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


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Comment by Layla AbdelRahim on November 8, 2010 at 5:26pm
Hi Josh, that's exactly what I'm talking about! Thanks for bring up Vine Deloria!!!

M Izabel and the others, the problem with "choice" and "agency" is that it is used simplistically to deny the fact that when a guy sitting for 15 years trapped between the frontier of Thailand and Myanmar, for instance, and chooses to be cheerful is not doing so because he really has a choice and agency on how he really wants to realise himself and his dreams. So, to deny that today's political borders are the result of European nation states imperial interests and a form of socio-political organisation of "resources" (theirs) is to deny the hierarchy in the degrees of allowed agency and to take this reality as natural and say that the civil war in Sudan is due to the evil Muslims who should all be executed or made to cooperate with NATO and have nothing to do with the US military base in the Red Sea during the 70s and 80s and Chevron and Agip oil interests, as well as the smuggled crates of Uranium to the US is to really ignore the reality. But then this is where I am uncomfortable for anthropologists - I treat much of their work as fiction. Hence my interest in comparative literature as well.

To respond to John McCreery's question on how would the people of Sudan feel about me saying this? Well, the people of Sudan are very different but the entity Sudan is a European colonial imposition and everyone, except for the politicians and those who profit from the oil industry, suffers tremendously. The peoples of the south have different responses to what I'm saying: those who followed John Garang waged war, others died in camps, little boys and girls who lost their limbs in explosions survived by crawling to the north and working as prostitutes at the Meridian Hotel (where Western businessmen and development workers and other foreigners stayed). How do they feel about our discussion?
The people in the North feel that they have nothing to do with the people of the West or the South. Those in the East share these feelings. But they are left with a political structure that was imposed on them and which continued to feed off the global civilised/domesticated political structure.

What is offensive to them is that the socio-political and economic realities of these hierarchies reduce human experience to civilised relations and nation-states and that human and non-human animals are viewed as resources. This is the most tragic aspect of the dismissal of even the thought of other possibilities of relating to each other and to wildness. So, it is not I who offends. It is offensive that they are reduced to playing your game and to smile when you come and study them and nod in approval when they sense that you (an anthropologist, a (un)development worker, a politician, etc.) need a yes for your dissertation and passionately say "no way" because you are frowning. The Kenyan anthropologist Kagabo gave a whole series of lectures on why the people in the villages of he came from and studied later would never tell the white anthropologist the truth. But they will make the white anthropologist feel good about himself because sadly we all know since colonialism that IMF is still better than NATO (look at what happened to the European political construct called Iraq and to the real people living under that monstrous structure). Again, it does not mean that they have no lives, no dreams, no joys beyond your narrative. But their options would have been much broader had they not been forced to comply with your (not yours personally, but your civilised Western) script.

Finally, please excuse me when I laugh, but your question what would people from there say about what I'm saying, makes me smile, because, where do you think I come from? And isn't mine one of their voices as well as one of yours?

As for "it is not what I say but what people hear that counts". Sadly, those who have been domesticated will hear what they have learnt to hear. So, whichever way I say, if it is the silencing of their conscience they want, they will simplify what I say and dismiss it, and refuse to hear me no matter what or how I present it. I have been generous with my time to share my knowledge, questions, and position. It is up to my interlocutor to accept the gift or throw in the garbage. I am not going to impose anything on anyone. Ukhtomski, a Russian physiologist, used his lab and Dostoevsky's The Double to come up with the theory of interlocution. I have a summary of it and some thoughts in my two essays on childhood ("On Objects, Love and Objectifications" and "Modernism and Education", available on my webpage, if you're interested). And there's also Timothy Leary's concept of Reality Tunnel from which you must work hard to escape in order to hear the other. But dismissing my words as badly articulated is part of civilised silencing that inscribes voices and authority in that same infamous socio-political and economic structure.

Bon, thank you everyone for the discussion, I'm back to work.
Comment by M Izabel on November 8, 2010 at 11:24am
"Certainly, imperialism(s) and colonialism(s) are never the same in any given place and their lived consequences are not experienced or meaningful in the same way."

If I tell you that currently drug trade in America is monopolized by Mexicans, is it colonialism? Aren't people resources? Isn't poisoning violent? Now compare those Mexicans drug traders to "Britishers" of East India Company? Don't you see some similarities?

If we keep on extending the definition of colonialism and its due date, it will lose its meaning and history, and we will learn that we are all colonized and colonizers in some way.

By the way, I am just using what you said.
Comment by John McCreery on November 8, 2010 at 9:23am
Joshua, I'm not for a moment suggesting that you are wrong to be doing what you are doing or that you ought to be doing China, instead. Our lives lead us in different directions where, willy-nilly, we wind up doing different things—often things quite different from those we imagined we'd be doing. I certainly never expected to spend a large part of my life working in and around the Japanese advertising industry, to see the fall of the Iron Curtain, or the election of Barack Obama. I am concerned, however, that anthropologists like you and Layla and anthropologists like me be able to find common ground. I, too, believe that we are all in it together and must find productive ways to converse with each other. My days of rage are behind me. My concern with the contexts in which various claims make sense and those in which they don't grows stronger every day.
Comment by Jacob Lee on November 8, 2010 at 9:22am
There is much to be said for working in one's own backyard. I am not so certain that it would be so beneficial for say, an entire academic department, to be so devoted. The nice thing about having academic colleagues engaged in so many places must be how fresh it keeps everyone's perspective. I imagine somehow that a department too focused on one region of the world may develop something of a myopic uniformity in perspective. It is good to realize that at least at a certain level the problems of one place are also problems in others. This seems more so in the context of global capitalism.
Comment by Joshua Smith on November 8, 2010 at 9:11am
I would never propose or advocate an anthropology on behalf of the weak and downtrodden or frame arguments in terms of "poor little them," even "poor little me" as these are easily dismised and are bent on the "little brown brother" variety of liberal imperialsim as Tax might say. Certainly, imperialism(s) and colonialism(s) are never the same in any given place and their lived consequences are not experienced or meaningful in the same way. This is why the local is so important and it is important to know what the reason any researcher picks a place to go to and say 'this is my people' and 'these are my subjects'. Yet, I am aware that by being a Canadian ethnographer who studies Settler colonialsim will not easily get me a job in academia because I wont have 'a people' of whom I am the expert. I choose the Canadian context because this is my home and it makes no sense for me to go to China or somewhere else when there are so many problems here that I am obligated to address. I am from Vancouver Island and I can assure you that social, political and legal battles that the various Indigenous communities are engaged in are on befhalf of all of us, wether or not the settler population recognizes it, is of more than historical concern. They are precisely related to the global enviromental concerns and more. The relationships we are constructing is what matters most here. I also do not consider the anthropology I subscribe to as one that is strickly doing anyting on behalf of the week and the downtrodden. If anything colonialism ends up colonizing the self in the process of colonizing the other. I think we are all in it together, and there is much to be learned from thinking of the problems that colonialism (for we have not entered a post-colonialism yet since we have not ceased to be colonial) has created for all of us. In this we need to decolonize anthropology and interrogate our methods from mutliple view points. What does an Indigenous anthropology mean? How might I begin to understand who I am by first understanding how I came to be here (on Vancouver Isalnd, in Canada) and what does this mean in terms of my obligations to others? The advocacy is, ultimately for all of our communities and the animals and the rivers and so on. Japan did not only suffer a great deal under imperialism, but it also colonized many others. It is a participant in the project. What these effects are and how various communities make meaning out them, I dont know. Im working on my own backyard, to start. In this small part of the world, humanity can be known and studied in a non-colonial, relational way through a method of action anthropology based on the theory of cultural persistence. It is a theory and method that is based on a politics in which the other is not required to capitulate to the self: a non-colonial anthropology.
Comment by M Izabel on November 8, 2010 at 8:54am
Layla, my last post was about the underutilization of the knowledge created by and processed in the East that should not always be blamed on the West. Orientalism can only be a punching bag to a certain degree. Frankly, I'm tired of it. We can be more creative than that. Let's leave the narrative of victimhood to soap operas.

I don't know about you, but for me, colonialism is overdone, overworked, and overanalyzed. I don't like the rage. It's not objective and productive. Hysterical intellectualization is not appealing to me. It fosters more misunderstanding and yes, emotion-filled generalizations. Besides, it's already postcolonialism. Let's move on from the past and start knowing, defining, and appropriating the present.

Yes, postcolonialism is about the legacy of colonialism, but it should not be all about the colonialists. Maybe the colonialized embraced colonialism for a reason. Maybe colonialism was a blessing in disguise among the colonialized. Maybe colonialism was the natural order of things in the schema of modernity and development. I think such wonderings are more meaningful as quests for a culture in search of its identity and history.

It's not the outsiders that make the histories of the insiders. Instead of always portraying the outsiders as the powerful, can we, for a change, find instances and spaces where the power of the insiders is untouched and untamed? Let's start finding our heroes, now that we know about the villains.
Comment by John McCreery on November 8, 2010 at 8:03am
I believe the situation is as dire as you suggest and this is quite evident in the Canadian context.

That "in the Canadian context" is a very important point. So is the proposition that many modern nation states, especially in subsaharan Africa and the Middle East are artifacts of imperial border-making. It is, however, equally important to recognize that a critique that resonates strongly in either of these contexts may elicit a quite different response in other parts of the world. I have mentioned one likely Chinese reaction. Both Japan and Thailand are proud of having never been colonized (though the former was briefly occupied after WWII). Indians of the South Asian variety are familiar and resentful of the partition that divided modern India from Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh; but as India's economic star rises and its middle-class population exceeds that of the entire population of an increasingly third-world looking United States of America, the line of argument you are pursuing becomes what the late Joseph Levenson called "of merely historical interest." An anthropology that proposes to study the whole of humanity cannot be restricted to advocacy on behalf of the weak and downtrodden, however just their claims may be. And arguments framed solely in terms of "poor little them," even "poor little me" will, one suspects, be even more easily dismissed than they have been in the past in the world of global warming and global resource wars that the rest of the 21st century is all too likely to be.
Comment by Joshua Smith on November 8, 2010 at 6:32am
Layla, I have followed this thread with a great deal of interest. Your argument resonates with my own research in the history of social science and with my interests in articulating Settler Canadian Colonialism (as a contemporary entity). I believe the situation is as dire as you suggest and this is quite evident in the Canadian context. Part of my work includes a genealogy of applied research methodologies and understanding how, in their current trendy ways, they have come into vogue- how they differentiate and what their purposes are. With a variety of labels such as Engaged Research, Collaborative Research, Collaborative Ethnography, Action Research, Community Based Participatory Research, it seems to be quite abit of overkill. Looking at many projects under the guise of such names reveals a great deal of difference in terms of who maintains control of the research, the direction of the research and the outcomes. What I am most interested is addressing the problems with the power structure that is real and is sustained by the kowledge industry as you state (of course, there are some folks who are doing great things). I appreciate your critique and I am working on ways to work for and with communities in ways that interrupt these trends and lead to a relationships. The main position of the researcher/activist must be one of vulnerability. A great deal of my (as did Nancy Lurie). Some of the work these anthropologists did has been subjugated in the history and not well represented because of the very fact that they exposed and challenged anthropologies role in precisely the systemic of colonial domination and exploitation. When Vine Deloria critqued anthropologists for their roles in the systemic destruction of their communities, the discipline accused him of exageration and hyperbole. People such as Leslie White reacted by denying that they did nothing to harm the communities, but none recognized that their 'doing nothing to harm' was precisely the problem. They did very little when government and society were stripping away their lives with polcy and development because this was deemed their fate: evolution, modernization and assimilation. Unfortunately, we are still stuck in the same era. Very few social scientists go as far as Tax did in partnering with Indian activists and community advocacy. Meanwhile, many anthropologists/political theorists coninuted (and continue) to develop theoretical frameworks that are harmful to their efforts to defend what little they have left. In Canada, this is quite serious. Most Indienous Nations immediately recognize that European colonization is still very much the primary problem. The Canadian state and society do not recognize the Indigenous Legal framework that existed prior to its inception. Canadians (Settler society) need to understand their Treaty obligations and live them. This is the work of a Canadian anthropologists, I believe: Educating the public on these two points. Yet, we still have thousands of anthropologists still studying how the Indian is coping with assimilation. The topic of colonialism in Canada was not on the agenda of any single class in my anthropology department. It was in other departments, though, to varying degrees.

Most of my courses then took a much more 'hybridity' approach and deemed the problem outdated and irrelevant. Yet, these are the biggest issues where I am from, and they are far from settled. One of the aspects of Deloria's critique that most everyone missed was that he stated how he is hardest on those he expected the most from.
Comment by Piers Locke on November 8, 2010 at 5:53am
Indeed, if there is one social science discipline that is warier than most of sweeping generalization, which seems particularly aware of the subject formations that produce knowledge, then surely socio-cultural anthropology, with its commitment to empirical research and the inflections of voice and place, is a major contender.
Comment by John McCreery on November 8, 2010 at 5:46am
Re "rants": Allow me to recommend the wisdom of a truly evil white man, U.S. Republican Party pollster Frank Luntz, "It isn't what you want to say, it's what they hear that counts."

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