The SAGE Handbook of Social Anthropology


Edited by: Richard Fardon, Olivia Harris, Trevor H. J. Marchand, Mark Nuttall, Cris Shore, Veronica Strang & Richard A. Wilson

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  • Part 1: Interfaces

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    Part 3: Methods

    Part 4: Futures

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    Notes on Contributors

    Tim Allen is Professor in Development Anthropology at the Department of International Development, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has carried out long-term field research in Sudan and Uganda and has also researched in Ghana, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. His books include Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lord's Resistance Army (2006); Culture and Global Change (1999, edited with Tracey Skelton) and Poverty and Development (2000, 2nd edition, edited with Alan Thomas).

    Vered Amit is a Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University. She has conducted fieldwork in the UK, Canada and the Cayman Islands. Much of her research has featured an ongoing preoccupation with the workings of and intersections between different forms of transnational mobility. Recent publications include Going First Class? New Approaches to Privileged Travel and Migration (edited 2006) as well as Young Men in Uncertain Times (2011, edited with Noel Dyck).

    Karin Barber is Professor of African Cultural Anthropology at the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham. She specializes in the anthropology of verbal arts and popular culture, focusing on the Yoruba-speaking area of western Nigeria. Among her more recent books are The Generation of Plays: Yoruba Popular Life in Theatre (2000) and The Anthropology of Texts, Persons and Publics (2007).

    Joshua Barker is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. His research interests include urban anthropology and the social anthropology of new media. His earlier research focused on policing and vigilantism in the city of Bandung, Indonesia. More recently he has published several articles focusing on new media and the making of Indonesian urban imaginaries.

    Glenn Bowman has researched in Jerusalem, between 1983 and 1985, and since then in the mixed Christian-Muslim town of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. He taught at University College London, before moving to Kent in 1991 where he is Senior Lecturer, and convenes the MA in the Anthropology of Ethnicity, Nationalism and Identity. Bowman is past editor of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and serves on the editorial boards of Critique of Anthropology, Anthropological Theory and Focaal.

    Dominic Boyer is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Rice University. He has written widely on intersections of media and knowledge, including Understanding Media (2007). His next book, The Life Informatic, concerns the transformation of news journalism in the era of digital information. He is currently researching the politics of energy transition in Latin America and Europe.

    Janet Carsten is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. She is the author of The Heat of the Hearth: The Process of Kinship in a Malay Fishing Community (1997), and After Kinship (2004), and editor of Cultures of Relatedness: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship (2000) and Ghosts of Memory: Essays on Remembrance and Relatedness (2007).

    Liana Chua is Lecturer in Anthropology at Brunel University. Her research interests include religious conversion, ethnic citizenship, materiality, and human-environment relations in Malaysian Borneo. She is the author of The Christianity of Culture: Conversion, Ethnic Citizenship and the Matter of Religion in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo (2012), and is currently co-editing, with Mark Elliott, a volume on Alfred Gell's Art and Agency.

    Jean Comaroff is the Bernard E. and Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and Honorary Professor of Anthropology at the University of Cape Town. John L. Comaroff is the Harold H. Swift Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, Honorary Professor of Anthropology at the University of Cape Town, and Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation. Their current research in postapartheid South Africa is on crime, policing, and the workings of the state, on democracy and difference, and on the nature of postcolonial politics. Their recent co-authored books include Ethnicity, Inc. (2009), Zombies et frontières à lre néolibérale. Le cas de l'Afrique du Sud post-apartheid (2010), and Theory from the South: Or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa (2011).

    Andrea Cornwall is Professor of Anthropology and Development in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex where she works mainly on the anthropology of democracy, sexualities, rights and gender. Recent publications include Development With a Body: Sexuality, Human Rights and Development (2009, edited with Sonia Corrêa and Susie Jolly) and Men and Development: Politicising Masculinity (2011, edited with Jerker Edström and Alan Greig).

    Jane K. Cowan is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex. She is the author of Macedonia: The Politics of Identity and Difference (2000), and Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives (2001, edited with Marie-Bénédicte Dembour and Richard A. Wilson). Her research interests include gender, embodiment and performance, culture and rights, and histories of transnational engagements around minority and human rights, from activism to international monitoring, with a current focus on petitions to the League of Nations.

    Rupert Cox is a Lecturer in Visual Anthropology at Manchester University whose interests revolve around the relationships between technology, the senses, and media practices, both as subjects of study in themselves and as the means to link artwork with anthropological enquiry. In Japan, he researches into such areas as the representation and practice of the Zen arts, the cultural history of the idea of copying, and the political ecology of aircraft noise. His latest publication is Beyond Text: Critical Practice and Sensory Anthropology (forthcoming, edited with Christopher Wright and Andrew Irving).

    Jennifer Curtis is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. She has published articles based on her doctoral research in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which traced relationships among grassroots activism and transnational norms regarding human rights and conflict resolution. She is currently writing a monograph on Northern Ireland's transformation into a model for peace-making, incorporating prior research and her current work on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activism.

    Sophie Day is Professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and has conducted research in both South Asia (Ladakh) and Europe (mostly London). She is author of On the Game: Women and Sex Work (2007), and co-editor of Lilies of the Field (1999, with Evthymios Papataxiarchis and Michael Stewart), and Sex Work, Mobility and Health in Europe (2004, with Helen Ward).

    Greg Downey is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Macquarie University, Australia. His research has focused on martial arts and rugby in Brazil, the United States, Australia and Oceania, focusing especially on biological, behavioural, perceptual and neurological adaptations to diverse training regimens. He is author of Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art (2005) and editor of the forthcoming volume, The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology (with Daniel D. Lende).

    Robin (R.I.M) Dunbar is Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford, and co-Director of the British Academy's Centenary Research Project whose focus is on what makes us human and how we came to be that way. His broader research interests lie in the evolution of sociality in mammals (with particular reference to ungulates, primates and humans).

    Alessandro Duranti is Professor of Anthropology and Dean of Social Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has carried out fieldwork in (Western) Samoa and in the United States, where he studied political discourse, verbal performance, and human universals such as greetings. He has written on intentionality, agency, linguistic relativity, and, more recently, the role of improvisation in jazz and everyday interaction. He is a past President of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology.

    Brian Durrans was until 2007 senior curator of Asian ethnography in the British Museum. He has curated many exhibitions, most recently Posing Questions: Being & Image in Asia & Europe (Brunei Gallery, the School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS], 2010), part of a major Asia-Europe museum initiative which he co-led with a Japanese colleague. His writings have ranged over museology, collecting, representations and Asian material culture. He is currently pursuing further research on portraiture, and leads a long-term collaborative project on the anthropology of time capsules.

    Jerry (J. S.) Eades is Professor and Dean of the College and Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Beppu, Japan, and Senior Honorary Research Fellow, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent. His current research interests include migration, urbanization, tourism and the environment in the Asia Pacific region.

    Ron Eglash received his BS in Cybernetics, his MS in Systems Engineering, and his PhD in History of Consciousness, all from the University of California. A Fulbright postdoctoral fellowship enabled his field research on African ethnomathematics, published as African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design (1999). His later work, funded by the NSF, used computational simulations of cultural practices in African American, Native American and Latino communities for STEM education. He is now a Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

    Roy (R.F.) Ellen is Professor of Anthropology and Human Ecology at the University of Kent. He has written extensively in the fields of environmental anthropology, cultural cognition and ethnobiology, as well as having conducted fieldwork in various parts of island Southeast Asia. He was editor of the inaugural volume of the ASA Research Methods Series, Ethnographic Research: A Guide to General Conduct (1984), and Honorary Secretary of the ASA (1982–85). Recent books include On the Edge of the Banda Zone (2003), The Categorical Impulse (2006), and two edited volumes: Modern Crises and Traditional Strategies (2007) and Ethnobiology and the Science of Humankind (2006, Special Issue of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute). He was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute from 2007 to 2011.

    James Fairhead is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Sussex and current Chair of the Association of Social Anthropologists (2009–2013). His research has considered agricultural and environmental knowledge and practices in West and Central Africa and their encounters with the world of science, international development and conservation. A trilogy of books from this includes Misreading the African Landscape (1996, with Melissa Leach). More recently he has expanded in taking an ethnographic approach to the conduct of medical science, published as Vaccine Anxieties (2007, with Melissa Leach).

    Richard Fardon, Professor of West African Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, was Chair of the Association of Social Anthropologists (2001–2005). His recent books have been about art and ritual in Cameroon and Nigeria, where he has researched – via fieldwork, archives and museum/art collections – since the mid-1970s: Column to Volume (2005, with Christine Stelzig), Lela in Bali (2006), Fusions (2007) and Central Nigeria Unmasked (2011, with Marla C. Berns and Sidney Littlefield Kasfir).

    Sarah Franklin is the Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge and the author of numerous publications concerning kinship and new reproductive technologies. Her most recent book is Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy (2007). With Margaret Lock she co-edited Remaking Life and Death: Towards an Anthropology of Biomedicine (2003). Her current work concerns the history of in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer and is forthcoming with Duke University Press under the title Biological Relatives: IVF, Stem Cells and the Future of Kinship.

    Susan Gal is Mae and Sidney G. Metzl Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Language Shift (1979), co-author of The Politics of Gender After Socialism (2000), and editor of Gender and Circulation a Special Issue of Eastern European Politics and Societies (2006). As co-editor of Languages and Publics: The Making of Authority (2001), and in numerous articles, she has written about the political economy of language. Her continuing ethnographic work in Europe explores the relationship between linguistic practices, semiotic processes and the construction of social life.

    Don Gardner recently retired from the Australian National University and teaches part-time at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland. He has conducted fieldwork among Mian people, of central New Guinea, since 1975. His interests focus on social theory and the naturalistic analysis of socio-historical change. His most recent publication is ‘The scope of “meaning” and the avoidance of sylleptical reason: a plea for some modest distinctions’, Ethnos, 75 (2010).

    Andre Gingrich directs the Austrian Academy of Sciences' Institute for Social Anthropology (ISA) and has held visiting positions at the University of Chicago and at the Santa Fe School for Advanced Research. He co-authored One Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology (2005, with F. Barth, R. Parkin, and S. Silverman). His field research in Southwestern Arabia and Central Europe led to Anthropology, by Comparison (2002, edited with R. G. Fox) and recently, to ‘Warriors of Honor, Warriors of Faith’, in Maria Six-Hohenbalken and Nerina Weiss (eds), Violence Expressed: An Anthropological Approach (2011).

    John Gledhill, Max Gluckman Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, was Chair of the Association of Social Anthropologists (2005–2009). His extensive fieldwork in Mexico and Brazil is currently focused on security issues. Publications include Casi Nada: Agrarian Reform in the Homeland of Cardenismo (1991); Neoliberalism, Transnationalization and Rural Poverty (1995); Power and Its Disguises: Anthropological Perspectives on Politics (2nd edition, 2000); and Cultura y Desafío en Ostula: Cuatro Siglos de Autonomía Indígena en la Costa-Sierra Nahua de Michoacán (2004).

    Sarah Green is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. She has studied location, borders and spatial relations throughout her career. She has carried out research in various parts of Europe, including the Balkan region, particularly the borders of Greece, and has also researched issues in London and Manchester. She is author of Notes from the Balkans (2005) and Urban Amazons (1997).

    Olivia Harris was Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), where she moved from Goldsmiths, University of London. Following fieldwork in Bolivia, she wrote on gender, the family, exchange, labour and temporalities. She published To Make the Earth Bear Fruit (2000) and many articles. With Tristan Platt and Thérèse Bouysse-Cassagne she authored Qaraqara-Charka. Mallku, Inka y Rey en la Provincia de Charcas (2006). Future research would have included the Bolivian Revolution of 1952.

    Keith Hart is Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, Goldsmiths, University of London. He is Co-Director of the Human Economy Group, University of Pretoria; Hon. Professor of Development Studies, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban; and Founder, Open Anthropology Cooperative ( His recent books include Market and Society: The Great Transformation Today (2009, edited with C. Hann), The Human Economy: A Citizen's Guide (2010, edited with J-L. Laville and A.D. Cattani) and Economic Anthropology: History, Ethnography, Critique (2011, with C. Hann).

    Penelope Harvey is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Manchester and co-Director of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). Her ethnographic research in Peru, Spain and the United Kingdom has focused on engineering practice, state formation, information technologies and the politics of language. With Jeanette Edwards and Peter Wade she edited Technologized Images, Technologized Bodies (2010) and Anthropology and Science: Epistemologies in Practice (2007, ASA Monograph 43).

    Robert K. Hitchcock is an anthropologist and a faculty member in the Department of Geography at Michigan State University. He is also an adjunct professor of Anthropology at MSU and at the University of New Mexico, and a board member of the Kalahari Peoples Fund (KPF). His work focuses on human rights and development among indigenous peoples in Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. His most recent book is The Ju/'hoan San of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence: Development, Democracy, and Indigenous Voices in Southern Africa (2011, with Megan Biesele).

    Patricia Jeffery, Professor of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, has held several visiting positions in Delhi, including at Jawaharlal Nehru University and at the University of Delhi. She has been conducting fieldwork in north India and Pakistan since 1970. She is a member of the British Association for South Asian Studies Council and of the British Academy South Asia Panel. Her recent publications include Educational Regimes in Contemporary India (2005, edited with Radhika Chopra) and Confronting Saffron Demography: Religion, Fertility and Women's Status in India (2006, with Roger Jeffery).

    Roger Jeffery, Professor of Sociology of South Asia at the University of Edinburgh, where he is also Dean for India, has held visiting positions at Jawaharlal Nehru University and at the Institute for Economic Growth, in New Delhi. He has carried out fieldwork in rural north India several times since 1982. He is President of the European Association for South Asian Studies. His most recent books are Change and Diversity: Economics, Politics and Society in Contemporary India (2010, edited with Anthony Heath) and Degrees Without Freedom (2008, with Craig Jeffrey and Patricia Jeffery).

    Axel Klein is a Lecturer in Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Kent, and has particular interest in the social role of ‘peculiar substances’. He has studied the regulation, celebration and condemnation of drugs in different countries and contexts. He has worked at the interface of academia, policy and practice, and with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, UN and EU agencies. He is the author of Drugs and the World (2008), the editor of Drugs and Alcohol Today, and he has written on cannabis and cocaine in the Caribbean, the globalization of khat, and diverse policy issues.

    Jakob A. Klein is Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He has carried out fieldwork in the southern Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Kunming, and has published journal articles and book chapters on Chinese regional cuisines, food consumption and food activism. He is the editor, with Kevin Latham and Stuart Thompson, of Consuming China: Approaches to Cultural Change in Contemporary China (2006).

    Susanne Küchler is Professor of Anthropology at University College London. She has worked on issues of material culture since her doctoral research on the Malanggan sculptures of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, and published widely on art, memory and political economies of knowledge. Her research during the last decade, which originated within a comparative project on the uptake of cloth and clothing across the Pacific, has extended to Euro-American knowledge, specifically of new materials and new technologies, and their impact on concepts of innovation and of the future in society.

    Michael Lambek is Professor of Anthropology and Canada Research Chair at the University of Toronto and previously professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He is the author of three ethnographic monographs of the Western Indian Ocean, including The Weight of the Past: Living with History in Mahajanga, Madagascar (2002) and editor of several collections, including From Method to Modesty (a special section of Culture, 1991); Illness and Irony: On the Ambiguity of Suffering in Culture (2004, with Paul Antze) and Ordinary Ethics: Anthropology, Language, and Action (2010).

    Helen Lambert is Reader in Medical Anthropology at Bristol University. Her current research focuses on the pasts, presents and futures of medical formations in India and on public health issues, including HIV and suicide. She has also worked on kinship, gender and corporeality and on notions of ‘evidence’ in medicine and anthropology. Her most recent book-length publication is Social Bodies (2009, edited with Maryon McDonald).

    Kevin Latham is a Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He has researched extensively on Chinese media, consumption and popular culture, most recently focusing on new media and communications technologies, as well as newspaper and television journalism in Guangzhou and Beijing. He is the author of Pop Culture China! Media, Arts and Lifestyle (2007). His earlier research was on Chinese theatre and its audiences in Hong Kong.

    Melissa Leach is a social anthropologist and a Professorial Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, where she directs the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre. Her research focuses on knowledge, power and policy in relation to environmental and health issues, especially in West Africa. Recent books include Vaccine Anxieties (2007, with James Fairhead); Epidemics: Science, Governance and Social Justice (2010, edited with Sarah Dry), and Dynamic Sustainabilities (2010, with Ian Scoones and Andy Stirling).

    Kathleen Lowrey is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Since 1997 she has carried out ethnographic fieldwork in Bolivia and Paraguay with Guaraní-speaking communities of the Gran Chaco region. Her previous publications, based on that research, are concerned with ethnohistory, political and economic anthropology and the anthropology of science. At present she is at work on a book manuscript, Native Science Fictions: Experimental Anthropology in the North and South American Heartlands.

    Trevor H. J. Marchand is Professor of Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Previously a practising architect, he has undertaken fieldwork with masons in South Arabia and West Africa, and most recently with woodworkers and furniture makers in London. He is the author of Minaret Building & Apprenticeship in Yemen (2001), The Masons of Djenné (2009) and The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work (forthcoming), the editor of Making Knowledge (2010), and co-producer of the documentary film Future of Mud. He was Publications Officer of the Association of Social Anthropologists (2004–2008).

    Magnus Marsden is a Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He has conducted fieldwork in northern Pakistan, and, more recently, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. His recent publications include Living Islam (2005) and Fragments of the Afghan Frontier (2011, with Benjamin Hopkins).

    Dolores (D.P.) Martinez, Reader in Anthropology with Reference to Japan at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, has written on such diverse topics as religion, gender, tourism, sports, popular culture and film. Her recent publications include Remaking Kurosawa: Translations and Permutations in Global Cinema (2009), Identity and Ritual in a Japanese Diving Village (2004), Documenting the Beijing Olympics (2010, edited with Kevin Latham), and Football: From England to the World (2008, edited with Projit Mukharji).

    Sally Engle Merry is Professor of Anthropology at New York University and President-elect of the American Ethnological Society. Her recent books include Colonizing Hawai'i (2000), Human Rights and Gender Violence (2006), Gender Violence: A Cultural Perspective (2009) and The Practice of Human Rights (2007, edited with Mark Goodale). She received the Hurst Prize for Colonizing Hawai'i in 2002, the Kalven Prize for scholarly contributions to socio-legal scholarship in 2007, and the J.I. Staley Prize for Human Rights and Gender Violence in 2010.

    Martin Mills is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen and Co-Director of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research. His interests include the institutional and ceremonial life of monasticism and state in Tibet and the Himalaya, with a particular focus on the constitution of personhood. He is author of Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism (2003).

    Nayanika Mookherjee is Reader in Social Anthropology at Durham University, and the Ethics Officer (2007–2012) of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA). She has published extensively on the anthropology of violence, ethics and aesthetics, including The Aesthetics of Nation (2011, edited with Chris Pinney, Special Issue of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute) and The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War (forthcoming).

    Henrietta L. Moore holds the William Wyse Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. She is a leading theorist of gender in social anthropology and has developed a distinctive approach to the analysis of the interrelations of material and symbolic gender systems, embodiment and performance, and identity and sexuality. Her long-term research programme with Africa has focused on gender, livelihood strategies, social transformation and symbolic systems. She was Honorary Secretary of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA) from 1991 to 1994.

    Mark Nuttall is Professor and Henry Marshall Tory Chair in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta, Canada. He has carried out extensive fieldwork and research in Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Scotland and Finland. He is editor of the Encyclopedia of the Arctic (2005), co-editor of Anthropology and Climate Change: From Encounters to Actions (2009), and author of Pipeline Dreams: People, Environment, and the Arctic Energy Frontier (2010).

    Melissa Parker is Director of the Centre for Research in International Medical Anthropology and Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Brunel University. She has undertaken anthropological research in Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and the UK on a wide range of global health issues including HIV/AIDS, tropical diseases, female circumcision, and health and healing in the aftermath of war. Her publications include Learning from HIV/AIDS (2003, edited with George Ellison and Cathy Campbell) and The Anthropology of Public Health (2006, edited with Ian Harper, Special Issue of the Journal of Biosocial Science).

    Nicolas Peterson is Professor of Anthropology at the Australian National University. He has a long-standing interest in Australian Aboriginal anthropology, land and sea tenure, economic anthropology, Fourth World people and the state and the history of the discipline in Australia. His most recent book is The Makers and Making of Indigenous Australian Museum Collections (2008, edited with Lindy Allen and Louise Hamby).

    Christopher Pinney is Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London. He has been conducting ethnographic research in central India intermittently since 1982. His most recent book is Photography and Anthropology (2011).

    Tristan Platt is Professor of Anthropology and History at the University of St Andrews. He has written on State, mining and rural society in the Andes, and present uses of the Andean past. With Thérèse Bouysse-Cassagne and Olivia Harris he authored Qaraqara-Charka. Mallku, Inka y Rey en la Provincia de Charcas (2006). Recent research topics include Bolivian negotiations with nineteenth-century globalization as represented by the Rothschilds' quicksilver monopoly.

    Johan Pottier is Professor of African Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He specializes in the social dynamics of food security; media representations of conflict; and humanitarian intervention. Book-length publications include Re-Imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late 20th Century (2002), and Anthropology of Food: The Social Dynamics of Food Security (1999). His current research addresses aspects of urban food security in Lilongwe (Malawi) and Kampala (Uganda).

    David Pratten is Director of the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford; University Lecturer in the Social Anthropology of Africa; and Fellow of St Antony's College. He is the author of The Man-Leopard Murders: History and Society in Colonial Nigeria (2007) and is current co-editor of Africa: Journal of the International African Institute.

    Nigel Rapport is Professor of Anthropological and Philosophical Studies at the University of St Andrews, where he directs the Centre for Cosmopolitan Studies; he has also held the Canada Research Chair in Globalization, Citizenship and Justice at Concordia University of Montreal. He served as Honorary Secretary of the Association of Social Anthropologists (1994–1998), and as President of the Anthropology and Archaeology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (2001–2002). His most recent books are Of Orderlies and Men: Hospital Porters Achieving Wellness at Work (2008), and the edited volumes Human Nature as Capacity: Transcending Discourse and Classification (2010), and Reveries of Home: Nostalgia, Authenticity and the Performance of Place (2010, with Solrun Williksen).

    Paul Richards is an Emeritus Professor of Wageningen University. In 2011 he was Visiting Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Yale University. Formerly he was Professor of Anthropology at University College London. He has carried out extensive field research in Sierra Leone, and is author of Fighting for the Rain Forest (1996). His current research on the origins of civil wars in Upper West Africa is trans-boundary and inter-disciplinary in character.

    Laura M. Rival, University Lecturer in the Anthropology of Nature, Society and Development at Oxford University, pursues research interests in Amerindian conceptualizations of nature and society, historical and political ecology, indigenous peoples, development, and environmental and conservation policies. Her writings include Trekking through History. The Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador (2002), Beyond the Visible and the Material: The Amerindianization of Society in the Work of Peter Rivière (2001, edited) and The Social Life of Trees. Anthropological Perspectives on Tree Symbolism (1998, edited). She is preparing a book on Latin American food systems.

    Amiria Salmond is a Research Fellow at the University of Auckland and International Co-Investigator on the Artefacts of Encounter project at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge. A former curator at the Museum, she has written books and articles on artefact-oriented theory and methods in anthropology, including Museums, Anthropology and Imperial Exchange (2005), and was co-editor of Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically (2007).

    Maria Sapignoli is an Italian anthropologist who is finalizing a doctoral dissertation at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. Her research focuses on indigenous peoples, identity, and the politics of indigenous organizations at the local and global level, with particular reference to the San and Bakgalagadi of the Central Kalahari, Botswana. She is the author of ‘Indigeneity and the expert: negotiating identity in the case of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve’, Law and Anthropology (2009).

    Arnd Schneider is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo. His books include Futures Lost: Identity and Nostalgia Among Italian Immigrants in Argentina (2000), Appropriation as Practice: Art and Identity in Argentina (2006), and as editor (with Chris Wright) Contemporary Art and Anthropology (2006) and Between Art and Anthropology (2010). He co-organized the international conferences Fieldworks: Dialogues between Art and Anthropology (2003, Tate Modern) and Performance, Art and Anthropology (2009, Musée du Quai Branly).

    Cris Shore is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Auckland. His research interests include political anthropology, the European Union, and the anthropology of policy and organizations. He is author and editor of numerous books including Building Europe: The Cultural Politics of European Integration (2000), Elite Cultures (ASA Monographs 38, 2004, edited with Stephen Nugent), Corruption: Anthropological Perspectives (2005, edited with Dieter Haller) and Policy Worlds: Anthropology and the Analysis of Power (2011, edited with Susan Wright and Davide Pero). His current project is a study of university reform, neoliberalism and globalization.

    Paul Sillitoe is Professor of Anthropology at Durham University and Shell Chair of Sustainable Development at Qatar University. A champion of social anthropology in development, he seeks to further its incorporation into programmes, particularly focusing on environmental issues in the context of sustainable livelihood initiatives and appropriate technologies, and has experience of working with several international development agencies. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in the Pacific region and is involved in projects in South Asia, and is currently working in the Gulf region on sustainable development initiatives.

    Edward Simpson is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His research interests are in politics, natural disasters and social change in western India. He is the author of Muslim Society and the Western Indian Ocean (2006), editor with Kai Kresse of Struggling with History: Islam and Cosmopolitanism in the Western Indian Ocean (2008) and with Aparna Kapadia of The Idea of Gujarat: History, Ethnography and Text (2010).

    Jonathan Spencer is Professor of the Anthropology of South Asia at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of many articles on politics, nationalism, religion and history, especially in Sri Lanka where he has carried out research since the early 1980s. His most recent book is Anthropology, Politics and the State: Democracy and Violence in South Asia (2007).

    Veronica Strang is a Professor of Anthropology and Executive Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University. Specializing in human-environmental relations, she has written extensively on water, land and resource issues in Australia and the United Kingdom. Her publications include The Meaning of Water (2004); Gardening the World: Agency, Identity, and the Ownership of Water (2009); and Ownership and Appropriation (ASA Monographs 47, 2011, edited with Mark Busse).

    Marilyn Strathern, DBE, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, Cambridge University, is Life President of the ASA. Her interests have long been divided between Melanesian and British ethnography. Projects over the last two decades are reflected in publications on reproductive technologies, and intellectual and cultural property rights, while ‘critique of good practice’ has been the umbrella under which she has written about audit, accountability and interdisciplinarity. Some of these themes are brought together in the volume Kinship, Law and the Unexpected (2005).

    Pauline Turner Strong is Director of the Humanities Institute and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She has published on historical and contemporary representations of American Indians in popular culture, policy debates, and social movements as well as scholarship. Her books include Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives (1999), American Indians and the American Imaginary (2012), and a co-edited volume, New Perspectives on Native North America: Cultures, Histories, and Representations (2006).

    Julian Thomas is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Manchester. His principal research interests are in the Neolithic of Britain and Europe, the theory and philosophy of archaeology, and the relationship between archaeology and anthropology. He is a Vice President of the Royal Anthropological Institute. His recent authored books are Understanding the Neolithic (1999), Archaeology and Modernity (2004), and Place and Memory: Excavations at the Pict's Knowe, Holywood and Holm Farm (2007).

    Christina Toren is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of St Andrews. She is trained in both psychology and anthropology, does her fieldwork in Fiji, and has published widely on many aspects of contemporary Fijian life, including ethnographic studies of ontogeny. Her recent work includes What is Happening to Epistemology? (2009, edited with João de Pina Cabral, Special Issue of Social Analysis) and Culture Wars. Contexts, Models and Anthropologists' Accounts (2010, edited with Deborah James and Evie Plaice).

    James Urry is a Senior Research Associate and previously Reader in Anthropology at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. His interests include the history of anthropology and Mennonite society. His books include None But Saints: The Transformation ofMennonite Life in Russia 1789–1889 (1989, 2007), Before Social Anthropology: Essays on the History of British Anthropology (1993) and Mennonites, Politics and Peoplehood. Europe – Russia – Canada 1525–1980 (2006).

    Peter Wade is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. His more recent publications include Music, Race and Nation: Música Tropical in Colombia (2000), Race, Nature and Culture: An Anthropological Perspective (Pluto Press, 2002), Race and Sex in Latin America (2009), and Race and Ethnicity in Latin America (2nd edition, 2010). His current research focuses on issues of race and new genomic technologies. He is directing an ESRC-funded project on ‘Race, genomics and mestizaje (mixture) in Latin America: a comparative approach’.

    Bill (C.W.) Watson, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology of the University of Kent, currently teaches at the School of Business and Management of the Bandung Institute of Technology. He has carried out fieldwork extensively in Indonesia, particularly Kerinci in Sumatra, and has written about Islam, politics and modern Indonesian literature. He is the author of Multiculturalism (2000), and, most recently, Of Self and Injustice. Autobiography and Repression in Modern Indonesia (2006).

    Richard Werbner, Professor Emeritus in African Anthropology and Honorary Research, Professor in Visual Anthropology (University of Manchester) and research fellow (National Humanities Center), is a long-term ethnographer of séances, charismatics and faith-healing in Botswana. His most recent films, Holy Hustlers (2009), Counterpoint One (2011), Counterpoint Two (2011), and Counterpoint Botswana (2011) accompany his monograph, Holy Hustlers, Schism and Prophecy (2011). As series co-editor of Zed's Postcolonial Encounters Series, he published Postcolonial Identities in Africa (1996, co-edited), Memory and the Postcolony (1998, edited), and Postcolonial Subjectivities in Africa (2002, edited).

    Harry G. West is Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Food Studies Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He is author of Kupilikula: Governance and the Invisible Realm in Mozambique (2005) and Ethnographic Sorcery (2007), and co-editor of several collections, including Transparency and Conspiracy: Ethnographies of Suspicion in the New World Order (2003, edited with Todd Sanders) and Borders and Healers: Brokering Therapeutic Resources in Southeast Africa (2005, edited with Tracy Luedke).

    Harvey Whitehouse studies the causes and consequences of religion and ritual. His recent books have included Arguments and Icons (2000) and Modes of Religiosity (2004). He was founding director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen's University Belfast and of Oxford's Centre for Anthropology of Mind. He currently holds a Chair in Social Anthropology at Oxford University and a Professorial Fellowship at Magdalen College. From 2006 to 2009 he served as Head of Oxford's School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

    Richard A. Wilson is Gladstein Chair of Human Rights, Professor of Anthropology and Law, and Director of the University of Connecticut's Human Rights Institute, which he founded in 2003. He taught previously at the universities of Essex and Sussex in the UK. His work focuses on international human rights, truth commissions and international criminal tribunals. Writing History in International Criminal Trials (2011) was completed during a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is current Chair of the Connecticut State Advisory Committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights.

    Christopher Wright teaches visual anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He has written on the creative possibilities for collaborations between artists and anthropologists, most recently Between Art and Anthropology (2010), and on the connections between anthropology and photography. He has pursued fieldwork in the South Pacific and is currently involved in research on the connections between First Nation/Aboriginal communities and digital media in Canada.

    Preface: The Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth

    JohnGledhill (ASA Chair 2005–2009) and JamesFairhead (ASA Chair 2009–2013)

    The foundation of the Association of Social Anthropologists (ASA) in 1946, a development originally led by Evans-Pritchard and Radcliffe-Brown, with the support of Max Gluckman and Meyer Fortes, reflected the ambition of a group of British scholars to develop social anthropology as an autonomous discipline by expanding the number of social anthropology departments in British universities.1 The Association was both an intellectual project, reflecting a significant degree of consensus within the founding generation about the goals, priorities and scope of the subject, and also a professionalization project, for ASA membership was by invitation and restricted to ‘teachers and research workers in social anthropology’. In this latter respect the ASA contrasted with the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI), the organization that had previously enjoyed a monopoly of promoting anthropology in the British public sphere. RAI has always welcomed ‘anyone with an interest in the subject’ as ordinary members, and its Council also elects ‘serious amateurs’ to its fellowship category alongside people with ‘an academic or professional engagement with the social sciences’.2 The intellectual focus on social anthropology also differentiated the ASA from the RAI, which paid equal attention to promoting teaching and research in areas such as biological anthropology and archaeology. Another reason why social anthropologists with university teaching posts deemed a professional association independent of the RAI essential was because they wanted to steer research funding away from researchers working directly for colonial government towards their institutions. The schism was neither profound nor notably acrimonious, since many of the ASA notables continued to play central roles in the RAI as well. Yet it has proved enduring despite the multiplication of forms of collaboration between RAI and ASA and greater interest on the part of some social anthropologists in crossing the boundaries that traditionally separated our disciplinary sub-fields, because the difference in membership base continues to be significant when it comes to speaking in the name of anthropologists as professionals.

    Most readers of this book are unlikely to be interested in the parochial question of how the representation and promotion of anthropology is organized in the UK, and if they are, there are plenty of perceptive publications already available to guide them towards a deeper understanding of the historical particularities of British anthropology. As far as Adam Kuper (1996: 176) was concerned, writing the conclusion to the third edition of his classic history of the ModernBritish School, British social anthropology only constituted a distinct intellectual movement at the international level between 1920 and the start of the 1970s. This is something that Kuper sees as a good thing. On the one hand, British scholars became less insular, opening up to productive new influences from both the United States and Europe, in particular France, while, on the other hand, the core ideas of British-style ethnography-based social anthropology had now diffused to practitioners of anthropology throughout the world. Others, notably Jonathan Spencer, dissent from Kuper's view that there is no longer any means of distinguishing ‘British’ anthropology from other national anthropological traditions, but Spencer concedes ‘in true British spirit’ that if British social anthropology has succeeded in maintaining a distinct identity, as a ‘relatively small and coherent group of intellectual practitioners’, this is not on the basis of continuity in intellectual or empirical focus or theoretical orientation, or, to put it another way, a matter of ‘culture’, but a matter of institutions, practices and shared rituals (Spencer, 2000: 2–3).

    If that is true, then we can at least conclude that the ASA, its annual and decennial conferences, and the publications arising from them, are a central part of the story. But it is a story of continuity through radical transformation. In his introduction to this volume, Richard Fardon charts the evolution of the ASA Monographs Series and the changing intellectual trends that these and other ASA-sponsored volumes reflected, including the trend towards an interdisciplinarity in which anthropologists continue to insist that we have something distinctive and important to bring to debates throughout the humanities, social sciences and even the natural sciences. Yet it is also significant that the ordinary annual meetings of the ASA, as distinct from the decennial conferences, which were always larger and more international in scope, have tended to cease to be intimate conversations between a relatively small group of people in permanent plenary session and become events with multiple simultaneous panels that attract participants from many countries and involve much greater participation by graduate students. These trends are driven by many different factors, including pragmatic issues of funding and fulfilling the ASA's duty to promote the career development of the next generation under increasingly tough conditions, but they do also speak of a certain democratization and opening of doors. The ASA made a third change to its name by adding ‘of the UK and’ to the earlier addition of ‘of the Commonwealth’, in recognition of the fact that independent associations had been created in several Commonwealth countries, and ASA is equally welcoming to members from non-Commonwealth countries. But the Association now regularly holds its conferences outside the UK, meeting in Zimbabwe in 1997, Tanzania in 2002, Auckland, in partnership with both its Australian and New Zealand sister associations, in 2008, and New Delhi in 2012. Although the majority of its members are UK-based, ASA is now a much larger and more international organization than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. It is also more inclusive, no longer interested in the kind of sub-disciplinary boundary maintenance that provoked debate about whether any US anthropologists should be admitted to membership, and welcoming to anthropologists who deploy their professional skills in non-academic practitioner roles in the public and private sectors. Yet the expansion within the university system that anthropology has achieved since the 1960s is now threatened with reverse in Britain and the European Union.3 At an historical moment in which efforts to reduce public expenditure have also put the future size and scope of our teaching and research under review in other regions of the world, it seems particularly necessary to launch a publication that demonstrates what cutting-edge work in social anthropology can contribute to understanding the human condition in a changing and more multi-centric world, and which also reflects both the vastly increased range of topics and problems now subject to anthropological enquiry.

    The ASA today is still concerned with promoting teaching and research in British universities, and in a climate of constant audit and evaluation that UK-based social anthropologists managed to turn into an opportunity for some remarkable critical analysis.4 But many of the Association's contributions, including its extensive work on ethical issues, are aimed more than ever before at the international development of anthropology,5 and this book is another contribution towards this cause. We hope that readers will find little that will offend them as parochially British in a text that has an international authorship, but that they will agree that this volume shows that social anthropology is continuing to move forward towards new horizons and achievements, and for that very reason, still justifies the principles that motivated the founding of our association. We also wish to thank Richard Fardon, Trevor Marchand, Mark Nuttall, Cris Shore, Veronica Strang and Richard Wilson for their wonderful and selfless work as editors, and remember Olivia Harris, who joined the editorial team, but tragically did not live to see the project completed. Lastly, our profound thanks go to all the contributors to this book for donating their royalties to enable the ASA to continue to provide small grants to support the development of the next generation of social anthropologists.


    1 Other key founding figures included the New Zealander Raymond Firth, who remained an active and dedicated President of the Association from 1973 virtually up until the moment of his death, aged 100, in 2002. A more detailed but short history of the ASA, written by David Mills, is available on the ASA website at For further discussion of the respective histories of, and relations between, the ASA and the Royal Anthropological Institute, see Mills (2003).

    2 See for further details.

    3 UK resident anthropologists were also the largest single group in the European Association of Social Anthropologists at the end of 2009, with more than double the numbers of any other country apart from Germany. See for details.

    4 See, for example, Strathern (2000).

    5 The ASA has, for example, been an active member of the World Council of Anthropological Associations since Richard Fardon attended its founding meeting in Recife, Brazil, in 2004.

    Kuper, Adam. 1996. Anthropology and Anthropologists: The Modern British School. London: Routledge.
    Mills, David. 2003. Professionalising or Popularising Anthropology?Anthropology Today19 (5): 8–13.
    Spencer, Jonathan. 2000. British Social Anthropology: A Retrospective?. Annual Review of Anthropology29:1–24.
    Strathern, Marilyn (ed.) 2000. Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics and the Academy. London: Routledge.

    Foreword: Thinking Anthropologically, about British Social Anthropology

    John L.Comaroff and JeanComaroff

    History is unsentimental, tramping over a generation … with ruthless determination.

    (Zadie Smith, 2000: 238)

    It may seem odd to begin the Foreword to this monumental new Handbook with the claim, made much of recently, that there is no longer anything distinctive about British social anthropology. Arguably, of course, the more critical issue is how distinguished are its accomplishments. Distinction, to be sure, denotes not just difference, as Pierre Bourdieu (1984) has reminded us; it also refers to the qualities embodied in that difference, a point to which we shall return. But the question remains. As Jonathan Spencer (2000: 1) puts it: Does British social anthropology remain distinctively British? Is it distinctively social? And is it distinctively anthropology? Some would answer all three in the negative. Thus, for example, Henrietta Moore (1999: 1) argued, over a decade ago, that there has been a retreat in the UK not just from the effort to write anything that looks particularly like anthropological theory, but, more fundamentally, ‘from the project of anthropology itself’ (see Eriksen and Nielsen 2001: 157).

    How the world has changed.

    In the early 1970s, Adam Kuper (1973: 227) could still speak of British social anthropology as a quite specific ‘intellectual tradition’.1 Few would have disagreed; Foucauldians, Fanonists, Marxist and Postcolonial theorists might have preferred ‘discipline’ to ‘tradition’, given its alleged role in disciplining colonial knowledge of racially marked, ‘primitive’ others, but that is another matter. Not twenty years later, Kuper (1991: 307) would lament that it had become unclear ‘what was “specifically British” about social anthropology in Britain’ (Spencer 2000: 2). ‘The Revolution’ effected and named as such by its founding fathers (Eriksen and Nielsen 2001: 54–55) – their way, this, of signifying what marked their discipline as different from the other modern European social sciences – appeared to have run its course (cf. Ingold 1996: ix; Kuklick 2008: 75). Its specificity had dissolved into indistinction. History had ‘tramp[ed]’ over its earlier generations, to evoke our epigraph from Zadie Smith, if not altogether unsentimentally then certainly ruthlessly. Anthropologists, it should be noted, have long had a tendency to do just this. Already in 1959, Edmund Leach (1961: 1f) had argued that the original ‘unity of aim’ of social anthropology – its commitment to the comparative, functionalist analysis of social structures – had led into a dead end: that, like butterfly collecting, it yielded taxonomies, not useful theoretical generalizations. Even earlier, Evans-Pritchard (1950: 123), for whom the discipline was better regarded as ‘a kind of historiography, and therefore ultimately of philosophy or art’, saw a similar dead end in the ‘false scholasticism’ to which ‘The Revolution’ had aspired. Ours is an epistemic community with decidedly hypochondriacal proclivities (cf. Geertz 1988: 71).

    The threat of indistinction of one kind or another, in short, has been a recurrent nightmare among British anthropologists, especially in recent times. At fin de siècle, for instance, Englund and Leach (2000: 238) offered a strident defence of the discipline against the growing number of its practitioners who had taken to trafficking with ‘metropolitan theorists’, thus to merge anthropology into cultural studies or sociology. For them, the ‘metanarrative of modernity’, in tandem with the deployment of ‘familiar sociological abstractions’, is robbing our practice of its uniqueness – which, they hold, lies in long-term, in situ ethnographic fieldwork. Their defence reads somewhat ironically against Anthony Giddens' (1995: 274) dismal depiction of contemporary anthropology: that it is a field with an evaporating subject matter, with a method it shares with other social sciences, and with a deficient theoretical core. It is yet more ironic in light of G.P. Murdoch's much-quoted assertion, made some sixty years ago from America: that, for all the ‘ethnographic competence and theoretical suggestiveness’ of their work (1951: 466–467) – which, with splendid iconoclasm, he then tore to shreds – British anthropologists could not be called anthropologists at all. Given their disinterest in culture, their exclusive focus on social groups and relations, their concern with synchrony over diachrony, and their pursuit of general laws of social structure and function, they were indistinguishable from sociologists (1951: 471).2 The question of what British anthropology actually is in the present, patently, has a long past.

    Nor is it only a question for British anthropology. Anthropology in the USA – afflicted since the 1980s with critiques of its textual practices, its foundational concept of culture, and its ethical bona fides – has also been hearing of late that it has become hard to separate from other disciplines and discourses. George Marcus (2008: 2), for one, claims that, despite its institutional strength, it is ‘in suspension’: that it has ‘no new ideas, and none on the horizon’. Its intellectual creativity and energy, he believes, nowadays comes less from its own interiors than from its interactions with feminist studies, media studies, postcolonial studies, science studies, and the like. Once upon a time, anthropologists feared, groundlessly as it turned out, that globalization might dissolve the particularity of other cultures into bland cultural sameness; it was a fear with roots deep in the ideological fabric of modernity itself. Now, by contrast, many hold that it is we, not our ‘natives’, who are undergoing erasure. And losing our raison d'être.

    Such claims tend to spawn counter-claims. The idea that British social anthropology has lost its uniqueness, not surprisingly, has elicited several. Pace Englund and Leach, however, these do not depend on the transparent fantasy that it is intensive, localized fieldwork that defines us. There Giddens is correct: this method is no longer exclusively ours, although, in general, anthropologists cleave more than other social scientists to an ideal of ‘thick’, rather than ‘thin’, ethnographic description (Geertz 1973; but cf. J. L. Comaroff 2010: 526f). Ethnography, in other words, may be a necessary condition for anthropological distinctiveness – though there are some anthropologists in the USA who would now contest even this – but it is certainly not a sufficient one. The fact that it remains critical to our identity, or that most of us do it, is not, in itself, enough to secure our distinction, in either sense of the term. Which is why there have been efforts to look elsewhere. For Jonathan Spencer (2000), the answer lies neither in the means of producing knowledge characteristic of UK anthropologists, nor in the species of knowledge they produce. Instead, it resides in the fact that they constitute an identifiable epistemic community, one that shares discursive, pedagogic, and research practices (cf. Knorr Cetina 1999). These practices are embodied in such things as a ‘seminar culture’, in which forms of tacit knowledge – and strong loyalties – are imparted (Spencer 2000: 17f). The singularity of British social anthropology, in other words, inheres primarily in its institutions, traditions, customs and social relations. This sounds very much like the sort of thing that an older generation of ethnographers took to be their analytic object: a small, culturally enclosed, self-reproducing ‘society’ of sorts. It is by these means, suggests Spencer, that the discipline defines and defends its boundaries, by these means that it sustains itself, and by these means that it determines what is or is not properly anthropology.3

    Spencer is not alone in looking to institutional practices rather than intellectual content; recall Henrietta Moore's observation to the effect that there has been a retreat in British anthropology from robust claims to write theory (above, p. xxviii). In like vein, John Gledhill (n.d.) notes that, nowadays, anthropologists in the UK are ‘as likely to be inspired by European social theorists’ as they are by other anthropologists. Nonetheless, he says, they have retained a high level of coherence as a relatively small, relatively marginal community in which – and here he goes further than Spencer – ‘it is still possible to discern a specifically “British” approach to research and argument.’4 While Gledhill does not go into detail on the substance of that approach, Richard Fardon, in his Introduction to this Handbook, points to a common ground less in grand theory – which has always been a subject of some ambivalence in the predominantly empiricist episteme of British anthropology – than in ‘theorized methodology’: a methodology, we take him to mean, that puts ethnography at the centre of its mode of production, but sees the knowledge it yields partly as a function of the questions that it is asked to address.

    A different species of answer is proffered by Keith Hart (2008). Consonant with histories of the discipline that stress the degree to which it took on a unique shape in each of its major host countries (e.g. Barth et al. 2005; Mills 2008; Gingrich 2010a), Hart sees anthropology in the UK as a product of its specific structural and historical context (cf. Eriksen and Nielsen 2001: 56): in a ‘nationalist century’, its distinctiveness lay in the liberal vision it provided of a universe made up of bounded cultures and self-reproducing societies founded on ‘eternal principles’ of order. Its ‘primitive sociology’, rooted in the Central European culturalism of Malinowski and the structural functionalism of Radcliffe-Brown, argues Hart, afforded an ideological defence for the nation-states of a war-torn world against revolution. This, rather than its conventionally asserted role in the management of empire, he goes on to say, gave British anthropology, and its grounding in ethnography, its historical function: it buttressed a particular sort of national self-imaging. But the capitalist formation on which that imagining was founded has long been metamorphosing, rendering its mode of knowing anachronistic; hence, the anachronism of the idea of a distinctive British anthropology.

    This take on the counter-revolutionary role of British anthropology is certainly provocative. So is the assertion that its ideological function at the metropole was of greater consequence than its deployment in colonial overrule; in respect of the latter, we prefer to see these two things, metropole and colony, as entailed in each other, and therefore as part of a single formation. Hart also leaves unspecified precisely how global transformations in these ‘murky times’ might be linked to shifts in the content and the structural location of anthropology in Britain today. But he is surely right to stress the historical contextualization of the discipline in structures of the long run. If we follow his logic into the Age of Now – in which the world at large is being recalibrated by changes in the proportional relationship of the market to society, by the reconstitution under neoliberal governance of nationhood, the state, and political life, by the erosion of ideological differences under the sign of the technical efficiency of capital, by the fetishism of culture as property – the question becomes this: Is there anything distinctive about the ways in which British anthropology is being drawn into the analysis of social forms congealing across the planet in the here and now? In large measure, this Handbook seeks to be an answer to that question.

    But we are running ahead of ourselves. In posing the problem as he does, Hart also prompts us to look again at the fertile mix of hubris and genius that underlay the founding ‘Revolution’ of British anthropology, specifically, its unique cult of knowledge production. That cult, as it turned out, was to prove less than revolutionary in its ideological implications. Yet it sustained for the discipline a potent marginality in the UK academy, a marginality upon which rested both its distinction and its distinctiveness. To the extent that its past continues to inform its practice in a radically realigned present, however spectrally, it remains pertinent to what may lie ahead for anthropology here. If, along with South African novelist J.M. Coetzee (2003: 38), we view the future as a ‘structure of hopes and expectations’, as a history actively to be made – even if not entirely as we please – then interrogating our genealogy becomes vital, not least for the ways in which anthropology might recast itself in times to come.

    The pioneering, even prophetic ethos of early twentieth-century British anthropology was quintessentially modernist in its vision of human life as social process, its common properties discoverable through systematic empirical observation. But it derived its unique brand of knowledge from the study of the underside of modernity: of primitive peoples who were conceived both as our natural forebears and as savage inversions of civilization. The paradox of similarity and difference inherent in this doubling was foundational to the discipline. Erected on the sensitive frontiers between Europe and its others, it took shape in the ready laboratories offered by the colonial world. From there, the first generation of professional ethnographers sent vividly documented accounts of timeless, homogeneous societies, isolated organisms preserved in the aspic of empire. Defined as terra incognita, these were places where European thought was held to have scant purchase, calling for a new sociology of the premodern world, one capable of plumbing the depths of Homo sapiens as social species.

    Our common origin myth depicts this enterprise as the product of a joint becoming: Malinowski, the Romantic, it is said, invented fieldwork, making empirical observation into a process of sustained witnessing, a testimony to the ‘native's point of view’; Radcliffe-Brown, by contrast, imposed order on raw ethnographic material, reworking Durkheim's idea of the social fact into a more prosaic natural science of non-Western society, based on the comparative study of institutions. The primacy of the sociological, as we have noted, was to remain a distinctive feature of the British school, making culture and meaning into second-order representations of social arrangements, albeit often in complex figurations. But the ideology of empiricism has always been something of a subterfuge. Theory never springs directly from facts, of course, which is why, at their most creative, anthropologists have always flouted their own ‘scientific’ prescriptions. To be sure, generations of them would argue over how to arrive at generalizations from an unruly melange of idiosyncratic accounts, a commitment to induction that, according to Kuper (1983: 205), would eventually condemn anthropology in the UK to theoretical decline and ethnographic particularism. But the counterpoint of the particular and the general, of data and analysis, has always been more complex, more elusive. It has always been a matter of what Peirce (1958: 136) termed ‘abduction’ and Edmund Leach (1961: 5) called ‘inspired guesswork’.

    A strikingly eclectic array of ideas, large and small, was put into play as the discipline invented itself, facilitated by the possibilities offered to the sociological imagination by a model of discrete, small-scale societies, societies susceptible to bold, holistic analyses of their internal workings. At the same time, those ‘savage’ societies were also Europe's camera obscura, living manifestations of its dreams and nightmares. The most provocative insights generated within British anthropology over the years have, arguably, stemmed as much from preoccupations in the Western world as from facts on exotic ground. Whether it be Malinowski's vision of the rationality of primitive economics or of the cultural specificity of the Oedipus complex, Evans-Pritchard's accounts of witchcraft as a practical philosophy or of the possibility of social order sans government, Turner on the liberating effects of communitas, Gluckman on catharsis, or Douglas on dirt as matter out of place, the fertile redeployment of metropolitan theory by estranging familiar phenomena has a long history in our discipline.

    The aura of theoretical experimentation was especially evident in the formative years of British anthropology. Take Radcliffe-Brown's preface to African Political Systems, an influential text intended to demonstrate the accomplishments of a maturing British structural functionalism. The piece began with a predictable paean to the study of comparative institutions, to its capacity for offering up general sociological laws. But how, it asked, are particular types of institutions – like those that comprise ‘political organization’ – to be identified and isolated from the total systems of which they are part (1940: xii)? Almost immediately, it segues into a reflection on the nature of abstraction in social analysis, coupled with a trenchant critique of brute positivism. Without ‘new and fruitful ideas … method in itself gives birth to nothing’ (1940: xiii), wrote Radcliffe-Brown. Yet, in giving account of ‘simpler societies’, the theories of political philosophers or economists are insufficient, too parochial. It was incumbent on anthropology, therefore, to ‘make [its] own’ more comprehensive concepts. He attacked the task with gusto, pondering, like a Carl Schmitt for the antipodes, what might be the distinctive features of political, as against other, forms of organization; a quite different spirit, this, from one that would limit itself to what may be induced purely from empirical facts. In the end, Radcliffe-Brown's definition of politics – to paraphrase, the maintenance of social order, within a territorial framework, by means of the organized use or threat of physical force – was a banal echo of European ideology. But we encounter some strikingly prescient insights along the way. Like the claim that ‘the state’, spoken of in terms of ‘sovereignty’ or the power to exercise will, was a ‘fiction of the philosophers’, that what does exist ‘in the phenomenal world’ is a complex organization of relations and roles concerned with maintaining the balance of law and war (1940: xxiii).

    The anthropological imagination at work here was an uneasy amalgam of critical estrangement and ethnocentrism, a consequence, perhaps, of the will to translate the worlds of living premoderns into the language of intellectual elites in late imperial Britain. In that light, the challenge was to show how, in the absence of complex regulating mechanisms, these ‘simple’, self-reproducing societies could wrest order, stability, and continuity out of anarchy. The conventional answer, which took its lead from Radcliffe-Brown, lay at once in their interlocking structures of functionally homeostatic institutions, in the tempering of human nature through rules of kinship, and in the cultivation of moral subjects by means of customary law and the imperatives of religious practice. True, following Hart (2008), this Arcadian model could be read as an exotic endorsement of liberal ideals of nationhood, sans class conflict and struggle. But it could as well be seen as a critique of Enlightenment universalisms and the regime of knowledge of which they were part.

    The story is also more complicated insofar as the model of self-regulating social systems had more than one variant, arising out of the fact that its stress on norms, order, and regulation existed in tension with the view, associated with Malinowski, that strategic, utilitarian, rule-bending action was characteristic of even the most ‘savage’ of peoples. For the likes of Max Gluckman and Victor Turner of the Manchester School, strife, self-interest, and structural tension were as endemic to premodern as they were to modern societies. However – and here the Mancunians drew on a theoretical repertoire that included both Simmel and Marx – whereas capitalist societies were built on inherent contradictions, precapitalist ones were founded on conflict. The former were ‘historical’, being caught up in a linear movement through time and liable to change, even to undergo revolution. The latter were ‘ahistorical’, being characterized by cyclical processes, equilibrium, repetitive reproduction, and, where they occurred, rebellions that left the structure of things in place, even as they altered relations of power and authority among living persons. If this was a boldly theorized vision of the precapitalist world, a broadly similar, similarly bold, move was made by Edmund Leach (1954). Leach deployed the work of Pareto to reduce the disorderly, conflict-laden history of Highland Burma to a model of oscillating equilibrium, one that sought to make sense of processes of the long run by showing that they moved between two models of social organization – one highly hierarchized and state-like, the other egalitarian and decentralized.

    Of course, neither of these efforts to fuse a Malinowskian attention to conflict with a Radcliffe-Brownian concern for social order dealt with historical facts beyond the bounded, homeostatic worlds with which they were concerned. Again, perhaps the first, most comprehensive effort to do so would come from the Manchester School in Central Africa, where the destabilizing effects of empire could not easily be ignored. Under the influence first of Godfrey Wilson, then of Max Gluckman, the Mancunians enlarged their ethnographic compass to take in the interpolation of ‘tribal societies’ into the colonial political economy. Gluckman attacked Malinowski's effort to explain social change here through the prism of ‘culture contact’, insisting that Africans, perforce, participated with Europeans in a ‘single social system’ (Ferguson 1999:26). In the upshot, the Manchester School found itself drawn into studies of the impact on rural communities of processes of proletarianization, labour migration, underdevelopment, urbanization, and new configurations of class and identity. But, being committed to an equilibrium model of indigenous social systems, and sustaining a view of those systems as self-reproducing, they could not, in the end, develop a theoretically principled historical anthropology of colonialism, let alone empire, a shortcoming for which anthropology at large has long been taken to task by critical theorists. Nonetheless, as all this suggests, post-Second World War British anthropology found itself having to address large problems and large matters of theory from the vantage of what had become known as the Third World. And, as it did, so the discipline in the UK became a fertile community of argument, one with salience for the academy at large.

    That community of argument flourished in the 1950s, all the more so as processes of decolonization gained momentum, irrevocably altering the imperial terrain on which British anthropologists had long worked. It was also fuelled by their intellectual exchanges with the other social sciences and other national anthropologies. Thus, for example, just as Evans-Pritchard had insisted that the discipline should shake off its positivist heritage and define itself as ‘a kind of … philosophy or art’ (above, p. xxv), so some of his colleagues became preoccupied with what, in Britain, remained the relatively neglected study of meaning and symbol, prompting a reengagement with French writings on structure and classification, among them, the classic works of Mauss, Hertz, and, later, the linguistically-inspired structuralism of Lévi-Strauss. ‘Neo-structuralism’ in the UK sought to reconcile models of the universal logic of human thought with a properly British concern for ideas as the reflex, and reflection, of social relations. For its critics, this was an indigestible reduction of philosophical formalism to flat-footed empiricism. Patently, it did little to shift the abiding fixation on ethnographic particularism. But, yet again, it yielded insights of bold significance – the influential writings of Victor Turner on ritual, Mary Douglas on cosmology and classification, and Edmund Leach on myth and verbal categories – and sparked productive debate about the place of the unconscious in social analysis.

    And then, quite suddenly, in the late 1960s and early 1970s – when Great Britain and much of the world was in creative ferment – this imaginative effervescence, this theoretical ambition, ran out of steam. As we ourselves prepared, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1968, to do traditional fieldwork in rural South Africa, the streets around us were alive with protest against the Vietnam War, apartheid, and the cultural establishment. A decidedly postcolonial spirit, emanating from the ‘new nations,’ was beginning to assert itself. We were entering what Adam Kuper (1983: 185–189) would dub ‘the lean years’, a time of parochialism and ‘discounted’ theoretical debate.

    And so, back to the present Andre Gingrich (2010b: 552) has noted, for the discipline at large, that ‘the era of national traditions is coming to a close'. This is hardly surprising at the dawn of what appears to be a post-national age; not an age, we stress, in which nationhood is likely to disappear, but one in which it is re-situated in a global topography of economic, political, legal, demographic, digital, cultural, and religious scapes, of articulations and disarticulations, ruptures and flows. In sum, just as the modernist nation-state is now saturated with awkward cacophonies of cultural difference, has forfeited a large measure of its sovereignty, and finds its borders ever more porous to the movement of capital, commodities, images, and persons, so national anthropologies have seen their substantive identities thoroughly compromised. To parse the matter once more into Jonathan Spencer's three-part question, now in the indicative voice. To the degree, first, that its frontiers have been breached, anthropology in the UK is unlikely ever to be uniquely British again (cf. Barth 2005: 56). Second, to the degree that the existence of society itself is everywhere under scrutiny in the neoliberal age, the discipline here is no longer exclusively social in its horizons; in 1989, interestingly, the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory in the UK met to discuss the proposition that ‘The Concept of Society is Theoretically Obsolete’ (Ingold 1996: 55–98). And third, to the degree that anthropology is faced everywhere with doubts about its raison d'être – recall both Giddens and Marcus – its role in the production of knowledge is increasingly hard to distinguish from those of, among other things, cultural studies, science and technology studies, feminist studies, history, linguistics, and philosophy. Mark, in that regard, that Part 1 of this Handbook deals at length with the interdisciplinarity of our subject. Which is why, to the degree that it retains an identity at all, that identity lies – as Spencer, Gledhill, and others have said – in a community of practice that knows itself as a community but is struggling to define the precise content of its practice. This is also why it has become so difficult to characterize British anthropology in the present tense. Its present, to be sure, is somewhat tense. And therein lies an important set of clues.

    The fact that British social anthropology is post-national does not mean that it is post-historical. Hence the questions we posed above:

    • To what is it responding, in the history of the present, if not to the imperatives of nation or empire?
    • What are the structural conditions, to return us to J.M. Coetzee's literary aphorism, to which its hopes and expectations are attuned?
    • And how has it reacted to those conditions?

    Fredrik Barth (2005: 56) notes that the predicament of anthropology in the UK has to be read in the context of an ‘epoch of marked decline in the British universities … caused by shrinking economies and stifling regimes of bureaucratic regulation.’ While the discipline has sustained a steady research profile under straitened conditions, and goes about its business quite effectively, it has, he suggests, suffered a ‘loss of self-assurance [and] self-sufficiency’, not to mention an outflow of scholars to the USA. The decline began in the Thatcher years, during which the restructuring of institutions produced a relentless culture of audit, evaluation, and standardization, of funding squeezes, creeping privatization, and unvarnished economism; E.P. Thompson's (1980) nightmare of ‘the business university’ circa 1970, it seems, would mature into a full-blown reality. What is more, adds Gledhill (n.d.), anthropologists, starved of financial support, have also had to deal with ethical encroachments. Of these, the most stark has been the pressure exerted by funding agencies, more or less directly, to do research – on topics like crime, immigration, terrorism, poverty – that might be deployed against vulnerable populations, that serves the interests of government, or that appeal to the private sector. Nor is this merely an ethical issue. It is also ‘intellectually deadly’ (Gusterson 2011: 2). Gusterson points out, perspicaciously, that, under prevailing institutional conditions, few of the great works of modern social anthropology – those of the likes of Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, Leach, or Douglas – are likely to have been possible, being of no demonstrable value to the corporate world or to contemporary UK educational policies, which, notes Richard Fardon (2011: 2), are currently being directed toward science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine, with potentially disastrous effects for the ‘smaller disciplines.’ The result? ‘Neo-liberalized students … over-regulated universities … the worst of times.’

    As this implies, the changing institutional ecology in which British anthropology finds itself is part and parcel of a broader process: the neoliberalization of the political economy of knowledge. We refer here primarily to its epistemic, not its pragmatic, effects, to what present themselves as suitable objects for study, suitable concepts with which to study them, the Weltbild, the world-picture, into which our research interpolates itself.

    Neoliberalization – itself a rather crude, under-specified gloss for the contemporary moment in the history of capital, tout court – has effected major transformations in the lineaments of economy and society, of politics and culture, and, as we have said, of the nation-state. These transformations have occasioned shifts in the ways in which the social sciences perceive, problematize, and portray the world. Summarily stated, there is a strong tendency in the neoliberal Weltanschauung to de-historicize history in favour of presentist contingency, to turn away from most forms of theory work, and to prefer, in producing knowledge, to cleave to the safe shores of empirical accounting – phrased, however tacitly, in one or another form of methodological individualism that ‘explains’ phenomena by arranging them into ensembles of events, actors, and actions, all alike motivated by the material and affective utilities of a hyper-rational Homo economicus; precisely the thing, that is, against which Durkheim wrote his sociology to begin with. This, in part, is why we, in the social sciences, find ourselves debating the utility of our ur-concepts, noun-concepts like society or culture, finding it easier to speak in adjectives (the social, the cultural). In this Weltanshauung, which avoids discursive abstraction even as it renders human life ever more abstract, it is unacceptable to account for quotidian ‘facts’ with reference to invisible forces or larger determinations, de rigueur to treat the surfaces of the observable universe as the outer limit of our analytic horizons, and necessary, in an increasingly anti-intellectual climate, to compromise on complexity in order to be heard at all.

    Put the two things together – the prevailing institutional ecology and the neoliberalization of the political economy of knowledge – and the terrain of contemporary British anthropology becomes more legible. For one thing, its research foci have been affected, evincing a strong turn toward the pragmatics of applied anthropology, the anthropology of development, and the anthropology of public policy (Barth 2005: 56–57; Gledhill n.d.). There has also been a growing concern with topics related to the sciences, like conservation ecology, the environment, ethnobotany, behavioural genetics, human-animal relations, human evolution, new technologies, historical demography, cognition, and medicine; also with topics of broad popular interest, such as new media, aesthetics, civil society, tourism, trauma and conflict, work and unemployment (Kuklick 2008: 76–77). At first glance, this would appear simply as a cynical move to make the discipline more marketable, to make it more appealing to an imagined community of consumers, and to make its brand more sustainable. But many anthropologists have been attracted to these sorts of issues for their intrinsic interest and importance. Moreover, a good deal of conventional ethnographic research continues despite this – or perhaps because of it – to be published in British journals; ‘some influential schools of contemporary anthropology,’ says Adam Kuper (2005: 60), have preferred to ‘[turn] in on themselves, insisting that true anthropology concerns itself with the symbolic behaviour of faraway peoples.’

    But it is not merely by feeling the need to overhaul their subject matter, to address topics of current concern, or to reach out to various publics that British anthropologists have been imbricated in the neoliberal moment. A fair number have been drawn by the critical challenges posed by the effects of that moment, some of them deeply troubling, to broaden their conceptual horizons in order to explore the impact of translocal economic, political, and cultural forces on the lifeworlds of both the global south and, if to a lesser extent, the global north; hence, for example, recent efforts to interrogate the diverse faces of cosmopolitanism,5 thus to make anthropology itself more, well, cosmopolitan. By and large, though, the disciplinary response in the UK to the provocations posed by the history of the present has been to write exquisitely detailed accounts of the coming to ground of planetary processes in different exotic locales: in the more-or-less bounded, intimate lifeworlds that have always been our first object of study, worlds putatively accessible only to ethnography as a hands-on craft. This enterprise often bespeaks an investment in documenting how ‘little peoples’ retain their integrity in the face of the homogenizing effects of globalization; even more, how, heroically, they keep at bay those effects, even turn them to their own ends. Of course, few locales can plausibly be held these days to escape the reach of the Empire of Capital; the founding fiction of a non-capitalist universe of self-reproducing societies – productive as it once was for the theory-work of a rising anthropology – has long been unsustainable. Arguably, however, the implicit refusal to address the historical entailment of those peoples in the global order, or to analyse the larger forces that are reshaping their micro-environments, is itself an effect of the Weltanshauung of neoliberalism – which has a tendency to hide its own inner workings, thereby to render invisible the ways in which they play themselves out in dispersed places on dispersed peoples. In so doing, they reinforce the illusion of the relative autonomy, integrity, and self-determination of those peoples, many of whom seem at least as anxious to claim connection to the global order as disconnection from it.

    But the most fundamental effects of the neoliberal moment on British anthropology, perhaps, are those of which we spoke earlier: the resort to an episteme that tends to de-historicize history; that, in stressing the contingent and the continuous present over the systemic and processes of the long run, confines its descriptive analyses largely to the surface planes of social, cultural, and material life; that, in taming risk, puts much of its faith in the respectable facticity of empiricism; that is sceptical of the value, or even the possibility, of theory, preferring, when necessary, to import it, ready-made, from outside, from such established scholarly sources as British or French sociology. In speaking of this last, of theory-scepticism, Adam Kuper (1983: 202–204) argues that anthropologists in the UK have always tended to opt for the inductive over the deductive, choosing to have ‘little to do with grand theory’ that is unverifiable by ‘observational techniques'; this species of theory, for him, amounts little more than a ‘theological world-view'. Kuper may be stretching a point in respect of the past. It is hardly as if the classic work of earlier generations of anthropologists – from Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown through Evans-Pritchard to Gluckman and Leach – were not grand, deductive, or ‘theological’ in this sense. But his observation does seem to apply in the present. No wonder he (2005: 60) holds that, in the final analysis, contemporary British anthropology takes ‘its own distinctive DNA’ to lie above all in its methodology, in its commitment to ‘thick’ ethnography; this in spite of the fact that, as Fardon notes below, there has always been a discrepancy of scale between our sites of fieldwork and our fields of inquiry, a discrepancy never larger than it is at present. Still, in the neoliberal Weltanschauung, method, the technical means by which specific ends are accomplished, is given a great deal of weight – and not only in anthropology.

    The distinctive approach of British anthropology, Keith Hart (2008) contends, ‘so brilliantly adapted to conditions in the mid-twentieth century’ – to the high era of nationalism, liberalism, and state capitalism – ‘may not serve us well in the next'. One might argue that the British anthropology of the early twenty-first century, as we have sketched it, has already adapted, quite expeditiously, to its historical times, to a ‘post-ideological’ age in which global capitalism has outgrown the nation-state, in which society and polity elude easy conceptual grasp, in which cultural identities trump other forms of difference and belonging, and in which the market appears to drive more or less everything. Has a liberal anthropology given way seamlessly to a neoliberal one?

    This, in turn, raises a yet more fundamental question: Should British anthropology continue to exist as a distinct, empirically oriented, inductive discipline that focuses – in a mobile universe, a universe of inordinately complicated, labile webs of transactions, relations, mediations, and flows – on social phenomena of small, observable scale? Also, Ought we to persist in leaving theory-work to the prophets and the philosophers and a few select sociologists?

    There are good reasons to believe that this would not serve British anthropology well. They turn, once again, on the double sense of disciplinary distinction: on what remains distinctive about our analytical perspective and on what of its accomplishments distinguish themselves in the contemporary political economy of knowledge production. Both are anticipated in what we have already said. Many of the Big Questions in the Age of Now that strike anthropologists as compelling are shared by other disciplines as well. But ours brings a particular perspective to them. Above all, it has, in the past, been more ready than its sibling social sciences to estrange taken-for-granted terms, concepts, and phenomena, asking what they actually mean, wherein lies their phenomenal reality, how they came to be constructed and construed as they have been. Take democracy and development, two common tropes of our times, both of them elements in the globalization of neoliberal governmentality. Political scientists, sociologists, and economists have explored the impact of each, focusing on the conditions under which they ‘take off’ or ‘fail’ and the like. By contrast, anthropology, at its best, begins by interrogating their ontological status as social facts in the world. It asks what these phenomena actually signify to everyone caught up in the processes that occur under their name, what sorts of practices, ideas, schemes, and values they congeal and/or conceal — and how, as we said earlier, they come to ground in different locales, thus to construct lived realities that appear at once similar and yet different across global space and time. In posing these foundational questions from its particular vantage, the discipline situates itself well to speak back critically to Euromodern social theory, its normative ideals, and its conceits.

    To the degree that anthropology has no option any more but to address the effects of social processes of large scale and longer runs, it is likely always to do so by interrogating them ‘from below'. In this regard, as we have intimated, the discipline has long been at the vanguard in analysing how those processes imbricate themselves in, and inflect, the lives of sentient subjects in dispersed places. And how they are apprehended, configured, and deployed, from within vernacular moral and material economies, in terms that are never entirely predictable. In so far as we meet the challenge of plumbing the ways and means by which abstract historical forces take on concrete form in different contexts, anthropologists are especially well placed to show how people ‘make history and society’, space and place, where they succeed in imposing their agency upon the world, and where their efforts to do so are structurally constrained or curtailed; although this last requires that we forsake the naive romance of native resistance to globalization (see above) for a dialectical take on the history of the present. To be sure, ethnographers ought to be able to read, in the encounter between the local and the worlds beyond it – there are, after all, many scales of relevance between the local and the global – what the proportionate effects are of each on the others. And, by extension, make clear how the ideological imperatives of the moment, be it ‘development’ or ‘democratization’ or anything else, may be more or less waylaid by what they confront on the ground; how they may be critically reformulated, both as explanations of past events and as prescriptions for times to come; how, in the upshot, the future is unlikely to consist in a long teleological march toward the End of History. But, to reiterate, if any of this it to be done by we anthropologists, we cannot stand back from taking seriously the interrogation of the larger determinations so evidently at play in and on the social ecologies in which we work, either methodologically or theoretically.

    Methodologically speaking, the way has been prepared by developments in the discipline in recent years. Echoing the earlier innovations of the Manchester school, scholars of translocal phenomena have devised new techniques – multi-sited ethnographies, ethnographies of different dimensions, and ethnographies of peripatetic persons, objects, and signs, for instance, not to mention ethnographies that triangulate the field, the text, and the archive – to lay bare social worlds at once situated and mobile, at once fixed and in flow, at once concrete and immanent. Elsewhere, we have spoken of this as ‘ethnography on an awkward scale’ (Comaroff and Comaroff 2003): ethnography, that is, directed not just at describing contingent events and actions, everyday life and the social personae involved in it, local communities and their signifying practices, but ethnography, predicated on a counterpoint of the deductive and the inductive, designed to capture the processes by which space and time, place and population, distribution and flow congeal into larger social phenomena, taking shape as virtual vectors made visible, just like iron filings on large magnetic fields. The directionality and logic of these processes, like magnetized iron filings, can never be taken, a priori, to be random. Quite the opposite. Ethnography as method demands that we seek out the relationship between the contingent and the constellation, and the incidental and the incidence – all the better to account for hidden determinations and to grasp how they may be made manifest in any locale, whether it be in the concentrations of power and domination, the vectors of vulnerability, or the zones of autonomy that compose the topography of ordinary life.

    Theoretically speaking, the message is clear. Retreat into inductive particularity is insufficient, at once epistemically and ethically. If we are to grasp what it is that constructs and configures the lifeworlds that we study, if we are to make sense of the often troubling social facts that we discern within them, it is necessary to connect the dots, so to speak: to disinter, render visible, and account conceptually for, those larger processes and phenomena, those forces and determinations – and for the manner in which they affect, and are affected by, their encounter with the practices, purposes, moralities, and materialities of different peoples and places. Here, it would serve us well to recover something of the hubris of an earlier anthropological age, to operate with the presumption, unless and until proven otherwise, that it is both possible and necessary to establish systemic relations among the minutiae of the phenomenal world, holistically conceived – and to indulge in inspired guesswork in seeking out, indeed explaining, the connections among them. The content of those classic theories is no longer of salience to us, of course; the limits of their analytic assumptions, for all their heuristic value, ensured their failure. Nor ought we to sustain the faux independence that our disciplinary forefathers claimed from the other human sciences – from which they borrowed liberally anyway. But what we can take from them is a willingness to refashion existing theory, thus to estrange the worlds that we study. And to take peripheral facts and recast them into forms of knowledge of very general salience to the academy at large. If that is theory as theology, it has the advantage at least of rendering anthropology a potentially revelatory critical project.

    To be sure, social anthropology, with its continuing history of unassailable accomplishment, does remain uniquely capable of sustaining itself as just such a critical project. The bolder, we believe, the better. After all, we should surely be wary of ceding the large, complex theoretical questions of our day to the ready reductionism of market rationality, popular scientism, psychologism, emotionalism, or biogenetic determinism., Or, for that matter, to various sorts of postmodern nihilism, or even to philosophy or … theology. In confronting the issues that concern us now, we would do well to recall the enduring relevance of a rich modern heritage: of Durkheim's critique of methodological individualism, Mauss's gift of the ‘total social fact’, Weber's grasp of the complexities of Verstehen, of intersubjective meaning, and of Marx's commitment to denaturalizing surface realities in order to reveal the deep interplay of social, material, and moral forces that give them life. There could hardly be more challenging times, in sum, in which to commit ourselves again to the counter-hegemonic inquiry that has always characterized our endeavour at its most vibrant: to renew, that is, a critical social anthropology that is at once distinctive and distinguished.


    1 The tendency to refer to British anthropology as a ‘tradition’ is not uncommon; see e.g. Kuklick (2008) and Gledhill (n.d.).

    2 Murdoch's point was underscored by Ernest Gellner (1970: 22f), who, from within the British social sciences, pointed out that there was no difference between the ways in which anthropologists and sociologists deployed their key concepts.

    3 Spencer (2000: 20) is less sure of the future. Current conditions, he says, are making it difficult to sustain this community of practice; they could lead to the ‘end of British social anthropology as we have known it.’

    4 Cf. also Kuklick (2008: 77). ‘British anthropology,’ she says, ‘has distinctive features, if only because it is practiced within distinctive institutional structures.’

    5 In 2006, the Association of Social Anthropologists convened a conference on Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology, see, accessed 22 February 2011, some of the papers from which were published in Werbner (2007).

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