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Autobiography in Anthropology, Then and Now

Helena Wulff

Celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the first publication of the volume Anthropology and Autobiography (1992) edited by Judith Okely and Helen Callaway, AJEC 31(1) features an inspiring special issue devoted to this topic, then and now. Starting from the beginning, we learn about the appalling resistance Judith Okely faced when she suggested Anthropology and Autobiography as a theme for the 1989 ASA (Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK) Conference. The idea to include the experience of the fieldworker, his or her emotional reactions, and issues related to gender, age and race – in the research and later even the use of “I” in the writing – came from the ‘writing culture’ movement in the United States. This early resistance against reflexivity and autobiography in British anthropology can be understood as a generational intolerance of American intellectual influence. As Ernest Gellner (1988: 26) suggested in a review of Clifford Geertz’ Works and Lives:

My own advice to anthropology departments is that this volume be kept in a locked cupboard, with the key in the possession of the head of department, and that students be lent it only when a strong case is made out by their tutors.

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Escaping Gentrification?

The Athenian Metaxourgio Grassroots Carnival as a Contested Event

Regina Zervou and Mina Dragouni


Contemporary carnivals represent rather banal spectacles, harnessed by institutional control and stripped of their meaning as disruptive processes of revelry, expressivity and defiance. However, when organised at grassroots level, carnivals may retain their subversive character, revealing intentions to cross the limits of urban normality. By drawing on ethnographic data, this article explores the carnival of Metaxourgio in Athens, performed in a multicultural neighbourhood at the heart of the metropolis by a small group of young artists and creatives. Based on the notions of liminality and threshold, it analyses how the carnival creates a temporal universe that challenges mainstream perceptions of public space and Otherness, contests gentrification and seeks to maintain a sense of community in a world of ever-shifting boundaries of precarity.

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The Exhibition of Botocudos at Piccadilly Hall

Variations of an Anthropological Show, from the Museum to the Circus

Marina Cavalcante Vieira


In 1883 five Brazilian Botocudos were exhibited at Piccadilly Hall, London's popular theatre. This exhibition aimed to replicate in Europe the success achieved by the display of seven Botocudos, held the previous year by the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro at the Brazilian Anthropological Exhibition. Measured and studied by scientists from the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the Botocudos performed daily for the public in London, Manchester, and Sheffield, until they were sold to P.T. Barnum, joining the US tour of the Grand Ethnological Congress of the Bailey and Barnum Circus. This article emphasises the ambivalent trajectory between science and spectacle in these three different exhibition formats and versions. Illustrations, posters, photographs and newspaper reports are relied on as research sources.

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Introduction: World Fairs, Exhibitions and Anthropology

Revisiting Contexts of Post-colonialism

Patrícia Ferraz de Matos, Hande Birkalan-Gedik, Andrés Barrera-González, and Pegi Vail


World fairs and exhibitions served as important venues for empires to showcase their industrial and technological achievements. Moreover, they also presented ‘civilisational models’ that portrayed Europeans as the most advanced and sophisticated and depicted the distant inhabitants as exotic and primitive. In portraying distant peoples, these contrasts were evident through their dress styles, dance, music, and performance of daily customs, but most noticeably, through their skin colours. With five articles focusing on world fairs and exhibitions in diverse locations and times, this special issue raises questions about the display and showcasing of humans that are still pertinent to the current contexts of anthropology. The articles call for ‘decolonising’ thoughts, discourses, and practices in political and public space in displaying contemporary cultures. While acknowledging the problematics and limits of ‘decolonisation’ itself, the articles reassess through a critical lens the connections between fairs and exhibitions in the early days of anthropology.

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The Mise-en-Scène of Modernity

Exposición Internacional del Centenario, Buenos Aires (1910)

Nicolas Freeman


This article examines the various stagings of progress as exhibited at Argentina's International Centennial Exhibitions hosted in Buenos Aires in 1910. In preparation for the exhibitions, a wealthy port aristocracy oversaw renovations of the private and public, material and symbolic spaces of the city which transformed the capital into a political theatre. A chronology of the exhibitions (agriculture, industry, hygiene, railways, and the arts) and their accumulated symbols are read as multidimensional sites of encounter where a clash of contradictory interests and agencies interact. The text emerges out of a moment of ethnographic encounter and weaves together the words of my interlocutors with historical and theoretical analysis. In doing so, the article reflects from different angles upon the relationship between the rituals of showing and of spectatorship involved in the State's aesthetic performance of national progress.

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A New Turn in Russian Ethnography

Science and Cultural Politics at Moscow's First Ethnographic Exhibition of 1867

Mariam M. Kerimova and Maria V. Zolotukhina


The article is based on the text analysis of previously unknown archival documents (letters, petitions) to assess the impact of Pervaa Vserossiiskaya etnographicheskaya vystavka (the first all-Russian ethnographic exhibition) had on different spheres of Russian life – ranging from reinterpreting Slavic identity and rallying Western and Southern Slavs around the empire to growing museum attendance. Demonstrating the diversity of ethnic groups in Russia, in addition to emphasising its imperial power managed to also serve the purpose of structuring and further developing academic knowledge, and presenting its results to the larger public in an easily accessible yet sophisticated way: the Ethnographic Department of the Imperial Society of Devotees of Natural Science, Anthropology and Ethnography at Moscow University was founded in 1868, and the first ethnographic museum (Dashkov Museum) in Moscow used the items for its collection. Russian ethnography exercised this new chance of proclaiming itself as an independent and actively evolving discipline and field of knowledge.

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Picturesque Savagery on Display

Exhibition of Indigenous People, Science and Commerce in Argentina (1898–1904)

Diego Ballestero


This article discusses the importance of commercial exhibitions of Indigenous people in the development of anthropological practices in South America between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. First, it examines the intrinsic links between commercial ventures based on the exhibition of Indigenous people and anthropological practices. These spaces of scientific popularisation allowed the anthropologists to economise the time, economic, material and human resources involved in an excursion to the field in the classic sense. The article then presents and examines the anthropometric, linguistic, photographic and musicological investigations that the German anthropologist Robert Lehmann-Nitsche (1872–1938) conducted between 1898 and 1904 on Selk'nam, Qom and Tehuelche groups exhibited in local and international commercial enterprises. Finally, through Lehmann-Nitsche's research, I explore of how European anthropologists profited from these commercial ventures for the study of indigenous people, the use of urban spaces for ‘fieldwork’ and their transformation into anthropological ‘laboratories’.

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Andrea García-González, Siobhan Magee, Bruce O'Neill, and Anja Zlatović

Alessandra Gribaldo (2021), Unexpected Subjects: Intimate Partner Violence, Testimony, and the Law (Chicago: Hau Books), 148 pp., $20, ISBN: 9781912808304.

Agnieszka Kościańska (2021), To See a Moose: The History of Polish Sex Education (New York: Berghahn).

Andrea Matošević (2021), Almost, but Not Quite Bored in Pula: An Anthropological Study of the Tapija Phenomenon in Northwest Croatia (Oxford: Berghahn Books).

Aleksandra Pavićević (2021), Funerary Practices in Serbia (Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited), 200 pp., ISBN 978-1787691827.

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‘To the Extremes of Asian Sensibility’

Balinese Performances at the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition

Juliana Coelho de Souza Ladeira


This article proposes a comprehensive and detailed approach to the reception of the Balinese performances and the performers’ stay at the International Colonial Exhibition of 1931, held in Vincennes, France. Thus, it analyses French sources, such as the daily press, specialised and literary magazines, photographs, films and sound recordings. As one of the most acknowledged attractions of the Exhibition, the Balinese group appeared extensively in the press. This ensemble of documents allowed us to understand that their performances’ favourable reception contributed considerably to creating a positive impression of Dutch colonisation and the progressive inclusion of Bali in the world's cartography.

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Case Study

The ‘Deep Believer’ 30 Years On, 1926–2008

Reinhold L. Loeffler

In my book Islam in Practice (1988), I showed the great variety of religious beliefs in Sisakht, a village of Luri-speaking tribal people in the province of Kohgiluye/Boir Ahmad in Iran. I gave one of the 21 men I presented, Mr. Husseinkhan Sayadi, the epithet ‘Deep Believer’ to reflect his firm belief in God and Shi'a traditions. We became close friends, and revisiting his life again 14 years after his death, I will continue to use his first name to reflect and honour our friendship.