I dwell here on my own experience of working at Cambridge University for
methodological reasons. Anthropologists could make more of the humanities
tradition of going deeply into particular personalities, places, events and relations in
search of wider truths. Ethnography exemplifies this, but the discipline’s assimilation
into the social sciences and academic bureaucracy counteract this impulse. I draw
selectively on my anthropological education and academic work to interrogate
the political relationship between western societies and their former colonies.
Cambridge University is reactionary for sure, but its decentralized organization
makes room for a minority sometimes to change the world. The historical example
of the abolition movement illustrates this. Anthropology ought to be a way of
rethinking the world, and I conclude with how and why I introduced students to
the anti-colonial intellectuals who did just that when they led the liberation (not
‘decolonization’) movements that overthrew European empires.