Accepted paper:

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


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

Paper 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my collaboration with J. Obrębski, Polish anthropologist, whose achievements, innovative for his time, remained mostly unpublished.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.

Paper 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 Since the 1990s I have been studying his extensive and unpublished scientific legacy (filed notes, photographic documentation and incomplete monographs) and making it available in print.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.

panel P018
What to do with 'old' anthropology? Zeitgeist, knowledge and time