Totalitarian critique? Johannes Fabian and the history of "primitive" anthropology
Frederico Rosa (Universidade Nova de Lisboa-CRIA/FCSH)
Paper short abstract:
The paper proposes a reassessment of Johannes Fabian thesis that anthropology of the colonial period denied coevalness to the "Observed". Focusing on diverse historical monographs, it puts into perspective the critic's dismissal of an allegedly flawed epistemology.
Paper long abstract:
35 years after the publication of Johannes Fabian's 'Time and the Other', this paper proposes a reassessment of the prevailing idea that "classical anthropology" denied coevalness to the "observed". Focusing on several cases of language-centered anthropology in the past, it puts into perspective the critic's dismissal of the ancestors' ideologically flawed epistemology. Works resulting from salvage and related ethnographies, both professional and amateur, are presented as far more inter-subjective, even implicitly co-authored, and cross-culturally sensitive than would be assumed under Fabian's influential thesis. Moreover, it pays renewed attention to the local people's conviction that much of their heritage was under threat of irretrievable loss. The paper argues that the recording entreprise, based on listening more than seeing, did not deny the reality of the collaborator's existence in face of colonial power structures. It also takes into account current insights of Native/Indigenous researchers and the historical dialectics of Indigenous Peoples, concerning the enduring omnipresence of power inequities; and explores the sometimes paradoxical nature of the "Critique of anthropology". The paper marshals diverse materials (around figures such as Alfred Kroeber, Elsdon Best, Henrique de Carvalho, among others) in the effort to provide a corrective to the extreme claims made against older anthropology at a time when the discipline underwent its self-reflexive period.
Writing the history of anthropology in a global era [History of Anthropology Network]