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Paul Basu and Simon Coleman

At the time of preparing this special double issue of Anthropology in Action, British anthropologists are debating the implications of current British government policy aimed at evaluating the influence of academic disciplines. One of the key functions of the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) is to measure the ‘impact’ of a subject-area’s activity, the extent to which it can be shown to have economic and social effects beyond the quoting circles of colleagues in print or at conferences. The merits or otherwise of the REF can be debated. Arguably, however, it misses one of the key areas where a subject such as anthropology can have a significant effect on the world: the teaching of its basic concepts, both in universities and in other contexts where cultural ‘relativism’ and the recognition of other legitimate ways of being in the world can gain purchase.

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Lawrence Rosen

When I was thinking of going to law school, I went to speak with a law professor at the university where I had done my PhD. ‘Well, Mr. Rosen,’ he said, ‘the thing about law school is it will teach you how to think.’ I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: think about law, think like a lawyer. No, he meant think – period. With all due humility, I was at that time coming from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, and should like to imagine that I had actually learned a few things while doing my doctorate at his own university. In the forty years since, while serving as an adjunct professor of law and visiting professor at several such institutions, I have also encountered the occasional law scholar who, in a moment of academic noblesse oblige, has regarded my anthropology credentials as quaint but insufficient evidence that one has the tough-minded capacity that flows from a legal education. The lawyers may pay some attention to a few other disciplines, but, even though they may have given in to the allure of economics and bolstered their intellectual self-image with the odd philosopher or historian, the question remains why the law schools still tend to regard anthropology as almost entirely irrelevant.

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Robin Whitaker and Pamela J. Downe

Feminist ethnography was a hot topic at anthropology conferences in the 1980s and 1990s. As students, we remember meeting rooms so packed that people crowded in the doorways, straining to hear energetic debates over the negotiation of power, the embodiment of systemic and structural violence, the possibilities for combining scholarship and political activism, and issues of identity and difference – not least the dangers of imposing an ethnocentric feminist agenda on ‘other’ women. By early in the new millennium, that passion had waned; feminist sessions at major conferences were fewer in number, audiences smaller. At the same time, even thinkers foundational to the field began to decry the lost promise of feminist anthropology, arguing that the Y2K version was less political and less effective (e.g., Alonso 2000; Moore 2006). For many feminist anthropologists who remain actively committed to engagement and advocacy, this is a troubling and puzzling trend. It is not as if the problems are all resolved or the injustices all redressed.

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Benjamin O.L. Bowles and Federica Guglielmo

This special issue of Anthropology in Action collects essays arising from the 4th Post-graduate Conference of the Royal Anthropological Institute, held at Brunel University (London) on 3–4 September 2014. The event aimed to explore a variety of perspectives concerning the production and the ownership of anthropological knowledge, including issues of authority and ethical responsibility. We also welcomed reflections on the opening of new interstitial fieldsites in between the structured components of anthropological research. Our interest focused on the dilemmas arising from the definition of the field itself, in the guise of the epistemological delimitation of its boundaries and how these affect the relational world within it. We focused on the co-dependence between these factors and on the influence of increasing interconnectedness through advanced and progressively widespread communication technologies (cf. Kelty 2009).

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The world is a room

Beyond centers and peripheries in the global production of anthropological knowledge

Blai Guarné

It is well accepted that the discussion about intellectual centers and peripheries has a reductionist character that conceals the complexity of a globalizing world. Despite this, we cannot ignore that in the academic history of anthropology central traditions and hegemonic discourses were established, while others were rendered as peripheral or marginal. This historical context has set a disciplinary framework of inequalities and imbalances that created the conditions of possibility for the global production and dissemination of anthropological knowledge. By re-examining the controversy surrounding the anthropology of the Mediterranean and its relation with debates about native anthropology, this article points out the challenge of revising this disciplinary framework in the project of developing a truly global anthropology.

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Marc Abélès

What is anthropology in France about, what is its image, its impact? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Finding answers to these questions would require a whole book. However, in a more modest way, I would like to make a number of observations related to the recent history of the discipline – history that, as we shall see, is inseparable from the general socio-political context and the place that the discipline occupies today in the French intellectual landscape.

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Jeremy J. Kingsley and Kari Telle

At a time of ‘interdisciplinary’ scholarly debate and ‘transdisciplinary’ pedagogy, some disciplines appear more siloed and tone deaf to each other than ever before. This article will consider why law and anthropology as disciplines offer almost no impact upon each other’s educational or research agendas.

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Francisco Martinez

Is fieldwork as anthropologists do it simply a method among others? This article disagrees, drawing on the concept of “serendipity” as introduced by German scholar Ina-Maria Greverus. Beyond the prescribed way of any method, anthropology’s specificity articulates as “discovery”, in this case: an unexpected discovery of remains of the Soviet past in Estonia, through the author’s family life.

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Johannes Fabian

These comments—made originally in my role as discussant for the panel in Ljubljana—address the recent history of the question of world anthropologies and identify three issues for further critical debate: (1) hegemonic claims concerning our discipline (including the issue of hegemony within our discipline), (2) the difference between power and authority, and (3) reasons that alterity continues to be a crucial concept in post-colonial anthropology.

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Sally Engle Merry

This provocative question became the basis for a spirited discussion at the 2017 meeting of the American Anthropological Association. My first reaction, on hearing the question, was to ask, does anthropology care whether it matters to law? As a discipline, anthropology and the anthropology of law are producing excellent scholarship and have an active scholarly life. But in response to this forum’s provocation article, which clearly outlines the lack of courses on law and anthropology in law schools, I decided that the relevant question was, why doesn’t anthropology matter more to law than it does? The particular, most serious concern appears to be, why are there not more law and anthropology courses being offered in law schools? It is increasingly common for law faculty in the United States to have PhDs as well as JDs, so why are there so few anthropology/law PhD/JD faculty? Moreover, as there is growing consensus that law schools instil a certain way of thinking but lack preparation for the practice of law in reality and there is an explosion of interest in clinical legal training, why does this educational turn fail to provide a new role of legal anthropology, which focuses on the practice of law, in clinical legal training?