Accepted Paper:

An Anthropologist in confrontation with academia and state policy: the case of Józef Obrębski, a precursor of ethnic and postcolonial studies in the interwar Poland  
Anna Engelking (Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

The innovative research of Józef Obrębski, a pioneer of Polish ethnic and postcolonial studies, confronted him with incomprehension of the academia and placed in the opposition towards government policy. His absence in the mainstream of history of anthropology demands it being reshaped.

Paper long abstract:

The paper concentrates on the question of reshaping the history of anthropology through reintroducing into it unknown or marginalized protagonists. It describes the case of Józef Obrębski (1905-67), a little-known Polish anthropologist, student of Malinowski, whose outstanding achievements remained mostly unpublished. During his lifetime he wasn't a prominent figure in the field. Today his pioneering work anticipating Barth and Anderson is generally acknowledged, as well as his interpretation of the relation between dominant Polish national culture and minority culture of Ruthenian peasants, which we would call today a postcolonial approach.

In the 1930s Obrębski conducted field research in Polesia region in eastern Poland. This project, financed by the Polish government, was intended as an efficient tool in its politics of so called state and national assimilation of the region inhabitants. Obrębski, providing for the subjective perspective of "internal others", proved inefficiency and both nationalistic and colonial attitude of this politics, although he couldn't then apply the notion of symbolic power.

Anthropological knowledge produced by Obrębski didn't meet with approval among ethnologists in the prewar Polish academia. His non-essentialist theory of ethnic groups conceived as "imagined groups" was much ahead of his time. As such it was unacceptable for the mainstream Polish ethnology of positivist paradigm. Obrębski was either ignored or attacked. After the war, due to political reasons, his name was absent from Polish ethnography/ethnology. Only after his death his work found recognition in Poland and abroad.

Panel P020
Themes in the history of anthropology