Posts Tagged ‘talal asad’

anthropology – a changing discipline

One of the goals of this project is for me to develop an understanding, and a proper answer to, the question “what is anthropology?”.  In my program, anthropology takes on numerous positions/meanings/purposes. I’m not ready to answer the question definitively, and instead I’ll try to “inform the question”.

What is anthropology?

Talal Asad discusses the way anthropology is a relatively new discipline, and that it has constantly been undergoing change. He writes:

“When Evans-Pritchard published his well-known Introduction to Social Anthropology in 1951, it seemed reasonably clear what the subject was about. “The social anthropologist”, he explained, “studies primitive societies directly, living among them for months or years, whereas sociological research is usually from documents and largely statistical. The social anthropologist studies societies as wholes – he studies their oecologies, their economics, their legal and political institutions, their family and kinship organizations, their religions, their technologies, their arts, etc. as parts of general social systems.” The doctrines and approaches that went by the name of functionalism thus gave social anthropology an assured and coherent style.

Today by contrast even this coherence of style is absent. The anthropologist is now someone who studies societies both ‘simple’ and ‘complex'; resorts to participant observation, statistical techniques, historical archives and other literary sources; finds himself intellectually closer to economists or political scientists or psycho-analysts or structural linguistics or animal behaviorists than he does to other anthropologists.”   (Asad 1973:10)

A straight answer? Not really, but it gives us a good idea what kind of specialization has occurred in the discipline. The differences in interests and methods create a confusing picture for future collaboration and ‘disciplinaryness’.

Many many more Asad quotes to come in the next few weeks… As well as more on how anthropology is taking what it’s learned online, aka, how this research is an “anthropology” project.


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