Vanished Knowledge: does the radical anthropo-geography of the anarcho-Solidarist movement tell us anything about the capacity of anthropologists and geographers to confront genocide?

Ciarán Walsh (curator.ie / Maynooth University)
Dr Eve Bratman, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Franklin & Marshall
Dr Matthew Cheeseman, Associate Professor of Creative Writing, College of Arts, Humanities and Education, University of Derby
Advocacy and Activism

Short abstract:

40,000 fires burn in the Amazon, threatening the homeland of the Awá people. In the 1890s, anarcho-Solidarists demanded a radical political response from anthropologists, geographers, and sociologists to the threat of genocide through habitat destruction by colonists. Was anyone listening?

Long abstract:

The threat to the homeland of the Awá people poses a dilemma that is as old as anthropology itself: how do anthropologists engage effectively with the asymmetrical power relations and socio-cultural consequences of globalised trade? Alfred Cort Haddon faced such a dilemma after witnessing the consequences of colonialism in the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea in 1888. He argued that the injustices of imperialism-racism, extractive economics, habitat loss, socio-cultural degradation, and, ultimately, genocide-demanded a radical response from the anthropological community. Haddon joined forces with geographers, bio-sociologists, and ethnologists who were active in the anarcho-Solidarist movement. He attempted to synthesise anthropology, geography, and sociology as anthropo-geography. He tested his methodology in an ethnographic survey of the Aran Islands in 1892 and incorporated the model into the 1898 anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait. Haddon justified the 1898 expedition on the grounds that collecting "vanishing knowledge" was the most effective way of combatting the ethnocentrism that enabled genocide in the interests of globalised trade. Haddon was setting an interdisciplinary, humanitarian agenda that remains utterly relevant as we contemplate the possible extermination of the Awá and their way of life. This requires a radical rethink of the relationship between anthropology and geography. The key question is this: what happened to the brave new world of anti-colonial activism that was envisaged by Haddon and his comrades in anthropology, geography, and sociology? That begs the following question: how can anthropologists and geographers act effectively in solidarity with people threatened by ethnic cleansing and genocide?