anthropologies Issue 1: What is anthropology?

The first issue of the new project "anthropologies" is up!  Thanks to Alyson O'Daniel, Megan Maurer, David Picard, Stacie Gilmore, and Keith Hart for helping me get this first issue up and running.  Check it out and (more importantly) comment and post your responses to the conversation.  This is definitely meant to be a project that invites collaboration, participation, and input--so fire away.  Things get most interesting when they turn into a conversation, and I look forward to seeing what develops.  For that reason, I have added an Open Thread for this issue where I hope some people will share their ideas of what anthropology is all about.  Check out the about page to see some of the ideas for upcoming issues.  This project is just starting to take shape, so who knows what shape it will take?  The next one is going to be about anthropology and tourism.  If you're interested in participating in a future issue, or have ideas about particular themes or issues that should be tackled, post a comment here, or send me an email (here at the OAC or at ethnografix at gmail dot com). 


Here's the contents of this issue:


Issue 1:
What is Anthropology?
March 2011


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Comment by Richard Baxstrom on April 16, 2011 at 12:08pm

Nice lineup of pieces. Um...but there was already a publication called 'anthropologies' that came out in the US in 2008. Confusing, for sure...

Comment by ryan anderson on March 19, 2011 at 7:50pm



thanks!  i'd be glad to have you take part - let me know if there's an issue that you find appealing, or if you have an idea for a specific theme we should tackle!

Comment by ryan anderson on March 19, 2011 at 7:48pm



thanks for the comment and for checking out the site.  let me know if you're ever interested in taking part!

Comment by ryan anderson on March 19, 2011 at 7:47pm

I don't know...I think that an archaeology of things (which are made and circulated by humans) is pretty anthropoogical, just as I think that primatology certainly fits under the anthropological umbrella (although it certainly borders ethology).  i kind of like the wide net, and if anthro is about exploring what it means to be human there is a lot that we can look at to fill in the blanks - whether things or our closest genetic kin.  makes sense to me.


as for kinship, i think fran makes a solid point.  especially in saying they share "ways of thinking, not just doing."


overall, while i tend to like the idea of thinking of theories as tools, i think the analogy falls a little flat when we think of them like hammers that we can just go buy at the store and start swinging around immediately.  ya, they're tools (to me), but we have to learn how to put them to use, and that takes some time.  but i might have just butchered that analogy!

Comment by Francine Barone on March 17, 2011 at 2:43am
I don't know. If there are courses on kinship which present it as "just a tool to study community demographics, migration, intermarriage, family wealth", then they're pretty poor courses. I learned a lot about human interaction and anthropology through the lens of kinship in a 12-week undergraduate class. I don't return to all of it, but the best bits still contribute to my work on technology. All of these things which cannot (always) be reduced to mere tools can be drawn on later, often unexpectedly. They share ways of thinking, not just doing.
Comment by M Izabel on March 16, 2011 at 8:38pm

Theories  in anthropology,  in my view, should be used  as anthropological  tools to locate ethnographic cases or  to have a research framework that limits and makes one's work  coherent.  In medicine,  they cite a  medical  researcher's name to  tackle the case  he writes and   talks about not to dwell on  a  grand theory that influences his work.  As John rightly asked, "Do physicists cite Newton or biologists cite Mendel—outside of introductory textbooks where they get passing mention before the serious work begins?"  Anthropologists waste so much  time on theories not on cases.  Let's take the Facebook  seminar as an example.  Would it be more interesting if self-masking  and public performances in Brazil and in other "carnival" societies were also tackled instead of dwelling on theoretical citations and  explanations from start to finish?


There should be a rethink  about the nature of  anthropology  and its divisions, tools  and methods.  I took archaeology that focused on things not on humans.    Such  archaeology is not anthropology.    It can only be anthropological if it  is used  as  a  tool to study people and culture in the past.  I also took  primatology classes that  I did not feel anthropological.   Is Goodall's chimpanzee study anthropology?  I  don't  think so.


Another thing is  anthropological linguistics, which is not extensively  taught  in  anthropology departments.  There must be a reason  why I seldom see anthropological  linguists here on OAC.   Although I  believe linguistic analyses  that include historical and sociological linguistics are important in cultural analyses, they should be  taught  in anthropology as  tools.  Anthropologists should not  have a pretension  that they can compare their  knowledge of linguistics to linguists.


We spend so much time teaching and studying areas in anthropology that should just have been anthropological tools.  There are departments that have a separate one-semester course on kinship.  Again, it's just a tool to study community demographics, migration, intermarriage, family wealth.  Why  waste a  semester  when a couple of weeks is  enough to learn it  as an anthropological tool?                          

Comment by John McCreery on March 16, 2011 at 11:23am
Ryan, I'd be delighted. Let me know when you need something.
Comment by ryan anderson on March 16, 2011 at 7:35am
Thanks John.  Let me know if you are ever interested in taking part in one of the upcoming issues - it'd be great to have you join in the fray...
Comment by John McCreery on March 16, 2011 at 5:02am
Ryan, congratulations. Your first issue is terrific. Best wishes for equal success in many more to come.
Comment by ryan anderson on March 16, 2011 at 12:43am

hey fran:


"...but rather the way that theories can often be yielded in place of ethnographic comparison."


I think that's a good way of putting it.  Theories and theorists are vital, of course, and what matters is how and why we put theories to use.  They can become problematic when they gloss over actual ethnographic data and investigations - I just read a pretty humorous chapter by Latour (On the Difficulty of being an ANT) that makes this point through a (fictitious?) dialog between a professor and a student.  Latour is hilarious, btw.


And I am glad to hear that you are liking how the project is coming together.  Let me know if you have any suggestions, etc.  It would be great to have you contribute something to the next one.  Can't go wrong with anthropological takes on tourism!  Also, there's always the open thread if you have a burning desire to get in your take on this first issue!!!


PS: I am going to check out the online seminar for your paper...just catching up on some other stuff beforehand.


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