Graduate Calendar: ANTH601 World Anthropologies

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“This course explores the roots of anthropological theory in Western culture and the decolonization of anthropology since the 1960s.”

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“‘Dominant anthropologies’ are usually located in a relation of dominance or even hegemony with ‘other anthropologies and anthropology otherwise’. ‘Dominant anthropologies’ operate like normalizing machines that preclude the enablement of different anthropological practices and knowledge worldwide. To the extent that ‘dominant anthropologies’ operate from a paradigmatic and privileged epistemological position, they constitute apparatuses of erasure of difference and effect a given inscription of difference in the name of anthropological canons.” (Restrepo & Escobar 2005, p.104)

World Anthropologies Network (WAN) (http://www.ram-wan.net) is a contemporary collective of international anthropologists who recognize Anglo-Saxon (and to a similar if lesser extent continental French) anthropological theory, thought and practice as stifling and silencing other ways of knowing, doing and living anthropology. The task of this project since the mid-1990s has been to lay out foundational arguments for pluralizing and diversifying what ‘we’ understand to be disciplinary knowledge. The Network as it has expressed itself thus far has consolidated three main approaches: 1) to examine how knowledge – by which it is meant a changing set of Western principles and practices – is transmitted and received around the world; 2) to highlight, recognize and historicize the plurality of anthropologies which operate in distinction from the dominant mode of, so called, ‘metropolitan hegemonies’; and 3) to initiate new dialogues, conversations and activities between anthropologists across inter/national, regional and disciplinary boundaries in order to unravel and disempower the dominance of Western anthropological discourse (Ribeiro 2006). Whilst the Network is itself a product of recent critical debate, one of our responsibilities in this class will be to learn and engage with how the issues it raises has antecedence. In the 1970s the argument put forward by the respected Muslim scholar Akbar Ahmed for an Islamic Anthropology based on Islamic universalism (as opposed to Western eurocentrism), for example, mirrors, in principle, the Network’s central concern for ‘doing anthropology otherwise’. Further back still we can look at the philosophical writings of the eminent biologist Imanishi Kenji in 1930s Japan, who whilst not a social anthropologist by any means, constructed an alternative argument to Darwinian evolution based on ideas of unity instead of diversity and competition which rethink and re-orientate the way in which (Japanese) anthropologists can look at history, society and culture.

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The primary task in this course will be to discuss, reflect on and think with these “cosmopolitics” of anthropology (Ribeiro 2006) in order to better situate ourselves as anthropologists within a globalized discipline. At first, we will remind ourselves of the postcolonial critique of anthropological theory and practice but will aim to move quickly beyond the (postmodern) legacy which effectively negates the possibility of doing anthropology. We will embark instead on thinking about what it means to do ‘anthropology otherwise’ through engagement with the world anthropologies literature (loosely defined) and ask questions of the normalized approaches to anthropology and models of epistemology that we, in the West, reproduce in our work. What possibilities are there for rethinking our basic assumptions of culture, society, knowledge and life? What role do issues of power and rationality play in this debate? Is this discussion just another or a more definitive re-examination of anthropological practices? To what extent does it promise long-lasting transformation? How, in other words, can it be applied? Ultimately, you will be faced with the question of what it means to do ‘anthropology otherwise’ by writing up a manifesto based on debates within your own research fields.

REFERENCES:

Restrepo, Eduardo and Arturo Escobar. 2005. Other Anthropologies and Anthropology Otherwise’: Steps to a World Anthropologies Framework. Critique of Anthropology 25(2): 99–129.

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Ribeiro, Gustavo Lins. 2006. World Anthropologies: Cosmopolitics for a New Global Scenario in Anthropology. Critique of Anthropology 26(4): 363-386.