This article has grown out of ongoing conversations, critical reflections and practical attempts at decolonizing anthropology at Cambridge. We begin with a brief account of recent efforts to decolonize the curriculum in our department. We then consider a few key thematic debates relating to the project of decolonizing the curriculum. First, we interrogate some consequences of how the anthropological ‘canon’ is framed, taught and approached. Second, we ask how decolonizing the curriculum might subtend a broader project towards epistemic justice in the discipline and the university at large. Third, we reflect on the necessity of locating ethics and methodology at the heart of ongoing conversations about anthropology and decoloniality. We conclude by reflecting on the affective tensions that have precipitated out of debate about the ‘uncomfortable’ relationship between anthropologists as intellectual producers at the ‘cutting edge’ of the canon, and the discipline’s rife colonial residues.
Reflections from Cambridge
Heidi Mogstad and Lee-Shan Tse
The anthropological conundrum
Douglas R. Holmes
Fascism in our time is emerging not as a single party or movement within a particular nation-state but rather as a dispersed phenomenon that reverberates across the continent nested within the political contradictions of the European Union. Rather than focusing on a specific group to determine whether it is or is not “fascist,” we must look at how diverse parties and movements are linked together in cross-border coalitions revealing the political ecology of contemporary fascism and the intricate division of labor that sustains it. Underwriting contemporary fascism is an “illiberal” anthropology that can colonize every expression of identity and attachment. From the motifs and metaphors of diverse folkloric traditions to the countless genres of popular culture, fascism assimilates new meanings and affective predispositions.
Defining Anthropological Truth
This article holds that deeply entrenched assumptions about the nature, provenance, and value of truth can be brought into view and examined critically when set against the backdrop of a radically different set of concepts and practices that are associated with truth seeking in contemporary Afro-Cuban divination. Drawing briefly on an ethnographic analysis of the ways in which Cuban cult practitioners use oracles, the article seeks to formulate a radically alternative concept of truth. This viewpoint eschews common premises about the role of 'representation' in the pursuit of truth in favor of a notion of truth as 'conceptual redefinition'. If the ethnography of divination in Cuba forces the analyst radically to reformulate the concept of truth, what effect might this new approach have on the project of anthropology itself?
The Sub-disciplinary Context
Máiréad Nic Craith and Laurent Sebastian Fournier
This special issue on anthropology and literature invited proposals for original contributions focusing on relationships between anthropology and literature. We were especially interested in the following questions: what role does literature play in anthropology? Can literature be considered as ethnography? What are the relationships between anthropology and literature, past and present? Are anthropology and anthropological motives used in literature? We also looked for critical readings of writers as anthropologists and critical readings of anthropologists as writers. Moreover, we wanted to assess the influence of literature on the invention of traditions, rituals and cultural performances. All these different questions and topics are clearly connected with the study of literacy, illiteracy and popular culture. They also lead to questions regarding potential textual strategies for ethnography and the possibilities of bringing together the field of anthropology (more associated with the social sciences) and literary studies (traditionally part of the humanities).
A Critical Review
Hannah Gibson and Sita Venkateswar
The Anthropocene refers to the planetary scale of anthropogenic influences on the composition and function of Earth ecosystems and life forms. Socio-political and geographic responses frame the uneven topographies of climate change, while efforts to adapt and mitigate its impact extend across social and natural sciences. This review of anthropology's evolving engagement with the Anthropocene contemplates multifarious approaches to research. The emergence of multispecies ethnographic research highlights entanglements of humans with other life forms. New ontological considerations are reflected in Kohn's “Anthropology of Life,” ethnographic research that moves beyond an isolated focus on the human to consider other life processes and entities as research participants. Examples of critical engagement discussed include anthropology beyond disciplinary borders, queries writing in the Anthropocene, and anthropology of climate change. We demonstrate the diverse positions of anthropologists within this juncture in relation to our central trope of entanglements threaded through our discussion in this review.
This paper examines the decisions and motivations of graduate students in cultural anthropology when defining the field sites and topics of their final projects. The decisions among students at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia are contrasted with those at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States. A review of recent final projects in both universities was conducted, along with a survey and some follow-up questions with students in both institutions. A main difference found is that students at los Andes are more willing to do applied fieldwork at 'home', while students at Pittsburgh are far more reluctant to do so and prefer to go to distant fields. This distinction is partly explained by the histories of the anthropologies practised in each locale, and of what have been considered 'proper' field sites in cultural anthropology. In particular, a vision of anthropology as an applied enterprise emerged at different historical moments in these two geo-political locations, and those visions are associated with quite different, opposed values today.
Whither race? Physical anthropology in post-1945 Central and Southeastern Europe
Although research on the history of physical anthropology in Central and Southeastern Europe has increased significantly since the 1990s the impact race had on the discipline's conceptual maturity has yet to be fully addressed. Once physical anthropology is recognized as having preserved inter-war racial tropes within scientific discourses about national communities, new insights on how nationalism developed during the 1970s and 1980s will emerge, both in countries belonging to the communist East—Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, and in those belonging to the West—Austria and Greece. By looking at the relationship between race and physical anthropology in these countries after 1945 it becomes clear what enabled the recurrent themes of ethnic primordiality, racial continuity, and de-nationalizing of ethnic minorities not only to flourish during the 1980s but also to re-emerge overtly during political changes characterizing the last two decades.
Dan Podjed and Meta Gorup
Applied Anthropology Network of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) started its activities in 2012 and has since then grown to 120 members. The newly established network has already tackled some of the crucial issues in Europe related to applied anthropology, and has so far identified at least three key challenges: (1) how to increase employability of applied anthropologists, (2) how to deconstruct stereotypes about their activities (within and without academic settings), (3) how to boost self-esteem of younger colleagues at the beginning of their applied career.
Investigating European Cultures, Bridging Disciplines
Gabriela Kiliánová and Tatiana Podolinská
The Anthropological Journal of European Cultures, initiated by German scholar Ina-Maria Greverus together with Christian Giordano in 1990, played a central role in the fundamental changes that the hitherto more or less nationally confined European ethnologies have undergone since then. The journal mediated the intensifying exchange between eastern and western Europe, while its attempt to cross boundaries in particular between an anthropology of Europe and European ethnology remains key.
Jean-Pierre Vernant and intellectual innovation in ancient Greece
S. C. Humphreys
This article illustrates the need for a historical anthropology of the longue durée, dealing with pre-modern societies, by analyzing the work of Jean-Pierre Vernant on the development of thought in ancient Greece. Vernant's anthropologies began with Marx and the historical psychologist Ignace Meyerson; he was influenced by the Durkheimian Louis Gernet and later by Lévi-Strauss. His early interest in relating Greek rationality to social organization led him increasingly into work on Greek religion and tragedy. This article builds on his work by studying the social contexts of communication that facilitated the proposal and elaboration of unconventional ideas.