EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


What to do with 'old' anthropology? Zeitgeist, knowledge and time

Location S-238
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00


Edward Simpson (SOAS) email
Peter Berger (Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Groningen) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Are the works of previous generations of anthropologists simply redundant? Contextual footnotes? Disciplinary history? If not, then what sorts of collaborative relationships can we have with 'old' anthropology?

Long Abstract

This panel will ask how we should conceptualise and dwell amidst the anthropology of our ancestors. How can we collaborate with previous generations of anthropologists - living or dead - and relate to the work they produced?

Anthropology has matured as a discipline to have written histories, ancestors and identifiable phases of particular theoretical fashion. But what kind of knowledge is the 'old' anthropology of the twentieth century? What should we do with it? How are we to understand and relate to it?

Within the discipline, some scholars stress a paradigm of innovation, newness and excitement, believing that the discipline should endlessly regenerate itself. Others rather stress continuity and the seemingly inescapable heritage of colonial forms of knowledge production and practices. Either way, the 'old' anthropology of the twentieth century has become little more than footnotes and a set of background references to things that happened before the present. Is that all it can be?

We invite papers on any intimate collaboration between contemporary researchers and 'old' anthropology. Themes may include 'restudying' the same locations, revisiting ideas and theories, using old field notes or diaries, as well as more general conceptualisations of the production of knowledge across time.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


'Old' German vs. 'old' English anthropology in Odisha/India: what to do with it?

Author: Georg Pfeffer (Freie Universität Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

'Old' German ethnology meant conjectural history, 'old' English anthropology was conceived as functionalism. My paper reviews and evaluates the work of Hermann Niggemeyer (Frankfurt) and F. G. Bailey (Manchester) conducted almost simultanuously during the mid-1950s among the Kond of highland Odisha/India.

Long Abstract

Either in Britain or in Germany, the anthropological and ethnological work of two young authors, conducted almost simultanuously in highland Odisha/India among members of the Scheduled Tribe called Kond, gained considerable attention, though Bailey's work in the Manchester tradition remained unnoticed in Germany and English speaking anthropologists never heard of Niggemeyer. However, in the mid-nineteenfifties, these two authors met in Odisha and undertook their field studies at a distance of some 80 km from each other. Since the published results differ considerably, I try to understand, to what extent Manchester 'functionalism' or Frankfurt 'cultural morphology' influenced the actual research process, just as I examine the commonalities in the approaches. To conceive the value of these two contributions, I also make an attempt to come to grips with 'new' anthropology.

Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf and the anthropology of India

Author: Peter Berger (Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Groningen)  email

Short Abstract

What to do with 'old' anthropology? Study it! This paper is a plea for an intensive and balanced involvement with the lives and work of our academic ancestors. This paper discusses the case of Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, why he is largely forgotten, and why this is not a fortunate situation.

Long Abstract

In their efforts of being innovative present day anthropologists tend to ignore the legacy of their academic ancestors. If the latter are a matter of attention the representation of their work often is one-sided. In contrast, this paper argues that a thorough, critical and balanced investigation of their lives and work in necessary not only for an adequate understanding of our past but also for a sensible current anthropological practice. My example is Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf who spent many years doing ethnographic research in India and was instrumental in establishing the anthropology department at SOAS. He cannot be regarded as a "typical case" though, as his life and work are highly idiosyncratic. To the small extent that scholars deal with von Fürer-Haimendorf he is represented as either (I exaggerate slightly) a somewhat dubious temporizer during the Nazi occupation of Austria, a heroic fieldworker, old fashioned colonial anthropologist, or pioneer of visual anthropology. In my paper I want to focus on two points, one general, the other particular. Firstly, I will outline which factors contributed to the fact that von Fürer-Haimendorf is generally ignored when the development of the anthropology of India is discussed and why I think it is particularly worthwhile to study such transitional figures. Secondly, I will reflect on what the work of von Fürer-Haimendorf means to me, an anthropologist working in the same area more or less sixty years after von Fürer-Haimendorf.

Communal violence and the civility of indifference

Author: Tina Otten (Ruhr Universität Bochum)  email

Short Abstract

F.G. Bailey’s work analysed through a yearlong restudy conducted between 2012 and 2014

Long Abstract

The anthropologist F.G. Bailey wrote three research monographs about Odisha in the 1950s and 60s, which were followed by three further books in the 1990s. These latter works reflect in more abstract terms of the values and philosophy of life in eastern India in the 1950s. One of these monographs is Civility of Indifference. As Bailey was writing the book, there was war in Yugoslavia. He argues that although the people of Kandhamal/Odisha were acutely aware of social difference, and evaluated themselves as distinct 'breeds', they would not have embarked on a similar genocidal project to the one seen in the former Yugoslavia. He bases this conclusion on their practice of handling conflict situations with wit, common sense, and their air of general social indifference (a form of civility).

Sixty years after F.G. Bailey conducted the research on which he based these striking judgements, I had the opportunity to visit the same village to conduct ethnographic research. During my time in Odisha, I followed up some of the incidents that had fascinated Bailey, and got to know the people and the descendants of those he had interacted with. However, in recent decades, the village has hosted communal violence of the kind Bailey thought was impossible - most recently in 2008. In this paper, I explore Bailey's hypothesis and ask what became of the civility of indifference in the post-colonial decades.

Ethnographies as field sites: the ways of dealing with the Soviet time ethnography of Lithuania

Author: Auksuole Cepaitiene (Lithuanian Institute of History)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses the ways of dealing with the Soviet time ethnography of Lithuania. It suggests treating and 'reading' the ethnographies as field sites, and keeping the aspects of cultural imagination, and culture that is public next to political intentionality, knowledge production, and time.

Long Abstract

Although the conceptual beginnings of ethnography and ethnology in Lithuania might be traced to 1810's, and its institutional experience stretches to the first half of the 20th century, the Soviet period appears to be an important one. A considerable amount of ethnographic material was collected at that time, and was placed in the archive of Lithuanian Institute of History, or published. Today Soviet time ethnography seems to be 'out of time', and raises a lot of hesitations for approaching it. But it also holds the questions that worry. Does this ethnography contain the knowledge that is significant today? How to read it if it was done under the dogmas of Marxist theory, strict requirements for ideological correctness, and censorship, and at the same time it was considered holding the potential for resistance to sovietisation? What reality do these researches present?

The paper discusses the ways of dealing with the Soviet time ethnographies. It suggests treating these ethnographies as field sites, and 'reading' them across the shoulders of ethnologists like 'thick descriptions' where the meaning is inscribed 'not in conventionalized graphs of sound, but in transient examples of shaped behavior' (Geertz 1973). It also suggests keeping in mind the aspects of cultural imagination, and culture that is public next to political intentionality, knowledge production, and time.

Everything I need to know about (political) anthropology I learned from FG Bailey

Author: Felix Girke (Universität Konstanz)  email

Short Abstract

FG Bailey’s work is often condensed to his 1969 “Stratagems and Spoils”. But beyond this staple reference in political anthropology, he offers a large and coherent opus, with succinct lessons in theory and method that can arguably stand the test of time – if we care to read them.

Long Abstract

Drawing on the presenter's academic vita, the opus of FG Bailey is reviewed, with an emphasis on his theoretical and methodological contributions to political and general anthropology. While criticised during the 1960s and 70s for alleged methodological individualism and insensitivity to context, Bailey has over decades developed a complex and sophisticated repertoire of terms and axioms for the analysis of social action in general. Among the first to speak of "arenas", his model of actors struggling not only over substantial prizes but also over the rules of the political game is very adaptable and works well with and within more contemporary frameworks.

While clearly a product of the 20th century and postcolonial conditions, Bailey's texts are steps towards an anthropological anthropology, which works at a level of abstraction less fashionable today but valuable for its generalising and comparative potential. His claims remain epistemically modest, as he limits himself to working with observed behaviour and cultural inference.

Hence, his toolkit for political anthropology really is a toolkit for social behaviour in general. The presentation explores some key ideas such as the "arena", the "tertius" and the "saving lie", and addresses the earlier criticism by exploring Bailey's take on power, structure(s) and culture.

"Stratagems and spoils", while surely most quoted, is not the capstone of Bailey's work, but rather an early exploration of themes better developed in later, more neglected publications. His "'old' anthropology" can still matter today precisely for his efforts to develop modest but clear models.

Hierarchy redux

Author: Anastasia Piliavsky (King's College London)  email

Short Abstract

In the anthropology of South Asia Dumont—and hierarchy—is but a horse not worth flogging. I argue that while Dumont’s total social edifice was rightly abandoned, the removal of hierarchy from our arsenal of analytical tools obscures the relational principle of mutual dependence across differences of rank, which has not lost its force.

Long Abstract

In the anthropology of South Asia Louis Dumont is but a horse not worth flogging. His Homo Hierarchicus remains on student reading lists largely as a lesson in how not to think: how not to generalise, essentialise, and ‘Orientalise’ India, how not to treat it as a timeless totality inimical to history and political change. Indian homo, write anthropologists, is hierarchicus no more. The arrival of democracy, public sphere, civil society, and other goods of political modernity have flattened the pyramid of ranked interdependence into a collection of increasingly independent ‘societies’ (samaaj) or ‘ethnic groups’, which castes have become. In this paper I argue that while Dumont’s total social edifice built of purity and pollution was rightly abandoned, the relational principles he said were constitutive of hierarchy were discarded at a cost to our understanding of India. If the story of ‘flattening’ of India’s hierarchies captures much of the plotline in South Asia’s changing recent past, the removal of hierarchy from our arsenal of analytical tools has obscured the relational principles of mutual dependence and intimacy across differences of rank which have not lost all their force.

On collaboration with an eminent, yet unknown "old" anthropologist: revisiting field notes, field sites and ideas of Józef Obrębski

Author: Anna Engelking (Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

The paper describes my collaboration with J. Obrębski, Polish anthropologist, whose achievements, innovative for his time, remained mostly unpublished. Different ethnographic revisits of his work are a testament to an inspiring dialogue between a contemporary researcher and the “old” anthropology.

Long Abstract

The paper will describe my collaboration with the scientific legacy of Józef Obrębski (1905-1967), a student of Malinowski and Polish precursor of ethnic, gender and postcolonial studies, who remains unknown to the Western anthropology. In the 1930s he conducted field research in European Orthodox peasant communities (in Macedonia and Belarus) and, after the second world war, in post-slavery local communities in Jamaica. In doing so, he was ahead of his times, as he formulated, among others, a non-essentialist theory of ethnic groups as "imagined communities" which cannot be reduced to objective facts. Obrębski analysed social structure and ritual in a Macedonian village in terms of gender relations (1930s) and the Polish state's educational policy in a Ruthenian village in terms of colonial relations and symbolic power (1940s). Since the 1990s I have been studying his extensive and unpublished scientific legacy (filed notes, photographic documentation and incomplete monographs) and making it available in print. The paper, aside from being a part of my project to reintroduce Obrębski's work to the contemporary anthropology, will also cover several types of my ethnographic revisits of his work, which include restudying of the same locations (in Belarus and Macedonia), revisiting his ideas and theories and applying them to my own research conducted in other locations. In reference to Burawoy's concept of ethnography-as-revisit (2003) I will demonstrate how a contemporary anthropologists can engage in a dialogue with some elements of Obrębski's work and how his research can inspire anthropologists in their own ethnographic practice.

Searching for 'Pollok': anthropology in the footsteps of an ancestor

Author: Alice Tilche (London School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reflects on the fortunes and challenges of working in the footsteps of an ancestor. It raises questions on anthropologists’ role in shaping the imagination, history and self-representation of a village or people, and on different styles and approaches to the discipline.

Long Abstract

This paper reflects on the fortunes and challenges of working in the footsteps of an ancestor, and raises questions on anthropologists' role in shaping the imagination, history and self-representation of a village or people. David Pocock, who worked in the village of Sundarana (Anand district, Gujarat) in the 1950's did not leave, beyond his publications, any record of his research. As I reached Sundarana 60 years later, there seemed to be no traces of his presence. His books, and especially the genealogical charts and ancestral names that it contains, served as a catalyst among residents of the village for memories and conversations, and for establishing my contemporary research agenda. These physical objects enabled access to the village, while also narrowing its boundaries to selected people - boundaries that have greatly expanded since the 1950s. With time, a few among the elders started remembering and Pocock's old research assistant who had left the village soon after the anthropologist, returned to his natal place to aid the memory process. From a distant author, Pocock grew into an ancestor and brother ('Davidbhai', 'Knocock', 'Pollok') that people spoke of with fondness, affection and admiration. He grew into a rounded character with strange habits and a professional research agenda. My research started being defined through what Pocock did, and what people thought and wished he did that I should pursue. This outlined not only different ideas of the past and the future, but also different styles and approaches to anthropology, on which the paper will reflect.

The present in the past: an exercise in turning time upside down

Author: Tommaso Sbriccoli (University of Siena)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on the restudy of an Indian village previously studied by the British anthropologist A. C. Mayer, this paper interrogates past and present anthropological knowledge by engaging in the methodological exercise of inverting the causal relation usually established between the two.

Long Abstract

This paper draws on the restudy of a village in Central India which had been studied in the 50ies by the British anthropologist Adrian C. Mayer. During the research, I have had the chance to access Mayer's fieldnotes and diaries and the opportunity to engage with him at length in conversations and discussions about his own study and his memories of the village.

During my 14-month long fieldwork in Ramkheri, I often found myself going through the pages of Mayer's book looking desperately for particular bits my daily research had vaguely brought back to my mind. Mayer's works, words and fieldnotes were a sort of invisible third participant during my life in the village, partly framing my understanding of current events and their possible origins and causes, and shaping in my imagination credible trajectories linking the past to the present.

In this paper, in order better to grasp the relation between my theoretical framework and Mayer's one and how the two have interacted in shaping my research, I will engage in the methodological exercise of turning upside down the linear and causal relation usually established between what occurs before and what happens later. By providing some specific examples in which my material directly dialogued with Mayer's, I will try to analysis how the present looks for itself within the past, either producing an image of past knowledge able to host its instances, or disqualifying it as wrong. More often, a mix of both applies.

Which way round? Some thoughts on second lives of ethnographic writings

Author: Almut Schneider (Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany)  email

Short Abstract

This paper pleads for a multifaceted collaborative relationship with 'old' ethnographies. Avoiding the beaten tracks of contemporary views and terminologies, they seem to hold a particular potential for generating novel perspectives on contemporary issues.

Long Abstract

Since planning my initial fieldwork, ethnographies for which the authors had gathered the material during the 1930s-1940s, the earliest possible period for the location in question, and other authors during the 1960's and 1970's had played a significant role for my own understanding and writing during the 2000s. The German Lutheran missionaries, Georg Vicedom and Hermann Strauss, had followed in the footsteps of the Australian explorers of the Papua New Guinea Highlands, eventually staying for several decades. Both of them published substantial ethnographies. Thirty years later, two British anthropologists worked in the area, publishing several ethnographies in the 1970's. Sustaining an indeed collaborative relationship with these 'old' and 'middle aged' ethnographies, when preparing my research, while staying in the region and especially after returning was crucial for my relationship with the place and its people.

It not only provided the possibility of comparing particular details, of getting a sense of time and its transformations and of perceiving different perspectives on events or practices, but also constantly allowed me to rethink my own approach to the data.

This contribution also pays attention to another aspect: the continuous potential of 'old' ethnographies to generate new perspectives and ideas. What one reads and 'sees' in these ethnographies depends as much on the reader himself than on the material and one might ask how much of the discipline's innovation and regeneration is due to inspiration coming from 'young(er)' eyes on 'old(er)' writings.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.