Accepted paper:

The peculiar anthropological imagination and the Heroic Poets


Robin Oakley (Dalhousie University)

Paper abstract:

A key aspect of human societies through time and space is their interest and ability to comment, critique and reflect on their own and others cultures using what Radlov referred to as 'rules of production'. Anthropology text books often note the origins of the social sciences to the Greeks, but what is seldom noted is that two thousand years during the so-called Heroic Age South India, Ireland and Wales, and the Middle East, in addition to Greece, there existed full time specialists, known then as poets and bards, who learned oral verse making technique to critically assess and sometimes challenge feudal rule. Some travelled with regular people, and some a little of both. Many also offered a scathing critique of unjust rulers and reminded them that they were there to serve the society and not the other way around. The important contribution of this form of science of society is seldom acknowledged in North American and European anthropological writing and this omission reflects the imaginations, accepted histories, and intellectual standards in circulation within the academy. In this paper I argue that this contribution should be highlighted and promoted to enrich the discipline.

panel W076
Anthropological reflections on crisis and imagination: a field view