Cameron Brinitzer

University of Pennsylvania, History & Sociology of Science

The Savage Within

Kuklick, Henrika. The Savage Within: The Social History of British Anthropology, 1885-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Synopsis

Henrika Kuklick’s The Savage Within: The Social History of British Anthropology, 1885-1945 charts the professionalization and academic institutionalization of British anthropology across three “stages,” “generations,” or “schools”—evolutionist, diffusionist, and functionalist—by reading anthropological texts as cultural products which illuminate changes in British political mores and social life. Kuklick claims that “whatever their views on technical problems, anthropologists [of each generation] were, above all, creatures of their historical moments” (250). Taking anthropologists’ “analyses of remote societies” as “vehicles for projective fantasy” (244), and “interpretive differences” among each school as “products of observers’ social circumstances” (3), Kuklick evaluates the “significance of anthropological ideas on the basis of their social consequences” (242) in order to “contextualize anthropology within the national culture” of Britain (278). Thus, she explains evolutionist theories of linear historical progression in terms of their ability to justify educational reforms at home and colonial rule abroad, as well as the growing popularity of meritocratic ideals among the British middle-class. She explains diffusionist contentions that cultural variation was a product of differences in social organization, as opposed to unequal natural endowments of humans, by reference to World War I and a concomitant sense among the British that “individuals’ fortunes could be altered by the circumstances in which they were placed” (181). Finally, she explains functionalists’ “triumph” during the interwar years as a result of their successful appeals for patronage, hinging on claims about the superiority of professional fieldwork and anthropological expertise relative to the practices of rural colonial administrators. 

Continue reading

Special Focus: Canguilhem’s Milieu Today

Canguilhem’s historical epistemology continues to inspire historians and anthropologists to attend to how current and former human practices of science shape our conceptualizations and engagement with natural and experimental environments, non-human beings, and human life. Now, with the publication of a translation of La connaissance de la vie ([1965] 2008), which contains many of Canguilhem’s key works, “The Living and Milieu” speaks with new urgency.[ In the spirit of the History of Anthropology Newsletter’s call for multidisciplinary exploration of novel topographies for the history of anthropology, this Special Focus Section gathers five insightful considerations of reversals and collapses in relations between organism and environment for the history of human and life sciences since their seminal characterization in “The Living and Its Milieu.

Click here to read the full focus section

Editors’ Introduction: As Adventurous as Life

Amidst ongoing shifts to our environments and biologies, the traditional anthropological and biological objects—human being and life, anthropos and bios—are today twined together in unprecedented ways. Witness the bourgeoning interest from bioscientists in cultural and human affairs, and the even longer standing interest from anthropologists in things biological, as former disciplinary norms are upended and new relations, forms, and understandings of life emerge.

Continue reading