Regna Darnell and Frederic W. Gleach (Editors). Anthropologists and Their Traditions Across National Borders. Histories of Anthropology Annual Series 8. 296 pp., 8 photos, 1 illus. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. $40 (paper), $40 (eBook)
This volume’s title gives a good sense of its contents; it includes articles on the American, British, and French traditions of anthropology. An equally valid title might suggest another construal for this volume, for the diversity of historiographical approaches by the various authors is equally striking. The range of genres gives a good sense of current approaches to the history of anthropology.
Two engaging articles give detailed accounts of particular episodes. Geoffrey Gray and Doug Munro’s “‘The Department Was in Some Disarray’: The Politics of Choosing a Successor to S. F. Nadel, 1957” is a detailed case study of the complicated process at the Australian National University leading to the appointment of J.A. Barnes. It touches on the role of Derek Freeman well before he published his controversial critique of Margaret Mead. Lindy-Lou Flynn supplies an account of her experience as a student in the 1980s of Kenelm Burridge and Robin Ridington at the University of British Columbia in her “Anthropologists as Perpetrators and Perpetuators of Oral Tradition.”
A quite different approach to the history of anthropology is a complex theoretical piece by Lars Rodseth that uses the work of Marshall Sahlins to explicate the concept of event, too much neglected in comparison to notions such as structure and culture. Rodseth applies the account he develops to two events: the Mountain Meadows attack by Mormons in Utah in 1857 and the anti-Reconstruction Colfax riot in 1873 in Louisiana. This is a stimulating piece that challenges us to expand anthropology and its history in a more philosophical direction by seeing events comparatively, not just narratively.
A majority of the chapters focus on well-known individuals, with the twist however that several describe less well-known events or possibilities in the first half of the twentieth century. Tracking some of the difficulties anthropologists had in obtaining institutional support and security raises questions of contingency about how the discipline might have developed differently if there had been more positions and funding support available in the early years.
Laurel Kendall makes this contingency explicit in her apt title: “‘China to the Anthropologist’: Franz Boas, Berthold Laufer, and a Road Not Taken in Early American Anthropology.” She shows that Boas had sought a greater reach for his program in the years 1901-1904 than in fact what came to fruition. Boas, who had secured its funding, had high hopes for Laufer’s expedition, which could have expanded the Boasian focus to include “the study of complex state societies” (30). Though he went on to a distinguished career as a Sinologist, Laufer and his expedition were nonetheless a serious disappointment to Boas.
Mark Lamont describes his essay “Malinowski and the ‘Native Question’” as a polemic, but he does not fully establish what his target is. He places Malinowski and his functionalist theoretical approach in the context of Malinowski’s difficult search for foundation support, his travels to southern Africa and to America in the 1920s and 30s, and issues of governance over colonial direct or indirect rule in that period. How all these elements relate is well worth further development.
In “Radcliffe-Brown and ‘Applied Anthropology’ at Cape Town and Sydney” Ian Campbell describes the frustrating obstacles Radcliffe-Brown faced in his career at these two universities (1921-1931). He shows that Radcliffe-Brown made serious efforts to establish courses for “magistrates, missionaries, and administrators” (130), and that his reasons for moving on were to a great extent due to the lack of continuing government and foundation support. This is a welcome corrective to critiques of Radcliffe-Brown as an “restless egotist” (112).
In “A. M. Hocart: Reflections on a Master Ethnologist and His Work,” Charles D. Laughlin advocates vigorously, and I found persuasively, for the value of Hocart’s work. Despite a series of distinguished books, since Hocart held a university post for only a few years before his early death he had less influence than he might well have had. Together the chapters by Laughlin, Campbell, and Lamont shed light on the intricate disciplinary relations between the metropole and the periphery in the first half of the twentieth century. Perhaps they will provide some consolation for those scholars who currently face difficulties gaining fellowships or grant support, or in finding a secure university home. Our ancestors suffered much, yet we still remember them.
Moving to a different national tradition, Claude Lévi-Strauss merits three pieces; as the editors suggest, they can be taken as complementary. Regna Darnell’s “An Elegy for a Structuralist Legacy: Lévi-Strauss, Cultural Relativism, and the Universal Capacities of the Human Mind” is as much about Boas as it is Lévi-Strauss, and about important similarities in their thinking. After tracing the reception of structuralism in both Canada and the United States, she ends by strikingly suggesting that “neither Boas nor Lévi-Strauss considered language to be theoretically interesting” and that neither were interested in pursuing developments in neuropsychology and cognitive science as well (180-81).
In “Lévi-Strauss’s Approach to Systems of Classification: Categories in Northwest Coast Cultures” Abraham Rosman and Paula Rubel also connect Lévi-Strauss to Boas. They offer a detailed structuralist account of the taxonomy of Northwest Coast art, animal classification, seasonal ceremonies, and marriage strictures.
Michael Asch, in “Lévi-Strauss on Theoretical Thought and Universal History” rather overstates his case. Asch does show that, contrary to criticisms, Lévi-Strauss did sketch a number of places where his work could connect in important ways to issues of “history and human agency” (193). But that is not enough to show that Lévi-Strauss went farther and actually made “important contributions to the study of those.” Opening a door is not the same as going through it.
All three of these articles on Lévi-Strauss also touch on the knotty relationship between conscious native thought—“the native point of view”—and what an anthropologist articulates about native thinking in her theorizing. Darnell points out that both of the anthropologists she focuses on agreed in giving native people credit for abstract thought; they also thought that native “conscious thought might involve what [Lévi-Strauss] called ‘false consciousness’ and what [Boas] eschewed as ‘secondary rationalization’”(176, also see 183 for discussion by Rosman and Rubel, and 194 for discussion by Asch).
The book closes with reviews of The French Colonial Mind, volumes 1 and 2, both edited by Martin Thomas, and Telling It to the Judge: Taking Native History to Court by the Canadian historian Arthur J. Ray. Reviews are an occasional section in the Annuals, but perhaps they could be tied into the theme explicitly.
Besides the wealth of historical information in Anthropologists and Their Traditions Across National Borders, the range of approaches taken by the authors included is a great strength of this annual. Articles that cover a greater range of traditions—German or Dutch, for example—or ones that set the history of anthropology in a broader social context would have been welcome. An area worth more attention would be the development of anthropological methodology, such as changes in views of what counts as adequate evidence for a generalization or theory. But as it stands, this volume is a very welcome addition.