Accepted Paper:

From functionalism in 1939 to holism: a tentative proposal of "plural levels of ethnographical object setting" based on re-reading Peasant Life in China  


Yoshitaka Kawase (Tokyo Metropolitan University)

Paper short abstract:

Through reinterpreting Xiaotong Fei's functionalist ethnography Peasant Life in China(1939), I will point out holistic characters in the monograph, and advocate a new viewpoint of "plural levels of ethnographical object setting", which was paid scant attention to in previous discussions of holism.

Paper long abstract:

In anthropology today, few discussions about functionalism can be found. However, the problem of holism becomes the spotlight again recently. Rethinking functionalism, as a crucial background for anthropological holism, would offer us an important and a useful vehicle for thinking about the future of anthropology.

Following the attitude of experimental ethnographies pointed out by Marcus and Fischer (1986), I will try to "look backward for inspiration to" Xiaotong Fei's Peasant Life in China (PLC henceforth), "felicitously misread" this monograph, and "draw out" its "underplayed, forgotten, or latent possibilities". PLC and John Embree's Suye mura published in 1939 are considered to be the first functionalist ethnographies of Asian societies. And in PLC, Fei clearly described the articulation between community and world-system and several relationships between one community and other social units, not limited to traditional closed community. Why does PLC have these descriptions even before fifty years of postmodern anthropology?

To further explore this problem, first I will concentrate on Fei's anthropological training and argue for plural background of his functionalism: including theories of Malinowski, Radcliff-Brown, Silocogoloff, and Robert Park. Taking all their views into consideration, Fei used the term community consistently as an analytical concept and operational concept in order to describe one Chinese village. And then I will propose that Fei's method has a "plural levels of ethnographical object setting", as one of the holistic technique of functionalist anthropology, which was not attached a great deal of importance to in previous discussion of holism.

Panel P073
Predicaments of public anthropology and fundamental questions for the future of the discipline (Commission on Theoretical Anthropology)