4, 2011 at 9:32pm

Call for Paper


Special Issue: Anthropology in South Asia

Journal: Man in India

Volume 91, Issue 3


The countries of South Asia –alphabetically Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - are externally identical but internally diverse. South Asia is a distinct region for its history of decolonisation, diversity of cultural landscape, variety of languages used, composition of multi-ethnic settings, uniqueness of festivals and rituals and the dynamics of socio-political entity. There has notable homogeneity as well as remarkable heterogeneity of between and among the people of South Asian societies. The countries of South Asia are closely link to the global flows of people, goods and ideas that has created space for cultural exchange. Societies in South Asia have been suffering for decades from the dialectics between colonial domination and post-colonial negotiation, traditional beliefs and leaning to modernity, religious orthodoxies and notions of secularism, conventional cultural settings and post-modern ideologies. The tension between old and new, tradition and modern, internal values and external influence, local wisdom and global doctrine make the societies in South Asian countries dynamic in its social organisations and cultural practices. Over the decades for having its distinct regional features, South Asian societies and countries have drawn attention of scholars across disciplines from across the world for doing research on history, society, culture, religion, ecology, politics and economics. Researches undertaken by scholars from within and beyond the region have produced distinctive scholarship on South Asia to where anthropologists largely contributed. In fact, huge numbers of ethnographies on South Asian societies produced by South Asian anthropologists and anthropologists on South Asia contributed substantially to the formation of anthropological scholarship in the world in one hand. It on the other hand significantly contributed to shape an image of South Asian societies by comprehensive understanding of its social system and cultural practice. However, what actually “Anthropology of South Asia” means is still blurred and undefined within and beyond academia. Though definitional boundary indeed confines the potentiality of building scholarship, Man in India intends to draw a conceptual territory of “Anthropology of South Asia” in its special issue on Anthropology in South Asia.


Scholars across disciplines within and beyond South Asian origin working on South Asian societies are invited to contribute to the special issue of Man in India on Anthropology in South Asia with their ethnographic research findings. Submissions of original research articles are encouraged while analytical and theoretical articles are also acceptable in specific case depending on substance and strength of the article. Deadline of submission is sharply June 15, 2011. Only electronic submission is encouraged. Send your article directly to the guest editor of this special issue, Dr Nasir Uddin, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, University of Chittagong, email:


Comment by John McCreery on November 12, 2010 at 4:35am
@Michael - very nice.

@Sousa - Could you tell us a bit about your particular situation? With a bit more ethnographic input, Michael and I might be able to respond more empathetically.
Comment by Michael Francis on November 11, 2010 at 10:10pm
@Sousa - many anthropologists do embed themselves as fully as possible. I can skin and butcher a cow and sacrifice a goat although these skills were augmented by my rural Canadian upbringing. I think they often do engage in practices but I am certain one would need to experience ritual circumcision to know the Xhosa. So I am a little unclear by what is new in your brief proposal?

But as said these are perennial questions and have been well dealt with and at some point we need to get past institutional angst and get on with anthropology. I would suggest reading Grief and the Headhunters rage from Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis by Renato Rosaldo. I sometimes think anthropologist dwell too much on these issues other disciplines do not seem so hung up on knowledge production. Maybe its our audacity to actually go into the field and talk to the natives that gets us in trouble. It seems if you don't get your hands dirty your theory and ideas are also clean and neat and often unassailable.

Here is an excerpt from Marshall Sahlins:

"Anthropologists have become the working-class of the Cultural Studies movement. Relegated to the status of ethnographic proles in the academic divi- sion of labor, they are the ones condemned to long days, months and years of dirty and uncomfortable (field) work. Their minds numbed by laboring on obdurate cultural realities, they leave higher theory to English professors. These cult studs are the thinking class, an emancipated (and emancipating) literati, while anthropologists are content to be the subaltern clients of their hegemonic discourses" (2002: 77).

Sahlins, Marshal. 2002. Waiting for Foucault, Still. Chicago, Prickly Paradigm Press.
Comment by Sousa on November 11, 2010 at 9:40pm
I find interesting that it's “normal” to foment institutional knowledge heritage, which i think is contrary to development. Conservative equals traditional, static, permanent, closed and is often produced by accommodation. And if knowledge's structure is so dolefully static it needs to be shaked so ideas may emerge. Besides i don't think just because it is a perennial question it shouldn't be discussed, as if there were problems without solution or if there's nothing to be done. To discuss perennial questions is to bite borders which certainly is inconvenient for who's accommodated. In a humble opinion it should be taught to read, to study, interpret, dialogue and not, how itś often produced, “here it is, here's how you do anthropology”. This critique goes against constructed models of analysis which results on structured analysis when in fieldwork.

My proposal is methodological as it has to do with anthropologist's performance on participative observation, it has to do with being the other integrating the global structure of the group including harsh practices. The discussion is if anthropologist may have the overture to participate in such rituals or practices and in what extent this would reduce the gap between what is learned and what is felt as a base for understanding and transmitting knowledge. If this could be done, a complementary self would emerge and meaning would emerge as real and not as constructed.
Comment by John McCreery on November 11, 2010 at 1:16am
@Sousa - Suppose I say, as I will, that you raise perennial issues, which, one suspects, are insoluble in terms that will make everyone happy and all that you offer by way of a solution is the tired cliché that everyone would be happier if we only made more effort to understand each other?

Let me explain what I mean.

Academia is political — no big surprise here. Academia is a set of institutions, and all institutions are inherently political in so far as they have goals and limited resources that those with different interests quarrel about.

Most graduate students and junior faculty are followers — Why are you surprised? These are people who, as Lévi-Strauss observes in Tristes Tropiques who want to stay at school instead of graduating and getting on with life's business, the functional equivalent of monks instead of warriors. To be allowed to stay they have to obey the rules of the orders to which they belong. No great mystery here.

Yes, there are rebels, and their causes may be just. Does that mean they will be successful? Not unless they are very smart, very persistent, and turn out to have something to offer that will rally sufficient support. History's lesson is that failure is far more likely than success.

Ah, but if we could only better understand each other — Often we will find that with clarity of understanding comes the awful realization that our interests and values are radically opposed. Then what?

Outcomes depend, I suggest, on available resources. For my part, I recall John Murtha remarking that no academic quarrels were more bitter than those over office space and whose students got support and whose didn't. When I got my Ph.D. I was debt-free. Why? I was in Asian studies and in school when the U.S.A. was engaged in the Vietnam War. Funding for research related to the imperial perimeter in what we then called the Far East was lavish. By the time I got my degree, however, the war was winding down. The post-WWII baby boom was starting to recede. The flood of money that had fueled academic expansion in the 1960s was starting to shrink. In a brief, visiting instructor job at the University of California, Berkeley, I saw a department that, once famous for its diversity and openness to all sorts of interests--primatology? sure; West African folklore? why not; mathematical models of kinship? deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics? Chinese peasant agriculture? Sounds cool, just do it—was well on the way to looking like the Mexican villages that George Foster described in terms of "the image of the limited good." There were treasure tales (X got money from Y), witchcraft accusations (professor Z is totally evil), rampant factionalism. It was no longer possible to fund every possible research topic. Choices had to be made. Many people were disappointed and bitterly unhappy.

Politics? You bet. In its nastiest and most personal and local forms. Folklorists and archeologists, primatologists and political anthropologists, they might find enough common ground to understand the "local conceptions" specific to their research communities. Was the result kumbaya. No way.

Welcome to the the real, frequently ugly but also awesomely beautiful world. What can you put on the table that will help us understand it better? Do you mean that we should spend more time learning the languages of the people whose lives we study and immerse ourselves more deeply in their lives to better grasp the material conditions in which they live and the local knowledge and values that shape their politics? I'm all for that. That is what, perhaps naively, I think that anthropology is. Or do you have something else in mind?
Comment by Sousa on November 11, 2010 at 12:23am
@ Michael -

A political weapon in the sense that universities and institutes tend to promote concepts and theories that are politically and scholarly institutionalized, defining “bands of lambs” that will be followers and not producers. In my opinion this is to use anthropology as politic in the sense that access to scolarships is regulated according to very strict policies.

On other way it may be used - and it was - as a political weapon is in defining the other to legitimate coercive \ agressive atittudes. Savage, exotic, oriental, canibalism, in my view are terms that were strategically used to to instigate social efervescence.

In order to reduce misunderstanding, or to reduce loss of meaning, in my opinion, one should search to understand local conceptions as close as possible so the interpretation is reduced and becomes part of personal experience. In this sense, and i agree, long term fieldwork is required, but is not enough. It requires a dramatic cut with categorized classifications as well as a change in the perspective of participant observation. Is it possible to understand dynamics between physiological response and moral meaning of scarification without participating in it? Only by real experience one may be accurate on information as it comes from inner perspective, allowing to see the subject as an extension of self only differing that it was bound to a pattern of meaning that one didn't know.

The concept of human nature is herein presented when i try to understand the other as an extension of Self that as been subject to different molds of culture and has acquired different responses to different pressures, either cultural or environmental, and the only way to understand it and make the cultural meaning arise is by own experience so the gap is reduced.
Comment by Michael Francis on November 10, 2010 at 7:57am
@ Sousa - I am not sure what you mean by using anthropology as a political weapon; can you explain further?

The concept of human nature seems to be used in a particular way in your post that is also a little unclear. I would argue that anthropology generally accepts that the natural elements of humanity are only understood and mediated through the cultural.

Maybe you could explicate the methodology changes you see needed in more detail. I think at heart the fieldwork methodology is the real where the real humanity is encountered in the field. Creating and maintaining long term relationships with our subjects ensures we do not objectify them but see them as peers, friends and sometimes kin.

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