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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.

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Social Circus and Applied Anthropology

A Synthesis Waiting to Happen

Nick McCaffery

This article explores the potential for developing anthropological investigation in the field of social circus – in particular with those projects that work with individuals living with disabilities. The author uses examples of research in Belfast to argue that the applied nature of anthropology is the ideal mechanism for analysing and comparing the emerging field of social circus projects around the world. In this case, anthropological tools were utilised that had a direct effect, not only on understanding the phenomenon of social circus projects but also on raising the levels of quality, leading to a direct improvement on services provided.

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Paul Brodwin

The articles in this special issue tackle a problem at the heart of medical anthropology today—a problem that bedevils our methods, theoretical ambitions and public stance in the world. How should we rank the relative importance of local cultural meanings, on the one hand, and large-scale political and economic forces, on the other? That is, how should we train our sights on both culture and politics as we study the social contexts of suffering and apply our expertise to the worlds of policymaking and service delivery? How do we keep ‘culture’ and ‘politics’ in motion (and both are very broad analytical terms) without lapsing into one-sided analyses that champion the one term at the expense of the other? The following articles significantly advance the debate about such issues. They offer powerful theoretical models of the dialectic between culture-specific illness idioms and the operations of power that constrain people’s lives. They also re-think the very notion of culture in light of the complex networks—connecting individuals to nationstates, empires, NGOs, pharmaceutical firms and global capital—in which medical anthropologists increasingly work.

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Robbie Davis-Floyd

Preface

This is the first in what we intend to be a series of practically focused and reflective articles by anthropologists who work in policy or practice, discussing and sharing their experiences of ‘engaged’ anthropology.

—Christine McCourt, Editor, May 2011

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An Anthropology of Welfare

Journeying towards the Good Life

Susanne Langer and Susanne Højlund

This issue of Anthropology in Action is dedicated to the study of welfare – understood as a social, culturally specific and long-term process of transformation – from an anthropological perspective. But is a study of ‘welfare’ still relevant and is it an appropriate concept to study what counts as a ‘good life’ well-lived? Has comprehensive publicly funded welfare still a role to play, or have collective welfare arrangements and institutions not been replaced by individuals’ personal quests for well-being?

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‘Does Anthropology Matter to Law?’

Reflections, Inflections, Deflections

John Comaroff

Does anthropology matter to law? As phrased, this provocation, worthy of address though it certainly is, may ultimately be unanswerable. The reason? Because, like all questions of this sort, it harbours others within it. Precisely which ‘anthropology’? ‘Law’ as what? As everyday practice, as theorised praxis, as pedagogy, as politics by other means? What, moreover, counts as mattering? And from where, in particular, is the provocation being posed? All these questions, patently, make a difference.

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Methods for Multispecies Anthropology

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.

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Erick White

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.

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Expulsion of the Anthropological Demons from the Ivory Tower

Report on the Second International Applied Anthropology Symposium in Padua, Italy

Meta Gorup and Dan Podjed

In the beginning of December 2014 the Italian city of Padua hosted the second international symposium ‘Why the world needs anthropologists’, which was attended by more than 200 visitors from Europe and beyond. At the event, annually organised by the Applied Anthropology Network of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) in collaboration with various institutions, the speakers and the audience tried to find out how to establish cooperation between academic and applied anthropology.

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Introduction

For an Anthropology of Cognitive Disability

Patrick McKearney and Tyler Zoanni

How can we study significant cognitive differences within social groups anthropologically? Attempting to do so challenges some of the discipline’s most cherished methodological, analytical and ethical commitments, raising questions about how we understand difference, both between and within societies. Such challenges both explain the neglect of the topic up until now and suggest its scholarly potential. In this article, we move to lay the groundwork for an anthropology that takes seriously cognitive differences (such as autism, dementia and intellectual disability), as well as their potentially disabling consequences. We ask: what kind of cross-cultural reality does cognitive variation have, and how problematic are such differences for those who live with them? We spell out at greater length some of the difficulties involved in developing this conversation, attempt to address these issues, and delineate some of the important benefits that follow from doing so.