Anthropology's ground zero: what is and to what end we study anthropology?
(Dublin City University)
Paper short abstract:
The paper argues that documenting discursive techniques, the minutiae of daily life or the lived experience of people is not anymore, if it ever was, a sufficient grounding for anthropology’s intellectual and social role. Could we instead bring back in institutional perspectives and thus revive classical anthropology’s holistic ambitions?
Paper long abstract:
In the last several decades, anthropology came under repeated attacks from a series of posts (post-modernism, post-colonialism, post-structuralism). By challenging its authority and master narratives, these currents led to an internal hollowing out of the discipline at the level of both its substance (theory and methodology) and its form (language and references). While the analytical steam of the posts progressively lost its force, anthropology was left with the residue of widely shared writing style, vocabulary, and non-explicit, taken-for granted assumptions about its contribution to academic and social debate. The paper takes stock of this process and tries to assess if some of anthropology's classical tools could not serve us anew. It argues that documenting discursive techniques, the minutiae of daily life or the lived experience of people is not anymore, if it ever was, a sufficient grounding for the discipline's intellectual and social role. Instead, anthropology needs to get below the abstraction of discourse and above the individualism of experiences, and re-appropriate the mid-level terrain of institutions and their interconnections. In this way anthropology's renowned contextual look could again become an encompassing, holistic one. The paper takes the example of post-socialism, an area where institutional perspectives were firmly established in the 90s. It argues that we need not only resist their current dilution in the corrosive salts of the posts, but also to deepen them by focusing on processes of institutionalisation at two levels: class configurations, and geo-political relations between regions and nations.
After the crisis: neoliberalism, postmodernism and the discipline of anthropology (EN)