The first series of debates fell short of the objective due to the fact that I didn’t clearly define procedures on how we should go about conducting it.  I would like, therefore, to make another attempt at setting up this series.  The process for selecting debaters is rather cumbersome, so I will ask for volunteers that are willing to take up or oppose a given issue.  I would like to adopt the following:


Debating Procedures:


1. Debate starts with the reading of the operative question and the selection of participants;

2. This will be followed by a brief period for points of clarification;

3. Debate is set to a minimum of 2 rounds but can be extended upward to four if requested by either participant;

4. Although there is no specific length to statements or rebuttal, we ask that debate be as concise and to the point as possible;

5. Following completion of the rounds, the operative question will be opened to discussion from the membership;

6. Participants may be asked if they are open to points of information following their respective rounds; and

7. Points of inquiry from the membership (to the participant) can only be made following the complete series of rounds.

8. After a period of one week, we will move to the next operative question.


We ask that all participants refrain from any sort of deliberately obstructive comments.  Also, I would like to thank all the participants and those who thought this might be a worthwhile exercise.


Operative Question:


A challenge that commonly appears in Western anthropological critique is the dichotomy that exists between the celebrated place of academic theory and the practical involvements and experience derived from fieldwork. QUES: Is this a major source of the problems and confusions in contemporary anthropology?


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I’m not certain how much my original comments are relevant, as the discussion seems to have taken a new direction shortly after Phillip and I made our original comments. As a result, I’ll have to realign myself somewhat here.

I can’t speak to the character of anthropology outside of the academy, as that’s all I’ve ever known. Even the anthropology practiced in the context of militaries, governments and business have their roots today in the academy. So, perhaps it is best to revisit what I have said in that light: my perspective as a product of an institutionalized anthropology.

Yet three thoughts come to my mind.

First, as a segment of the academy, current anthropology forms as part of the same body as the very thing we tend to criticize: any university is going to house those neoliberal bastions that we know as business departments, as well as various departments dedicated to the “hard” sciences, technology and Western medicine. As a result, we have to coexist under the same governance umbrella as fields that will tend to generate greater revenues, both in and out of academia. This cohabitation might not be a great problem, but from the administration side, universities tend to be run like businesses. As a result, anthropology tends to get caught up in an administrative net which demands productivity, and which forms in the context of balanced budget sheets and the jostling of universities against each other for recognition, tuition from enrollment and state and federal support (at least in the US).

Second, it seems to me that the anthropology described by Keith, prior to the 1960’s, didn’t just operate in a looser academic (administrative? bureaucratic?) culture, but one also marked by a different set of relationships between anthropologists and the people that they studied. Is it the case that, with the dissolution of end-stage colonial governance and the emerging independence of former colonies, anthropologists found themselves in a new bureaucratic environment that did not exist before, regardless of academia?

Third, I’ll point back to my first point, but on a more individual level: finances and funding. Keith asserts that anthropologists have migrated more firmly into the academy in order to meet their needs at social reproduction, but there’s an issue present more than simply recruitment. From straight-out-of-high school freshmen undergraduates to senior professors, we all also face the challenges of funding and finances. It strikes me that the academy provides us with a means to access funding and an existing institutional structure upon which we can organize funding efforts aimed more directly at anthropology. The tradeoff is that we are subjected (and, let’s face it, subject ourselves/each other) to greater levels of policy and procedure. Yet otherwise, anthropological fieldwork would only be accessible to those who could afford it, or who could take their burse from some other source, such as the state (here, I’m thinking of Evans-Pritchard claiming that his research on the Nuer would bring them under more effective administration).

It seems to me that, at it’s inceptions in that period between the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, many of the anthropologists were privileged socially and economically above the level of the common demos (let alone relative to colonial subjects and racial minorities within their own societies). It seems to me that current anthropology is not without its contradictions: it is more open and accessible to the common people; but that greater accessibility comes with a more pronounced need for organization. Given the wider social and cultural scope in which the academy has formed over the 19th Century, toward increasingly rationalized bureaucracy, is it a surprise that academy, along with anthropology, has made that tradeoff?

In the beginning, figures like Spencer could afford an elitist attitude. Also, they worked in less crowded conditions and under a less pronounced differentiation and specialization of academic/intellectual labor. It seems that the history of anthropology has moved steadily from those exclusive (and inchoate?) origins toward a more inclusive environment, complete with a shift in the tradeoffs that we see today.
I have a few questions for the debaters.

How do you define academe? Is academe a place for systematic collection and distribution of knowledge? Does the space peopled by academic professionals define it? Is the teacher-student relationship enough to call the community of academics academe? Does the academe need to have physical buildings, classrooms and edifices?

If a medicine man who records herbs, roots, and tonics and shares them to his apprentices, do you think the knowledge collected and shared can be classified as academic? Medicine men have their own sacred spaces where they do their interpretation of things, do you think such spaces can be called academe?

Some tribes study and observe other tribes, so they will know who their enemies are in case of conflicts. Does their studying or observing constitute an anthropological practice? There are people in traditional communities who record their genealogies for future generations. Is their kinship recording a construction of anthropological knowledge?

What makes someone an anthropologist, the academe where he learns anthropological theories or the field where he applies anthropological practices? How do you consider if a certain space is a field for studying culture? Is a bathroom a field for anthropological inquiry? Is there a culture in a dark film theater?

I think we need to answer questions like these before agreeing on what academic learning or field practice is.
Sorry for double posting. I posed the questions above because there is an ongoing educational movement for indigenous peoples (IP) in my country. Education is redefined according to IP's cultures. In elementary, secondary, and tertiary schools, their cultures are part of their academic lessons. For literature, for instance, elders are brought in for epic chants, poetry, and oral histories. For physical education, they do folk dances and martial arts under traditional masters. They do not sing do-re-mi for music but play ethnic instruments and perform songs of their ancestors under the guidance of community artists. It is clear to me that in this movement, academe and field have a blurry distinction. Are those elders, masters, and artists without PhD's and formal educations academics or anthropologists?
Nikos, they are part of the academe and its curriculum, since IP education treats community elders, cultural artists, and traditional masters as makers, keepers, and teachers of knowledge

They also do what some professional anthropologists do. They analyze the current states of their cultures, compare their past and present cultures, contrast their traditional beliefs and philosophies with what modernity has done to them and to their cultures.

Unfortunately these elder masters and artists are not anthropologists but simply indigenous traditional people for the simple reason that an anthropologist must be DIFFERENT from what is passing really in a field ( ritual or mythological oral narratives). These masters are not dufferent , because thety don't observe anybody else and they reproduce their own culture by their means.
Anthropologists must OBSERVE from some neutral distance what is happenning in a field and TRANSMIT or try to INTERPRET these happennings in a conctrete neutral ''scientific'' language with no sentimentalities , otherwise their work will be evaluated as fiction.
Anthropologists need Academia as a central institution not only to finance their expeditions but also as a point of reference to which they belong. Academia is their ''natural field'' the same as the OTHER real field is for the indigenous peoples they observe.

An anthropologist who will not report the outcome of his/her observations in a ''scientific'' journal addressed to colleagues , will forget even him/herself what about was writing after some years. But academia as a reproductive matrix will make this work published even if unimportant addressing it to many others in the generations to come.

An anthropologist is transcripting oral expressions of culture of the indigenous to a written form of language, creating thus a personal culture ( scientific) that usually takes the charming (and much familiar in thge West) appellation of a THEORY.

For all these reasons anthropologists will never be confused with the indigenous people. The criterium of OTHERNESS will be always leading them as a compass. Finally, this model could be reversed in the years to come in the sense that a Papuasian tribesman could arrive to Paris to observe and possibly interpret in his terms the indigenous crowds that are the Parisians. But this inversion of powerful/non powerful is not changing the initial model of defining an anthropologist as somebody who is culturally DIFFERENT from the ''indigenous'' people (s)he chose to observe,.

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