Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf and the anthropology of India
(Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Groningen)
Paper 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.
Paper 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.
What to do with 'old' anthropology? Zeitgeist, knowledge and time