The article examines developments and challenges faced by both anthropologists and rural communities since the 1960s. It argues that a shift in methodological and thematic terms has occurred, raising a number of issues for the establishment of a research agenda on the anthropology of Europe. The most important shift concerns the recon figuration of rural Europe, from the farm or village to more 'complex' social settings in which the presence of the state, bureaucracies, new social actors and markets are integrated into local phenomena. Attached to this rescaling is the issue of how anthropologists define their fieldwork and the objects of their study. Finally, heritage and conservation, which are at the heart of the process of a European core identity and of a European rural imaginary, provide a new critical framework to think about the connection between local concerns and global changes.
Global Concerns, Local Responses in EU Agriculture
Anthropology and the radical philosophy of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt
The trilogy by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (2000), Multitude (2004), and Commonwealth (2009), is among the major works of political theory to emerge in this century, with specific relevance for anthropological analyses of global power. This introduction provides a synthetic overview of the conflicted encounter between anthropologists (John Kelly, Aihwa Ong, Anna Tsing, and Sylvia Yanagisako) and Hardt and Negri's vision that is staged in this thematic cluster of Focaal. It reviews the anthropologists' three main critiques of the Empire trilogy, the analysis of state and labor, the scale of analysis, and the ethics of global theorizing, which point to an apparent disciplinary rift between global ethnography and radical philosophy. This disciplinary rift is itself characterized differently by anthropologists and Michael Hardt, which I suggest results from different modalities for depicting social dynamics.
• What is the status of anthropology in Britain? • What does the general non-academic public know about anthropology? • What is the ‘stereotype’ of the anthropologist? • Does anthropological knowledge travel beyond academia to broader publics? • What is the status of anthropology within the University?
Deference and Influence in the Ethnography of Epistemic Elites
Paul Robert Gilbert
Through his enduring efforts to interrogate the regulative ideals of fieldwork, George Marcus has empowered doctoral students in anthropology to rethink their ethnographic encounters in terms that reflect novel objects and contexts of inquiry. Marcus' work has culminated in a charter for ethnographic research among 'epistemic communities' that requires 'deferral' to these elite modes of knowing. For adherents to this programme of methodological reform, the deliberately staged 'para-site' – an opportunity for ethnographers and their 'epistemic partners' to reflect upon a shared intellectual purpose – is the signature fieldwork encounter. This article draws on doctoral research carried out among the overlapping epistemic communities that comprise London's market for mining finance, and reviews an attempt to carve out a para-site of my own. Troubled by this experience, and by the ascendant style of deferent anthropology, I think through possibilities for more critical ethnographic research among epistemic elites.
New Challenges in the U.S. Academy
This essay examines changing practices of public anthropology in terms of their relationship to the political economic processes of global capitalism and neoliberalism as well as changes in the position of anthropology within a hierarchy of knowledge-producing disciplines. Examining my own experiences in different historic regimes, I argue that today's call for a public or engaged anthropology partially conflates two contradictory processes: the drive to raise the value of disciplinary expertise and stake a claim to authority in the world of policy elites located in the state, media and academy; and the drive to use contemporary theories and methods to offer cogent critiques of the very institutions which are gatekeepers for public knowledge. We often find ourselves examining actors in the same professionalized settings in which we ourselves are situated and within which we seek more authority. I argue that we should continue to work on two tracks simultaneously with serious analysis of their contradictions. While we conform to dominant public questions, producing knowledge in ways that fit mainstream formats of communication, we must also invest significant effort in finding ways to help audiences reframe urgent issues by working to better convey contextualized understandings of how power and politics work through sociocultural processes. As a result, we will become more mindful of the specific structural constraints and cultural processes which work against broadening and reframing popular understandings.
Political and Academic Agendas
Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Since the early 1960s, Scandinavian anthropologists have made considerable contributions to the study of ethnicity, an early high point having been reached with the 1967 Wenner-Gren conference leading to the publication of Ethnic Groups and Boundaries in 1969. Later Scandinavian research on ethnicity and social identification more generally has been varied and rich, covering all continents and many kinds of majority/minority relations. However, over the last twenty years, anthropologists have increasingly focused on the study of the relationship between immigrant minorities and the majorities in their own countries. There are some significant general differences between ethnicity research overseas and at home, shedding light on the theoretical constructions of anthropology as well as the 'double hermeneutics' between social research and society. It can be argued that anthropology at home shares characteristics with both European ethnology (with its traditional nation-building agenda) and with sociology (which, in Scandinavia, is almost tantamount to the sympathetic study of the welfare state), adding a diluted normative relativism associated with the political views of the academic middle class (to which the anthropologists themselves, incidentally, belong). The article reflects on the consequences of embroilment in domestic politics for anthropological theory, using the experiences of overseas ethnicity research as a contrast to ethnicity research at home, where anthropologists have been forced, or enabled, to go public with their work.
Anthropological studies of spirit possession in Theravada Buddhist worlds continue to be strongly shaped by many of the theoretical presumptions embedded in the analytic models proposed by the earliest generation of scholars. The ability of subsequent theoretical developments in the discipline to influence analyses of spirit possession, Theravada Buddhism, and the relationship between them has been hindered in recent decades by the limited institutionalization of the anthropology of Buddhism as a shared, comparative research agenda. This article re-examines anthropological models of spirit possession in Theravada Buddhist South and Southeast Asia in light of three theoretical developments in anthropology in the final decades of the twentieth century—the critique of culture, the rise of practice theory, and the historical turn. Incorporating these developments more fully will, it is argued, advance a more analytically robust and empirically nuanced framing of both Buddhism and spirit possession as objects of future anthropological study.
Thinking with Salmon Otoliths and Scales
Heather Anne Swanson
This article proposes that multispecies anthropology and its curiosities about non-humans constitute a ‘minor anthropology’ that poses challenges not only to anthropological categories, but also to anthropological methods. Through attention to Pacific salmon, I probe why and how anthropologists might explore the ways non-humans know and enact worlds via collaborations with natural scientists. Working with biologists, I examine salmon scales and otoliths, or ear bones, whose crystallization patterns act as a kind of fish diary, recording a fish’s migrations and relations. I take up these methods with an anthropological eye, asking how one might use such practices to learn about multispecies encounters that classical ethnography often misses. Lastly, I demonstrate how anthropologists can engage natural science tools while remaining alert to the politics of knowing.
Anthropological Knowledge Making, the Reflexive Feedback Loop, and Conceptualizations of the Soul
Katherine Swancutt and Mireille Mazard
In this introduction, we propose a new approach to anthropological knowledge making that would observe the ‘hyper-reflexive’ quality of ethnographic exchanges. We show that anthropological ideas infiltrate themselves into the discourse of native thinkers, even as native ideas regenerate anthropological theory. Our starting point is ‘animism’, a key concept of anthropological theory. We suggest that anthropologists and their interlocutors jointly reinvent animistic ideas through a process we describe as the ‘reflexive feedback loop’, in which abstract ideas about practice and belief are appropriated and recirculated by research participants. By way of conclusion, we reflect on how anthropologists and their collaborators ‘animate’ soul concepts through diverse forms of agency such as metamorphosis, doubling, autobiographical narrative, hidden jokes, and even technological animism.
An Exploratory Study of Degree Choice
Social anthropology in the U.K. is largely absent from the pre-university curriculum, contributing to the discipline's marginal status within higher education. My paper reports a small-scale empirical study of the transition to undergraduate anthropology as a socializing process that begins with the choice of discipline, continues as a learning experience and enables students to acquire elements of the discipline's 'culture'. The study identified 'chance' factors, serendipity and opportunism as important influences on choice of degree. These factors reflected the availability to applicants of cultural and economic capital. Students demonstrated varying degrees of socialization in identifying with anthropology's epistemological and social norms and values. My findings justify current attempts to increase the visibility of anthropology among pre-university students. They also support teaching initiatives that promote deep learning at undergraduate level. Both developments are necessary to sustain anthropology as a university discipline.