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Accepted Papers:

Decolonizing knowledge in a post-colonial context: a reflection on the role of positionality and the goals of anthropology  


Thiago Pinto Barbosa (University of Bayreuth)

Paper Short Abstract:

Analysing the work on race, caste and ethnicity by a transnational anthropologist, I discuss the focus on positionality in discussions on coloniality of knowledge both within European and Indian anthropologies. I conclude by stressing the principle of social justice in decolonization impulses.

Paper long abstract:

Decolonization was a salient topic in the 2019 Indian Anthropology Congress in Pune: different speakers recognized the importance of the debate while some of them closely associated colonial practices in the discipline with white scholars in pre-independence India. Based on my on-going ethnographic research on the work and legacy of Indian anthropologist Irawati Karve (1905-1970), my paper reflects on issues concerning positionality and coloniality in the production of anthropological knowledge on human difference. While a doctoral researcher in Germany (1927-1931), Karve was the only researcher in a renowned anthropology research centre in Berlin who defied racial theories that suggested an intellectual superiority of Europeans; however, later, as a professor in an Indian institution, she applied racial biological theories and anthropometry to study underprivileged caste-, ethnic ("tribal") or religious (Muslim) groups, while reaffirming the privileged status of her own (uppermost) caste and religious (Hindu) belongings. Thinking with this case and in conversation with Faye Harrison's "Decolonizing Anthropology" (2010[1994]), my analysis underlines the author's view on the strategic decolonizing role of anthropologists with "multiple consciousness". However, I explore the decolonization-related limits of what Harrison calls a "native anthropology" and of essentializing risks of a knowledge politics that (over)emphasises national positionality. Thereby, I argue that a researcher's situatedness needs to be socially contextualized. I conclude addressing the necessity of anchoring anthropology's decolonization to the principle of social justice as an orienting goal, whereas we can consider the postmodern legacy of - but move a step beyond - focusing on the anthropologist's subjectivity.

Panel P021a
Whose Horizons? Decolonizing European Anthropology [Anthropology of Race and Ethnicity Network]