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Imagining globalization in anthropology

Diversity, equality, and the politics of knowledge

Thomas A. Reuter

Over the last century anthropological studies have served as a testimony to human cultural diversity, as well as highlighting the existential challenges we all share, but the discipline has failed to provide an undistorted mirror of this unity in diversity. Critics from postcolonial studies and within anthropology have argued that anthropological knowledge cannot be universal so long as representatives of only a few privileged nations participate in the process of its construction, and so long as there are significant power differentials among those who do participate. From the perspective of a performance theory of truth, there are two necessary conditions if we wish for anthropology to genuinely reflect the human condition. The first step is to improve global participation in the social production of anthropological knowledge by creating equality within the discipline. The second is to help create a more level playing field in the world at large by challenging abuses of power in contemporary societies. In this article I discuss recent efforts by international organizations in anthropology to satisfy some of these conditions.