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Pioneering Doktormutter

Remembering Ina-Maria Greverus

Helena Wulff

The author reconsiders German scholar Ina-Maria Greverus as a committed feminist supporter of female doctoral students and early career academics. Greverus acted as an innovator especially in the realms of anthropology and aesthetics, and initiated a new international dialogue forum with the Anthropological Journal or European Cultures, which she founded in 1990 together with Christian Giordano.

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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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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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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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Carles Salazar

Recent cognitive and evolutionary approaches to the study of religion have been seen by many as a naturalistic alternative to conventional anthropological interpretations. Whereas anthropologists have traditionally accounted for the existence of religion in terms of social and cultural determinants, cognitive scientists have emphasized the innate—that is pre-cultural—constraints placed by natural selection on the formation and acquisition of religious ideas. This article provides a critical assessment of the main theoretical proposals put forward by cognitive scientists and suggests possible interactions, perhaps interdependencies, with more standard anthropological sensibilities, especially between cognitive and evolutionary perspectives that see religion as a by-product of innate psychological dispositions and anthropological approaches that take the 'meaningful' nature of religious symbols as their point of departure.

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Margit Berner

This article focuses on interwar Austrian physical anthropology, tracing its scientific aspirations, gradual institutionalization, and wider popularization during the interwar period. Largely concentrated in Vienna, Austrian physical anthropologists debated racial questions extensively and conducted racial evaluations based on detailed morphological studies and in-depth analysis of facial "racial" traits. This method was considered ideal for genealogical studies. A host of new societies and working groups collaborated to develop new methodologies and create influential links to universities and public institutions. Within this context, a certificate or "proof of paternity" was developed to resolve disputed court cases. Not only did issuing these certificates become a key source of work and income for anthropologists and their organizations, they also marked the discipline's crucial shift from a theoretical to an applied science.

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Faltering dialogue?

For a doubly rooted cosmopolitan anthropology

Chris Hann

Both inside and outside Europe, many societies have drawn on their own textual traditions to generate bodies of knowledge possessing some affinity to comparative socio-cultural anthropology. The premise of this article is that even where the focus is restricted to one country or one nationality, such “national ethnography“ should be considered as a legitimate branch of a broadly conceived anthropological field, rather than belittled or denigrated. Under socialism, both native and foreign researchers carried out fieldwork in similar rural locations in Hungary. A dialogue began, but it seems to have weakened in recent years, despite the fact that access to the region has become incomparably easier. Another change is that Hungarian students are now able to study socio-cultural anthropology as a seperate program in a separate faculty, distinct from Hungarian néprajz. This article is critical of such developments and takes the Hungarian example to argue for the benefits of institutional unification. The resulting department would be larger and more cosmopolitan than the old departments of néprajz, but it would retain its local roots. The integration of “national ethnography“ into research and teaching programs in anthropology would facilitate the persistence of distinctive national, regional, and institution-specific intellectual traditions; such departments could also facilitate the work of fieldworkers from abroad.

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Valerie M. Smith

Although early reviewers of Edwin Abbott’s Flatland recognized the novel as a fictional travelogue, the travelogue aspect of the novel remains underexamined. This essay examines Flatland as a travelogue and as a work of ethnographic criticism in relation to the emergence of Victorian anthropology as a science. Situating Flatland in relation to the emergence of Victorian anthropology as a science and in relation to Notes and Queries on Anthropology, For the Use of Travellers and Residents in Uncivilized Lands (1874)—in particular to its concerns with the dangers of cultural assumptions—provides a means of tackling the problem both early reviewers and more recent scholars have noted concerning the marked differences between the novel’s two parts and the difficulties of making sense of the novel as a whole.

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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).