EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Themes in the history of anthropology
Location U6-1A
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • David Shankland (Royal Anthropological Institute) email
  • Aleksandar Boskovic (University of Belgrade) email

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Discussant Andre Gingrich (University of Vienna)

Short Abstract

This panel provides a forum for current researches in the history of anthropology, particularly but not confined to anthropology in Europe. Building on the panel held at the last conference in Estonia, the intention is to provide the nucleus for a new EASA network on the history of anthropology.

Long Abstract

The aim of this panel is to provide a place in the EASA biannual conference to discuss emerging themes in the history of anthropology as reflecting in current research by EASA members. Recent years have seen a significant expansion in the number of works devoted to the history of our discipline, without however, a commensurate increase in capacity to discuss them. Submissions are therefore welcome from across the range of historical topics, including the relationship between anthropology, nationalism, government and the state; the creation of intellectual movements and paradigms, and the emergence of intra-disciplinary currents. Papers are welcome which concentrate on biographical accounts of significant anthropologists as well as those which look at broader analysis of trends in the production and dissemination of anthropological knowledge within their historical context. It is the intention that in the long term these discussions provide the nucleus for a new network on the history of anthropology within EASA which will enable regular discussion of these issues, including their implications for the present-day shape of the discipline.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


African slavery and post-slavery in the past and present of anthropology

Author: Alice Bellagamba (University of Milan-Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reconstructs the engagement of anthropology with African slavery and post-slavery. From the early attempts of the 1950s to contemporary efforts, this theme of research has fostered the collaboration of anthropology with history, legal studies, political sciences and sociology.

Long Abstract

Which place has African slavery in the history of anthropology? The opinion of Igor Kopytoff in the early 1980s was that anthropologists overlooked the problem of slavery in their contexts of study. This paper reconstructs anthropological engagement with African slavery and post-slavery, starting with M. G. Smith's comparison between the emancipation of slaves in Northern Nigeria and the British West Indies (1954) and George Balandier's insights on Bakongo society (1955). The contribution of C. Meillassoux and other French scholars is considered in light of parallel developments in North America: the emerging field of African history, the influence of Marxism, the civil rights movement. That generation of scholars deepened our understanding of African slave-system but did not explore in depth their enduring legacies. They left aside the voices of slave descendants and depicted slavery as a vestige of the past. Which were the limits of their approach? Post-slavery African societies have started to be investigated seriously only in the 1990s in the frame of a general interest for memory and heritage politics. Today, researchers have opened to a range of other topics: emancipation struggles, legacies of social discrimination, neo-bondage, human trafficking and labor practices abusive of the rights and dignity of the person. From the early attempts of the 1950s to contemporary efforts, African slavery and post-slavery has fostered the collaboration of anthropology with history, legal studies, political sciences and sociology.

A Portuguese anthropologist, nationalism, racism and colonial domination

Author: José Sobral (Universidade de Lisboa)  email

Short Abstract

Examining the biography and discourse of the most influential figure of Portuguese social and cultural anthropology in the aftermath of the Second World War, we intend to explore, in a comparative perspective, the connections between anthropology, politics, nationalism and racism in Portugal.

Long Abstract

Born into an upper-middle class family, Jorge Dias was the leading figure of Portuguese anthropology in the period between the end of World War II and his death in 1973.

In this essay we examine the reasons for the important role he played in Portugal - and even some international recognition, since he was general secretary of CIAP, SIEF's predecessor. We purport to show that his class background, his cosmopolitanism and the impact of his rural monographs, that extolled the values of small peasant communities, were instrumental in this.

However, the prestige he achieved in Portugal was linked to the fact that he became the official anthropologist of the Portuguese colonial State at a time, in which, threatened by decolonization, the government wanted to leave the racial superiority's claims that hitherto cultivated and searched for another kind of legitimation. Or, in spite of his training in Nazi Germany, Dias never espoused the racial doctrines that prevailed there. Instead, he elaborated an essentialist representation of the Portuguese "national character" which postulated its non-racism. This was in line with the official ideology of the regime from the forties of the twentieth century and its legitimation of colonial domination.

Jorge Dias sought to reconcile the irreconcilable: the anti-racism and relativism of American cultural anthropology with which he identified himself and the defence of a colonial regime that operated in absolute contradiction with those postulates. The reason for this must be searched in the nationalist ideology that the anthropologist shared with the State.

Anthropological crossings beyond the sea: postcolonialisms in Portuguese

Author: Jefferson Virgilio (UFSC)  email

Short Abstract

This proposal presents the research carried out between the years 2014 and 2015 on anthropology in Portugal. It has cut and focus on the period 1980 to 2015 and particularly in establishing relationships with anthropology practiced in Brazil.

Long Abstract

The methodology includes literature reviews, consulting archives, interviews with anthropologists and participant observation. The text proposes approaches, dialogues and reflections on the relations between Brazilian and Portuguese anthropologies in the last forty years. Produces brief historical review of the institutionalization of the Portuguese anthropology and analyzes the privileged relations between the Brazilian and Portuguese anthropologies. Also is proposed a specific critique and reflexion about the process of patrimonialization of the History of Portuguese Anthropology by some Portuguese anthropologists until today. It refers to my master thesis in Social Anthropology (Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil & New University of Lisbon, Portugal).

A life history of the concept "Pomory" in Russian scholarship and society

Authors: Natalie Wahnsiedler (University of Aberdeen)  email
Maria Nakhshina (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper contributes to the discussion of the Soviet theory of etnos and its contemporary use through the example of Pomory identity.

Long Abstract

The concept of etnos has played an important role in the institutionalization and development of Soviet ethnography. Scholars understood etnos as "a culturally self-reproducing set of behavioural patterns linked to collective self-identity" (Shanin 1989: 413). They have systematically studied the concept of etnos and the processes of its development (ethnogenesis) since the 1960s. Even today, etnos-thinking persists within the Russian scholarship and wider society.

In this paper, we present a case study of how the concept of etnos has dominated ethnographic accounts of Pomory. We will also discuss its contemporary use in recent debates about the status of Pomory as an "indigenous group".

The term Pomory derives from the Russian "po moriu", which means "by sea". It has been used to refer to a group of Russian people who live along the White Sea and Barents Sea coasts in the northwest of Russia, and whose main occupation has been fishing. Russian ethnographers have suggested a number of ways to classify Pomory within the etnos-theory. Proposed classifications included such concepts as "ethnographic group", "cultural-geographic group" and "local group". The most common understanding of Pomory has featured them as a sub-etnos of the Russian people.

The all-Russian census of 2002, the first one after the collapse of the Soviet Union, revealed that roughly six and a half thousand people registered themselves as Pomory. This number featured in a campaign whereby a group of activists in the city of Arkhangelsk announced Pomory a statistic reality and appealed to the federal government to grant Pomory an official status of an indigenous minority.

Knowledge production in the age of uncertainty

Author: Marleen Metslaid (Estonian National Museum)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses the possibilities and limitations of doing ethnological research in the age of uncertainty for researcher. It explores the academic career of Gustav Ränk (1902–1998), a well-known Estonian scholar, during the World War II and after emigrating to Sweden.

Long Abstract

Although all research may be considered as intellectual endeavor, the political, social and economic contexts play significant role in the possibilities and outcomes of knowledge production processes. The researcher is dependent on his/her social and academic background, but also on the political situation of his/her country. But what happens when the researcher finds him/herself in the turmoil of war and has to flee to a foreign country?

The paper discusses the situation of Estonian ethnology during the World War II and after by exploring the case study of Gustav Ränk (1902-1998), one of the main figures in the discipline. Ränk was the professor of ethnology at the University of Tartu 1939-1944, the time of losing independent state and following occupations by Soviet and German powers. In 1944, Ränk fled to Sweden where he managed to continue his academic career at the University of Stockholm. The paper analyses the possibilities and limitations of doing research during the war-years and investigates the reasons of how he succeeded as a researcher in Sweden. Beside his will and talent, the role of acquaintances and supporters was decisive.

Anthropological biography: a new type of reflexive-historical writing

Author: Grazyna Kubica-Heller (Jagiellonian University)  email

Short Abstract

I present a methodological and theoretical approach to the history of anthropology focused on a researcher, which I call “anthropological biography”.

Long Abstract

Anthropological biography is a cultural study of the dynamics of the anthropological "tribe" presented from a perspective centered on a person, intimate, close to experience and diachronic.

It allows us to see how academic knowledge arises, and how it is produced. How does academia work in the personal experience of a researcher (a men or a woman)? What mark does it leave on his or her life? But also, how can her or his sense of agency and subjectivity enrich and shape the practice of the discipline? The study of archives and historical sources can be seen as a special kind of fieldwork conducted on the past of one's own "tribe": through investigation of the then cultural context to better understand our own against this background. It is the way to escape the presentism vs. historicism dichotomy to the way of doing research on the history of anthropology, which creates a rich and contextualized account of the practices, ideas and commitments of our predecessors. This allows us, modern anthropologists, to reflect not only on our own genealogy, but most of all on our way of practicizing the discipline here and now: over practices of today, involvement in theory, methodological sensitivity. This aim is easier to achieve by studying the history of a failure, unfinishedness, non-realisation, as can be seen in my biography of a Polish-British anthropologist, Maria Czaplicka.

An Anthropologist in confrontation with academia and state policy: the case of Józef Obrębski, a precursor of ethnic and postcolonial studies in the interwar Poland

Author: Anna Engelking (Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

The innovative research of Józef Obrębski, a pioneer of Polish ethnic and postcolonial studies, confronted him with incomprehension of the academia and placed in the opposition towards government policy. His absence in the mainstream of history of anthropology demands it being reshaped.

Long Abstract

The paper concentrates on the question of reshaping the history of anthropology through reintroducing into it unknown or marginalized protagonists. It describes the case of Józef Obrębski (1905-67), a little-known Polish anthropologist, student of Malinowski, whose outstanding achievements remained mostly unpublished. During his lifetime he wasn't a prominent figure in the field. Today his pioneering work anticipating Barth and Anderson is generally acknowledged, as well as his interpretation of the relation between dominant Polish national culture and minority culture of Ruthenian peasants, which we would call today a postcolonial approach.

In the 1930s Obrębski conducted field research in Polesia region in eastern Poland. This project, financed by the Polish government, was intended as an efficient tool in its politics of so called state and national assimilation of the region inhabitants. Obrębski, providing for the subjective perspective of "internal others", proved inefficiency and both nationalistic and colonial attitude of this politics, although he couldn't then apply the notion of symbolic power.

Anthropological knowledge produced by Obrębski didn't meet with approval among ethnologists in the prewar Polish academia. His non-essentialist theory of ethnic groups conceived as "imagined groups" was much ahead of his time. As such it was unacceptable for the mainstream Polish ethnology of positivist paradigm. Obrębski was either ignored or attacked. After the war, due to political reasons, his name was absent from Polish ethnography/ethnology. Only after his death his work found recognition in Poland and abroad.

Don't mess with structuralism! How Germaine Tillion made it to the Panthéon and lapsed into anthropological oblivion at the same time

Author: Thomas Reinhardt (LMU Munich)  email

Short Abstract

Germaine Tillion’s contributions to the field of anthropology have gone widely unnoticed. The paper will look into the reasons for Tillion's professional lapse into oblivion and show her relevance for current debates on Mediterranean culture and gender issues

Long Abstract

In May 2015, the remains of French anthropologist Germaine Tillion were transferred to the Pantheon. Though widely unknown outside of France, Tillion had become something of a national institution and moral instance in her home country. A student of Mauss, she spent almost six years of fieldwork in the Algerian Aurès before returning to France at the eve of World War II. Back in Paris, Tillion co-founded a cell of the resistance at the Musée de l'Homme. In 1943, she was arrested and deported to the women's concentration camp in Ravensbrück. Applying anthropological methods of observation and analyses, Tillion managed to create a professional distance to the degrading surroundings and to regain some form of agency. She survived the camp, and, as early as 1946, published the first of three ethnographies of the "'civilisation' concentrationnaire". In the 1960s, Tillion resumed her pre-war research in Algeria and developed a kinship based model of endogamous trans-Mediterranean culture and gender relations, seemingly opposing Lévi-Strauss' claims from The Elementary Structures of Kinship. However, French anthropology in the 60s, so it seems, was not ready for something so decidedly "un-structural". Tillion's ideas went widely unnoticed. The paper aims to counterbalance Lévi-Strauss' emphasis on structure with Tillion's empiricist approach and introduce an original and remarkable thinker who - undeservedly - has been ignored by the anthropological community for far too long.

Transdisciplinary practices of W. Lloyd Warner

Author: Pawel Krzyworzeka (Kozminski University)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of the paper is to discuss transdisciplinary practices of W. Lloyd Warner (1898-1970). This American scholar contributed to development of several academic disciplines, including socio-cultural anthropology, management, and sociology.

Long Abstract

Based on archival material I argue that analysis of Warner's disciplinary transgressions can help us better understand methodological and theoretical challenges associated with anthropological transdisciplinarity. While I find Warner's Australian monograph an excellent example of ethnography, his Yankee City volumes are in turn relatively impersonal, in most cases failing to convey the local perspective in a way we would expect from an ethnographic monograph. The balance between scientific analysis and presentation of ethnographic material that we find in his Australian monograph, in the Yankee City series is skewed towards abstract theory building and usage of other than traditional ethnographic data. This shift in Warner's approach to methodology and academic writing could be attributed to the fact, that in his perception studying modern American society required an adaptation of traditional ethnographic research techniques to new circumstances and even borrowing methods from sociology and psychology.

Karl von den Steinen and the Indian policy of the Brazilian Empire

Author: Erik Petschelies (Unicamp)  email

Short Abstract

In 1884 the ethnologist Karl von den Steinen made the first scientific expedition to the Amazonian Xingu River, financed by the Brazilian Emperor, to which the indigenous issue was central. This paper aims to explore the relationship between ethnology and the Brazilian imperial policy.

Long Abstract

The beginning of ethnology in Brazil can be attributed to the German psychiatrist Karl von den Steinen, who in 1884 led the first scientific expedition to the Xingu River in the Amazon. After the publication of his book "Durch Central-Brasilien" (1886), which presents the results of this trip, he became the world's largest specialist of his time on the South American indigenous peoples. This book, plus "Unter den Naturvölkern Zentralbrasiliens" (1894), about the expedition from 1887 to 1888, are fundamental to ethnology until today. Despite the importance and originality of Karl von den Steinen work, it can be analyzed in the light of the Brazilian imperial interest in his researches considering that the indigenous issue was a key issue in the imperial policy. The Brazilian monarch Dom Pedro II is especially important, since it was he who largely financed the research of von den Steinen in the Amazon. Based on these two Americanist works of the author (the first was even dedicated to the Brazilian Emperor), in the lectures he delivered on the Xingu River in the Brazilian Society of Geography (which was founded by the Emperor himself) and the reports of the Presidents of the Provinces of Brazil, this paper seeks to explore the relationship between incipient ethnology and the Brazilian Empire. Although the relationship between anthropology and colonialism is well analyzed in English and French cases, the case that this paper exposes is sui generis: a German ethnologist funded by a South American empire in the 19th century.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.