Accepted paper:

Narratives of the making of academic hegemony: Mary Douglas' ethnography in the British africanist field


Christiano Tambascia (IFCH - Unicamp)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on the case of Mary Douglas's less known ethnography, I intend to shed some light upon the constitution of the British Africanist field to understand how some monographs are made canonical while others remain aside, considering the interaction between Anthropology and the colonial context.

Paper long abstract:

Mary Douglas is far from a minor figure in the History of Anthropology and in the theoretical basis of the discipline, may that be in the British academy or even in other countries. Nonetheless, her ethnographic contribution, consisting of several articles, reviews and books written until Purity and Danger (1966) is fairly unrecognized as relevant to the Africanist field, with the exception of it's use in her own theoretical work when in comparison with other contexts. Douglas's work among the Lele of the Kasai, in the end of the 1940's and the beginning of the 1950's, have become one of the cornerstones of her analysis of the relation between social structure and symbolic representation of the values embedded in institutions. A study of her field notes at Evanston's Northwestern University Archives, along with letters from the period of her anthropological maturity and documents from fellow ethnographers and colonial actors that were part of the British effort to understand Africa, held at the International African Institute's archives, provides a different account of the colonial enterprise that is now related with the discipline's history, by bringing to light the experience of one of Anthropology's major contributors in one of it's important chapters - African colonialism prior to its territories independence. At the same time, it can help explain the importance of the ethnographic material in Mary Douglas's work and the complex structure of British Africanism field that excludes this period of the anthropologist's career from hegemonic narratives of its history.

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panel P221
New histories of anthropology: the hidden emotions of colonial ethnography