2020 (page 1 of 3)

Webinar: The Case for Letting Anthropology Burn? Race, Racism, and Its Reckoning in American Anthropology

The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research will host a webinar on September 23rd at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 PM EST on “The Case for Letting Anthropology Burn? Race, Racism, and Its Reckoning in American Anthropology,” sponsored by the UCLA Department of Anthropology Race, Racism, Policing and State Violence Committee, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

To register for this event click here.

Moderators: Kamari M. Clarke & Deborah Thomas

Introduction by Danilyn Rutherford, President, Wenner-Gren Foundation

Lucia Cantero, Assistant Professor of International Studies, University of San Francisco

Ryan Jobson, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Chicago

Chris Loperena, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center

Jonathan Rosa, Associate Professor of Education, Stanford University

Savannah Shange, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Zoe Todd, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Carleton University

Tripod: Performance, Media, Cybernetics by Jennifer Cool

A New Way of “Staging” the History of Anthropology

Jennifer Cool, Assistant Professor (Teaching) of Anthropology at the University of Southern California, is both a social anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that she has spent the past few years experimenting with staged performances and film in an attempt to draw out what she has described as “the performative entanglements of media.”[1]

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Boas in the Age of BLM and Idle No More: Re-Evaluating the Boasian Legacy

This extended review is a collaboration between the Reviews and Field Notes sections of HAR.

Regna Darnell, Michelle Hamilton, Robert L. A. Hancock, and Joshua Smith (editors). The Franz Boas Papers, Volume 1: Franz Boas as Public Intellectual—Theory, Ethnography, Activism. 408 pp., 18 illus., index. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

William Y. Adams. The Boasians: Founding Fathers and Mothers of American Anthropology. 356 pp., 10 illus., bibl. Lanham, MD: Hamilton, 2016.

Ned Blackhawk and Isaiah Lorado Wilner (editors). Indigenous Visions: Rediscovering the World of Franz Boas. 416 pp., 28 illus., index. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018.

Anthropologists and historians of anthropology readily acknowledge the role played by European empires in the making of the discipline. Although practitioners occasionally challenged existing power structures, they more frequently worked to inform and justify the dispossession, marginalization, murder, and enslavement of Indigenous and colonized peoples. These processes culminated in the Social Darwinist evolutionism of the Victorian period, which lent prevailing racial hierarchies a patina of scientific authority. This began to shift in the early twentieth century, when, amid a welter of social and cultural upheavals in Western society, anthropology’s imperial foundations appeared ripe for reconsideration. In America, the foremost proponent of these changes was the Jewish German-American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942). Traditional disciplinary histories point especially to Boas’s pivotal rejection of evolutionary anthropological approaches in favor of viewing cultures as integrated wholes, apprehensible solely within the contexts in which they are produced and maintained. These protocols were disseminated broadly, with Boas’s students founding university anthropology departments throughout the United States. On these grounds, Boas is frequently celebrated as “a major turning point from the evolution and racism of the nineteenth century to the historical particularism and cultural relativism of the twentieth century.”[1]

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Introducing the History of Anthropology Reading Group, in collaboration with the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

The editorial collective at the History of Anthropology Review (HAR) is pleased to announce the launch of a new reading group, hosted in collaboration with the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (CHSTM). The “History of Anthropology Working Group” will allow anyone interested in the history of anthropology to take part in monthly discussions about topics of vital interest to the field. We warmly invite all HAR readers to join us for these online conversations. This year, spurred by Black Lives Matter protests, the reading group’s focus will be anthropology’s relationships to (and studies of) racism, racial science, white supremacy, anti-racism, and policing.

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Conference: “Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future,” September 14-18, 2020

“The Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future” conference is jointly organized by the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Royal Geographical Society, the British Academy, the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS, and the BM’s Department for Africa, Oceania and the Americas. The conference was originally planned as a face to face conference to be held in June 2020, but it will now be an online conference to be held 14-18 September 2020.

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New release from BEROSE – Tambascia on Nimuendajú

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology. This paper, in Portuguese, discusses notable Brazilian anthropologist Curt Nimuendajú. Its English title says it all: “‘I don’t know how to make a living’: the backstage of Curt Nimuendajú’s ethnography”.

Tambascia, Christiano Key, 2020. “‘Não sei como hei de viver’: osbastidores da etnografia de Curt Nimuendajú”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

Nimuendajú occupies an exceptional, legendary place in the history of Brazilian anthropology. He exerted a lasting fascination for Americanist anthropologists who recognized him as a great ethnographer. His unconditional defense of Indigenous peoples and his criticism of Brazilian Indigenous politics contributed to building the figure of a romantic ethnologist entirely devoted to his profession. Through a meticulous ethnography of the archives, Cristiano Tambascia takes us through the looking glass and helps us understand the making of this reputation and the many difficulties that littered the life and ethnographic practice of Nimuendajú, who lived in material and institutional precariousness, heightened by an uncompromising professional ethic.

‘Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology’ by Peter Hempenstall

Peter HempenstallTruth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology. xiv +321pp., 17 illus., 2 maps, bibl., index. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

Peter Hempenstall’s Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology offers a fresh and thoroughly researched biography of the controversial anthropologist Derek Freeman. The book is built around Freeman’s infamous criticism of Margaret Mead’s first book, Coming of Age in Samoa, and the ensuing acrimony within the discipline. An admirer of Mead’s work, Freeman travelled to Samoa to do his own research, attempting in the process to find Mead’s original informants and reproduce her research on adolescent sexuality. In the early 1980s, he began to argue that her conclusions on adolescence were mistaken, and that she had been hoaxed by mischievous young informants. Attacking Freeman, Mead, and one another, anthropologists around the world took sides that reproduced a kind of nature-nurture debate on human development and teenaged identity crises with supporters of Mead on the side of nurture and those backing Freeman on the side of nature. The furor did not subside until after Freeman’s death in 2001. This dispute, still a sensitive subject for many anthropologists, acts as Hempenstall’s focal point, but Truth’s Fool goes well beyond it. In fact, in the beginning, Hempenstall advises his readers to remember that “the Mead thing” (7) is only one particular way of understanding Freeman’s life and work. I recommend this book as a compelling story for anyone interested in the history of anthropology as a discipline, as well as those trying to grasp the fallout of Freeman’s work and the heated response to it. As an outsider to anthropology but an insider to Australian academia, Hempenstall gives us a new perspective into this period of anthropological debate.

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New release from BEROSE – Goetzmann on Henry Sumner Maine

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology. This article, in French, discusses one of the founding fathers of anthropology in the nineteenth century, the jurist-anthropologist of the British Raj, Sir Henry Sumner Maine.

Goetzmann, Marc, 2020. “Le juriste anthropologue du British Raj. Sir Henry Sumner Maine et son oeuvre”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

British Victorian jurist Henry Maine was one of the founding fathers of anthropology, and legal anthropology in particular. He is best known for Ancient Law (1861) and its famous thesis on the transition from status to contract in Indo-European societies. For seven years, beginning in 1862, Maine was legal adviser to the Council of the Governor General of India. He was interested in the dynamics between law and social change and the functioning of customary law in Indian village communities. His writings fostered the development of field investigations in India from the 1870-1880s and onwards. He is regarded as one of the main inspirations for the policy of indirect rule in the British Empire. His ideas were to be successful among Indian nationalists wishing to preserve Indian institutions, primarily village communities. As a professor of law at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he was also the author of Village Communities in East and West (1871), Lectures on the Early History of Institutions (1875), and Dissertations on Early Law and Custom (1883).

Latest Additions to the Bibliography, August 2020

This page displays our most recent batch of citations; a comprehensive bibliography of citations we’ve collected since 2016 (going back as far as 2013) and a search tool are also available.

We welcome suggestions from readers. If you come across something of interest during your own fieldwork in the library, whether that be physical or virtual, please let us know by emailing us at bibliographies@histanthro.org.

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American Philosophical Society Indigenous Studies Seminar, 2020-2021

The Indigenous Studies Seminar at the American Philosophical Society’s Library & Museum provides a forum for works-in-progress that explore topics in Native American and Indigenous Studies and related fields. Inspired by the work of the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR) at the APS, we are particularly interested in work by Indigenous scholars and projects that highlight community-engaged scholarship, use of archival and museum collections in research, teaching, and learning, Indigenous research methodologies, language revitalization, place-based teaching and learning, and related topics.

We welcome proposals from individuals working in a broad range of academic fields and community settings, and are particularly interested in interdisciplinary approaches. The seminar is open to graduate students, faculty members, and independent scholars, whether campus- or community-based. To maximize time for discussion, papers are circulated electronically in advance. The seminar meets once a month on Fridays from 3-5pm EST from October through May. All meetings in 2020-2021 will be held on Zoom.

Any questions should be directed to the coordinators of the seminar, Kyle Roberts (kroberts@amphilsoc.org) and Adrianna Link (alink@amphilsoc.org) at the APS.

To submit a proposal, please email a one-page proposal, a brief statement (2-3 sentences) explaining how this paper relates to your other work, and a brief CV by August 21, 2020 to kroberts@amphilsoc.org and alink@amphilsoc.org.

Conferences as Ecologies of Ideas: Epistemic Cultures of the Association for Social Anthropology of Oceania

A considerable portion of scholarly life is bound up with meetings of various kinds. For those located within academic institutions, office hours, departmental meetings, and university committees play a range of roles in the ebb and flow of day-to-day activities and the career trajectories of Homo Academicus (Bourdieu 1988; Wacquant 1989). Of particular significance for academic disciplines are conferences that bring scholars from multiple institutions together for the purpose of sharing knowledge and exploring new directions in methodologies and the interpretation of salient ideas.

In this essay, we query the role that conference procedures play in shaping the vitality and trajectory of ideas within the discipline of anthropology through an examination of the history of the annual meetings of the Association for Social Anthropology of Oceania (ASAO). The particularities of this meeting, we argue, coalesced over time as a curiously successful model of governance, organization, and ethos for nurturing new ideas and approaches. By “ideas,” we refer to the conceptualization of issues, the kinds of data that are considered appropriate for addressing them, the language in which they are couched, their theoretical implications, and the methodological interventions necessary to pursue them. Our concern is with how different organizational contexts affect the processing of ideas among members of a discipline in conference settings, what we call the “ecology of ideas” within a particular epistemic culture.

In the opening lines of her influential work Epistemic Cultures, Karin Knorr Cetina offers a working definition of epistemic cultures: “those amalgams of arrangements and mechanisms—bonded through affinity, necessity, and historical coincidence—which, in a given field, make up how we know what we know. Epistemic cultures are cultures that create and warrant knowledge” (1999:1). The epistemic communities constituted by anthropology can be identified as maintaining a “richly textured internal environment and culture” (Knorr Cetina 1991, 120). We are particularly interested in the long-term dynamics of scholarly conferences as they are material institutions that reproduce themselves over time and exert some degree of agency over the social and intellectual lives of participants (Hughes 1936; Parsons 1990). We also recognize that conferences often have the quality of obligatory celebrations of a discipline’s raison d’ȇtre, while implicitly or explicitly reaffirming the particular forms of their governance. As such, we offer this study of the work of the ASAO as a model for the potential of academic conferences to nurture epistemic communities.

The Role of Conferences in the Production of Knowledge

Just about every professional organization and academic discipline holds conferences at regular intervals for the avowed purpose of sharing information and ideas in face-to-face venues. Finding out what’s new in one’s field of interest, socializing and networking, enhancing possibilities for publication, and establishing evidence of national or international reach may be significant for tenure and promotion, and other benefits are readily identified (Morse 2008).

Other scholars, meanwhile, are more critical. For instance, Canadian anthropologist Philip Carl Salzman opines that

“the vast multitude of anthropological conferences, congresses, articles, monographs, and collections, while adding up to mountains of paper . . . do not seem to add up to a substantial, integrated, coherent body of knowledge that could provide a base for the further advancement of the discipline.”

(Salzman quoted in Borofsky 2019:45; cf. Borofsky 1994)

In contrast to Salzman, we are less dismissive of conferences and suggest that constructive disciplinary work plays out through the longue durée of conference participation. Annual conferences of professional organizations clearly perform important work for their disciplines, including (1) establishing specific epistemic communities; (2) maintaining and reproducing those communities over time; (3) establishing normative epistemic, methodological, ontological, and ethical commitments and practices within those communities, which develop over time; and (4) acting as an ecological setting in which specific disciplinary/epistemic community-producing ideas emerge, persist, are transformed, or perish.

Strikingly, for all the professional attention given to conferences, there is relatively little research regarding the nature of conferences as social and cultural institutions for sharing knowledge, including the ways they are structured, their cultural environments, and how these characteristics affect the social and historical lives of ideas within scholarly communities. Thinking of Judith Mair’s 2013 challenge to move toward issues of knowledge production and circulation, we are concerned here with what we are calling “the ecology of ideas” constituted by annual meetings of specific professional organizations.

We write in the wake of a multiyear project on the history of one association with which we have been intimately involved, the Association for Social Anthropology of Oceania (ASAO).[1]  We have identified a number of significant points that affected, and continue to affect, the meetings’ distinctive cultural environment for the processing of information and ideas.[2]  These include the organization’s founding charter, which favored a comparative framework that prioritized the processing of ethnographic data rather than abstract theorization. The resultant framework encouraged collegial engagement in pursuit of common goals and governance. Our work on ASAO’s history has convinced us that the degree of governance hierarchy is highly significant for either facilitating or inhibiting the agency of a discipline’s members to shape its intellectual agenda, and that the degree of organizational hierarchy is a primary driver for the social and historical life of an ecology of ideas as cultivated within an association through its meetings over time.

A Brief History of the Birth and Constitutional Development of ASAO

The idea for an anthropological organization that would take advantage of opportunities presented by the Pacific Islands for comparative research was the brainchild of Vern Carroll, a student of David Schneider’s at the University of Chicago. Carroll had done extensive fieldwork on Nukuoro Atoll, a Polynesian outlier in Micronesia, and was enamored with the possibilities for controlled comparison within Polynesia and Micronesia. The idea for such research, and publications based on it, had precedents in British social anthropology and Marshall Sahlins’s publication of Social Stratification in Polynesia (1958).

To initiate his vision, Carroll, in conjunction with Roger Keesing, organized a “symposium” in 1967 at Keesing’s home institution, the University of California–Santa Cruz. The sole topic of the meeting was adoption in Eastern Pacific societies (Island Melanesia was included as a concession to Keesing, who contributed a paper on adoption among the Kwaio in Malaita, Solomon Islands).[3] 

Discussions at the Santa Cruz symposium led Carroll to propose the formation of an Association for Social Anthropology in Eastern Oceania (ASAEO). In its initial newsletter (May 15, 1967), he provided the rationale for the organization.[4] “One major conclusion reached at the symposium,” he noted,

“was that the intensification of modern social anthropology research in the Pacific has not so far been sufficiently systematic: we have gone out as individuals or in small team projects, largely out of touch with our colleagues, and have pursued diverse research interests and published the results in scattered bits and pieces. Organized comparative studies like those on politics and kinship that brought African social anthropology into focus have so far been lacking.”

In response, this association was formed “as a means of organizing research, disseminating information, and arranging recurring symposia on topics in Oceanic social anthropology” (ASAEO Newsletter 1:1).

A few years later, in a newsletter published just prior to the first annual meeting of the organization, which had by then assumed its current name (ASAO),[5] the organizers commented on the implications of the word “social” in the association’s title, specifying that “We are an organization of ethnographers with regional comparative interests.” Further, in the same newsletter, when considering,

“What sort of ‘Annual Meeting’ does ASAO hold?” the response indicated, “There will be a limited number of symposia…. Discussions at these symposia will center around previously circulated position papers and will represent one stage of monograph preparation”

(ASAO Newsletter 9:6, 8 [Winter 1972]).

The first official annual meeting of ASAO was held from March 29 to April 1, 1972, at Rosario’s Resort-Hotel on Orcas Island in the San Juan Group in Washington State, and attended by some fifty anthropologists.[6] In addition to the three symposia, informal discussions were held in the evenings on four additional topics (ASAO Newsletter 10:10 [Spring 1972]). The following year’s meeting included two symposia, two “working sessions,” and an informal evening “discussion session” concerning indigenous reactions to anthropological research (ASAO Newsletter 12:1–5 [Spring 1973]). A stocktaking of those first two ASAO meetings resulted in a restructuring of the conference format for the 1974 meeting in order to reduce scheduling conflicts and build in time for symposium contributors “to work out formatting of their symposium volumes.” The solution was to propose the three classes of sessions: symposia, working sessions, and informal sessions (ASAO Newsletter 12:11–12 [Spring 1973]).

The emergence of the three types of session co-occurred with the start of what became ASAO’s iconic “three-year cycle” of developmental sessions. This development of topical sessions and ideas was very much about “learning to talk to one another” over multiyear conversations according to early and longtime ASAO member Michael Lieber (personal communication, March 2015). Although Carroll later expressed misgivings about the new structure (ASAO Newsletter 50:2–3 [Spring 1984]), the evolution of session formats can be seen as the result of his initial organizational scheme, which placed power in the hands of session organizers. Topics were not selected by the ASAO Board of Directors or officers; rather, it was very much a grassroots matter of someone with a keen interest in a topic proposing a session and taking responsibility for guiding the development of the “long conversation,” as another early and longtime member, David Counts, called the three-year cycle (personal communication, December 2015).

It is useful to contrast ASAO’s conference format with more traditional conference cultural environments and governance structures such as that of the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). While the governing structures of both the ASAO and AAA are clearly efficacious in producing meetings that have attracted participants and audiences over decades, their governance has important implications for the epistemic communities that they produce, reproduce, and maintain, and how they organize and nurture particular ecologies of ideas.

The Ecology of Ideas

We suggest that examining ASAO meetings in terms of constructivist and second-order cybernetic perspectives helps underscore the most successful aspects of the meetings in terms of cultivating a diversified and vibrant ecology of ideas.[7] Both of these perspectives adhere to an epistemological premise that scientific knowledge is constructed by communities of scientists as a result of discussion, negotiation, and contestation in the production of knowledge and in its circulation via peer reviewed literature (Latour 1987). In the social sciences, constructivism as an epistemology urges researchers to reflect on the paradigms underpinning their research and to be open to considering multiple ways of interpreting research results. The focus should be on presenting results as negotiable constructs rather than as models that aim to represent social realities more or less accurately (Rouse 1993; Galison and Stump 1996).

Ben Sweeting and Michael Hohl (2015) have critiqued the format of conferences such as AAA’s from a constructivist perspective in some detail. They observe that although the traditional format for conferences, established by the Royal Society of London in the 1600s, involved the reading of papers accompanied by active participation and an exchange of knowledge, contemporary conferences have become much more passive. As they point out, the traditional paper presentation model offers some benefits, such as predictability, which facilitates advanced planning, and the possibility for young scholars to introduce themselves by presenting research relatively quickly. However, drawing on the criticisms of second-order cyberneticians and constructivists such as Ranulph Glanville (2011) and Gordon Pask (1979), they summarize the many practical shortcomings of traditional conference design, including the minimization and formalization of conversation, the impossibility for sustained cross-conference discussion due to parallel sessions, and structures that make conferences and proceedings spaces to present finalized research and results rather than true works in progress (Sweeting and Hohl 2015:2).

They go on to consider how a constructivist approach highlights the role of conferences as “an active part of research” and ask the following:

“How might, for instance, we compose a conference in such a way that, in turn, it helps us in composing new ideas and research questions rather than in passively reporting on and listening to the results of research already conducted?”

(Sweeting and Hohl 2015:3)

What can we make of the implications of constructivism and second-order cybernetics for understanding the dynamic outcomes of particular conference cultures like ASAO? To begin with, one might question whether the ASAO format, as a result of its more egalitarian structure, allows for greater flexibility in the processing of ideas. Indeed, some have questioned whether its normative three-year cycle may actually be too rigid for productive discussions to take place. But our work on the history of ASAO sessions in fact makes it clear that the “ideal” three-year cycle is far from a realized outcome, accounting for only 19 percent of the outcomes of initial informal sessions between 1973 and 2015. The actual sequencing of sessions is much more fluid and suggestive of an intellectual dynamic resulting in multiple outcomes, depending on where participants take discussions.

ASAO meetings thus do seem to distinctly resonate with Sweeting and Hohl’s constructivist suggestions towards improving conference environments with respect to the processing of ideas. In other words, by eschewing a top-down prescriptive formula, allowing the process to be driven by session participants themselves as they pursue common interests, ASAO meetings may work to front significant moments of exchange, multiply opportunities for feedback loops to recur within and across meeting years, focalize and amplify individual entanglement in collective scholarly work, and promote learning and exploring in contrast to scholarly reportage.

The different session levels facilitate different types of discourse, with informal sessions providing a venue for a wide variety of theoretical viewpoints and forms of field data, while working sessions require sufficient field data to prepare draft papers, and symposia require a greater degree of cohesive ethnographic comparisons if they are to result in publishable outcomes. ASAO session participants regularly decide it is necessary to repeat session levels to gain the degree of consensus or focus required to move up a level—hence our finding that informal and working sessions often are repeated before going on to the next level (Mawyer and Howard forthcoming).

Another dynamic of the ASAO conferences as a particular ecology of ideas can be identified in the way that many of our own publications would never have occurred had not someone suggested a topic we had not thought about, but realizing that we had excellent ethnographic data on the topic in our fieldnotes, we joined the conversation and proceeded to develop an article or book chapter.

It is also noteworthy that many topics are abandoned following informal or working sessions, and that many symposia do not result in publications. This should not be regarded in any sense as symptomatic of failure, but rather as ASAO providing a venue that allows for ideas to be explored without restriction, and to sort out those that lend themselves to fruitful comparison from those that do not, thus serving ASAO’s foundational principle of facilitating controlled comparison, while motivating a continuity of particularly fruitful discourses that often takes issues of concern in new directions.


In conclusion, while we find the constructivist and cybernetic critiques of standard academic conferences such as those of the AAA quite compelling insofar as they point up the problematic nature of their formats vis-à-vis the production and evolution of new knowledge, it would be far from our intention to denigrate the value of such annual meetings. Rather, our analysis aims at drawing attention to the significance of hierarchy, among other dynamics in the constitution, governance, and norms of an association, for setting the environmental grounds in which particular ecologies of ideas flourish. Whereas large associations such as AAA may require hierarchy to maintain a semblance of order at conferences, smaller associations such as ASAO are able to thrive by reinforcing an egalitarian collegiality conducive to unfettered discussion.

Nevertheless, we do not think expressions of dissatisfaction with AAA conferences among a limited number of alienated or disaffected participants should be dismissed as inconsequential. Rather, they can be viewed as symptoms of a more significant dynamic—that the particular ecology of ideas fostered by that format is indicative of specific forms of knowledge production, the ways in which contests over knowledge are conducted, and the ways in which it is shared and circulated. The governance and organizational hierarchy of the AAA results in the ideas of certain key players being given currency. They are fronted, often pushed hard by their colleagues, and rendered especially impactful.[8] 

Although alternative ideas may be circulating, they are more easily relegated to the periphery, or given serious attention only among smaller segments of a discipline’s communities. This, we believe, has the result of reinforcing current paradigms at the expense of developing ideas that may be challenging to the status quo. The contrast is with small groups of scholars working in an egalitarian milieu on a topic of common interest on an ongoing basis, which we believe is a more productive way to make significant progress in developing worthwhile ideas. Rather than rewarding displays of one-upmanship or competitive confrontations, the ASAO format provides an intellectual environment that fosters ongoing relationships. Perhaps most important of all, it encourages people, especially younger scholars, to take risks by presenting lines of research and ideas in their formative stages in a supportive atmosphere.

This is not to say that conferences like AAA are not worthwhile; there are still many valid reasons to attend them, such as those noted above. But we believe there is room for a greater degree of flexibility at large conferences, including granting small groups of scholars concerned with specific topics more autonomy in the ways in which they organize their sessions. In other words, we are suggesting that the organizers of conferences, whatever their scope, think through the implications of their formats for the nurturance of ideas and their implications for furthering the goals of their particular discipline.[9] 

Acknowledgments: We would like to express our warm appreciation for helpful feedback on the initial draft of this paper, which we received from Mike Lieber, Mike Rynkiewich, Rick Feinberg, Rich Scaglion, Jan Rensel, and other participants in the 2015–2018 ASAO sessions that focused on multiple aspects of the association’s history.

Works Cited

Borofsky, Robert, ed. 1994. Assessing Cultural Anthropology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Borofsky, Robert. 2019. “An Anthropology of Anthropology: Is It Time to Shift Paradigms?” Center for a Public Anthropology. DOI: 10.31761/pa-oas1.19aaoa

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1988. Homo Academicus. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Carroll, Vern, ed. 1970. Adoption in Eastern Oceania. ASAO Monograph 1. Honolulu: University Press of Hawai‘i.

Galison, Peter, and Stump, David J., eds. 1996. The Disunity of Science: Boundaries, Contexts, and Power. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Glanville, Ranulph. 2011. “Introduction: A Conference Doing the Cybernetics of Cybernetics.” Kybernetes 40(7–8):952–963.

Hughes, Everett Cherrington. 1936. “The Ecological Aspect of Institutions.” American Sociological Review 1(2):180–189.

Kawa, Nicholas C, José A Clavijo Michelangeli, Jessica L Clark, Daniel Ginsberg, and Christopher McCarty. 2019. “The Social Network of US Academic Anthropology and Its Inequalities.” American Anthropologist 121(1):14–29.

Knorr Cetina, Karin D. 1991. “Epistemic Cultures: Forms of Reason in Science.” History of Political Economy 23(1):105–122.

Knorr Cetina, Karin. 1999. Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour, Bruno. 1987. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mair, Judith. 2013. Conferences and Conventions: A Research Perspective. London: Routledge.

Mawyer, Alexander, and Alan Howard. Forthcoming. “A History of ASAO Sessions: Formats and Topics.” In ASAO Histories: Perspectives, edited by Jan Rensel. ASAO Occasional Paper 1.

Mead, Margaret. 1968. “Cybernetics of Cybernetics.” Pp. 1–11 in Purposive Systems, edited by Heinz von Foerster, John D White, Larry J Peterson, and John K Russell. New York: Spartan Books.

Morse, Janice M. 2008. “The Side Effects of Conferences.” Qualitative Health Research 18(9):1159–1160.

Parsons, Talcott. 1990. “Prolegomena to a Theory of Social Institutions.” American Sociological Review 55(3):319–333.

Sahlins, Marshall. 1958. Social Stratification in Polynesia. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Sweeting, Ben, and Michael Hohl. 2015. “Exploring Alternatives to the Traditional Conference Format: Introduction to the Special Issue on Composing Conferences.” Constructivist Foundations 11(1):1–7.

Von Foerster, Heinz, 2003. “Ethics and Second-Order Cybernetics.” Pp. 287–304 in Understanding Understanding. New York: Springer.

Von Foerster, Heinz, et al., eds. 1974. Cybernetics of Cybernetics. BCL Report 73.38, Biological Computer Laboratory, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL.

Wacquant, Loïc J. 1989. “For a Socio-Analysis of Intellectuals: On Homo Academicus.Berkeley Journal of Sociology 34:1–29.

[1] With Vern Carroll and others, Howard played a role in the development of the association in the mid 1960s, and in the decades since he served in myriad roles including board member, program coordinator, membership coordinator, web master, and multiple times as session organizer. More recently, Mawyer served for several years as the ASAO program coordinator, and also on the association’s Distinguished Lecturer Committee, the Pacific Islands Scholars Award committee, as well as a three-year term on the Board.

[2] As our contribution to a working group concerned with the association’s history, we developed a database of sessions, presentations, and subsequent publications from fifty-plus years of ASAO’s annual conference meetings (Mawyer and Howard forthcoming).  

[3] The focus on adoption was the product of the cynosure of kinship studies in social and cultural anthropology at the time. Within kinship studies, anthropologists were interested in adoption in relation to the transmission of rights in land and other forms of property. A selection of the papers was published in a volume entitled Adoption in Eastern Oceania edited by Carroll (1970).

[4] ASAO Newsletters are archived online here.

[5] When developing its constitution in 1969, the association decided to allow its geographical focus to expand beyond Eastern Oceania in order to include Papua New Guinea (ASAEO Newsletter 5:1 [March 1970]).

[6] Photos from ASAO annual meetings are posted on the ASAO website.

[7] Second-order cybernetics, also known as the cybernetics of cybernetics, was developed by Margaret Mead, Heinz von Foerster, and Gordon Pask, among others, in the late 1960s and mid 1970s (Mead 1968; von Foerster et al. 1974; von Foerster 2003). In her 1967 keynote address to the inaugural meeting of the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC), Mead proposed that the practice of cybernetics by the ASC should be subject to cybernetic critique.

[8] While not our focus here, we imagine such dynamics at keystone conferences may not be entirely innocent of a role in the formation and maintenance of inequalities in the social networks of anthropology as profession (Kawa et al. 2019).

[9] Robert A. Scott, Associate Director Emeritus of the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, who read a draft of this paper and gave us valuable feedback, raised the question of how the ASAO format fits the call for increased interdisciplinary work. In our opinion, an egalitarian environment such as that offered by ASAO would be vital for any kind of interdisciplinary development because it will inevitably require considerable negotiation and the ability of participants to set aside the prevailing paradigms of their disciplines in favor of other possibilities. This kind of collaborative development is only likely to take place over an extended period of collegial discussions.

New release from BEROSE – Mahias on the Nilgiris as Indian Tribal Sanctuary

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology. This article, in English, discusses the ideological construction of the Nilgiris region in southern India as a tribal sanctuary, c. 1812-1950.

Mahias, Marie–Claude, 2020. “The Construction of the Nilgiris (South India) as a ‘Tribal Sanctuary’ (1812-1950)”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

Anthropologist Marie-Claude Mahias explains how the case of the Nilgiris region in India was used in modern anthropology to construct very different sociological models. It was equally easy to prove that the inhabitants of this region were isolated tribes or that they were part of a jajmânî-like system of interdependence, with either the Todas or the Badagas as the dominant caste. Mahias demonstrates that the basis of the British distinction between ‘caste’ and ‘tribe’ were never clearly defined, as scientific and political considerations have always been intertwined in the history of both concepts. Mahias questions the perception of the Nilgiri peoples during the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth and reveals that the choice of sociological concepts was never really discussed. This does not mean, however, that it was wholly arbitrary. ‘Caste’ and ‘tribe’ are the outcomes of a controversial epistemological construction that has evolved in complex ways over the course of time.

New release from BEROSE – Toffin on Nepalese Anthropology

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology. These two articles, both in French, discuss the history of Nepalese anthropology and folklore.

Toffin, Gérard, 2020. “Les folkloristes népalais, entre sentiment national et diversité des cultures (XXe – début XXIe siècle)”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

Toffin, Gérard, 2020. “Naissance de l’école népalaise d’anthropologie (1960-2020)”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

French anthropologist Gérard Toffin traces the history of Nepalese folklore since the beginning of the 20th century. He analyzes how this movement has evolved over the last few decades, partly under the influence of the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage policy, introduced in the early 2000s, as opposed to the previous focus on the archaeological legacies of classical written cultures. The article concludes with a reflection on the relationship between scholarly and popular culture in South Asia and on the deep roots of the Nepalese folklore movement in the context of a multicultural country of 30 million people, with some 100 different ethnic groups and castes, speaking nearly 90 different languages.

The second article by Toffin deals with the insightful case of Nepalese anthropology as a new discipline, a World Anthropology that was not created by the colonial power, as in India by the British Raj. Nepalese universities, funded largely with the help of developed countries, are unable to provide for the needs of young local anthropologists, who are forced to contract with foreign agencies in order to make a living. Overarching and ambiguous, dependence on foreign countries dates back to the first generation of Nepalese anthropologists, often trained as assistants to Western anthropologists – as was the case with Dor Bahadur Bista, the founding father of Nepalese anthropology, who was the informant/collaborator of the London SOAS professor of anthropology, Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf. Their utilitarian approach within applied anthropology often distinguishes Nepalese anthropologists from their foreign colleagues.

Women of the Powell Expeditions: The Contributions of Emma Powell and Ellen Powell Thompson

Major John Wesley Powell is a prominent figure in the history of American anthropology and probably best known to HAR readers as the founder of the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE).[1] Prior to that, however, he built a reputation as a field naturalist through an impressive series of expeditions, supported in the early years by a precarious patchwork of funding. With limited finances and lacking in impressive academic credentials, Wes Powell relied heavily on family members to staff his expeditions. Two women, his wife Emma and his sister Ellen, were integral contributors to the scientific staff, although their participation has received little recognition. Here I will discuss how their contributions, like those of many women, have been obscured by historical processes and suggest some ways that they might be rediscovered.

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New release from BEROSE – Rossi on Edison Carneiro

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology. This article, available in both in English and Portuguese, focuses on Edison Carneiro and is written by Carneiro’s biographer, Gustavo Rossi. Rossi draws a fascinating and moving portrait of the Brazilian anthropologist. From a “black white” family, he studied the terreiros of Bahia candomblé, and fought for freedom of worship of Afro-Brazilian religions. He was Ruth Landes’s guide in Bahia in the late 1930s.

Rossi, Gustavo, 2020. “A “Lost Vocation”? The Life and Work of Edison Carneiro, Exponent of Afro‑Brazilian Studies”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

Rossi, Gustavo, 2020. “Uma ‘vocação perdida’? Vida e obra de Edison Carneiro, expoente dos estudos afro‑brasileiros”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

From a “black white” family, Brazilian anthropologist Edison Carneiro (1912-1972) devoted himself to ethnographic and historical studies on Afro-Brazilian religiosity and cultural practices, as well as on Brazilian folklore. He carried out ethnographic fieldwork from the 1930s onwards in the candomblé terreiros of Salvador, the “African Rome,” of which he became one of the main interpreters and specialists. A poet, communist intellectual and combative journalist, he fought for the freedom of worship of Afro-Brazilian religions. As the main guide of the American anthropologist Ruth Landes in Bahia in the late 1930s, Carneiro developed an intense romantic and professional partnership with her, which eventually put them in a situation of conflict and enmity with some of the main figures of Afro-Brazilian studies in their respective countries: Melville J. Herskovits in the United States, and Arthur Ramos in Brazil. Carneiro never obtained a university position. Among his extensive works are Religiões Negras (1936), Candomblés da Bahia (1947), Antologia do Negro Brasileiro (1950) and Dinâmica do Folclore (1965).

New release from BEROSE – Hall on Gellner’s Anthropological Method

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology. This new article from John Hall discusses the anthropological method of Ernest Gellner.

Hall, John A., 2020. “The Philosopher of Anthropology: Ernest Gellner on Anthropological Method”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

Ernest Gellner has a peculiar place in the history of anthropology. His own anthropological fieldwork on the saintly lineages of the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco – Saints of the Atlas (1969) – firmly places him within the British tradition of social anthropology that stressed the importance of extended periods of fieldwork. But Gellner was a polymath, whose training had been in philosophy, and the singularity of his contribution to anthropology lies in the fact that he theorized at a deep philosophical level what was involved in the practice of the discipline. The arguments he developed are highly distinctive because they suggest that mainstream anthropological self-understanding is not correct. John Hall portrays Gellner as a powerful, almost scandalous figure, whose reputation was initially built by his attack on linguistic philosophy. From this followed his most long-lasting contribution to anthropology: his reflections on method. Gellner was also a fierce critic of idealist explanations in social science, which too easily privileged cultural factors rather than considering social structural realities.

New release from BEROSE – Mahé on Bourdieu’s Kabyle Ethnology

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology. This new article by Alain Mahé examines the production of Pierre Bourdieu’s ethnographic studies of Kabylia.

Mahé, Alain, 2020. “En revisitant l’anthropologie de la Kabylie de Pierre Bourdieu”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

Pierre Bourdieu’s writings on Kabylia are commonly regarded as his most successful and accomplished. Alain Mahé shows how the Kabyle context contributed to Bourdieu’s anthropological project, serving as an anchor for constituting his theory and conceptual apparatus. Of the three studies that Bourdieu conducted on Kabylia, none addresses politics explicitly, yet each of them proposes a theory of modes of domination. Through the concept of mutual convertibility of symbolic and economic capital, Bourdieu shows how practices contribute to the establishment of a political order. As a gateway to his anthropology, especially his political anthropology, Bourdieu’s studies on Kabylia lay bare what is overshadowed by the numerous devices and institutions mediating political power in French society and other modern nation states. Alain Mahé’s paper discusses the passage from authority to power and the power of the community as two essential aspects of Bourdieu’s ethnography and anthropology.

History of Anthropology panels at the 16th European Association of Social Anthropologists’ (Digital) Conference

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the 16th conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) will take place as a digital conference, from July 21 to July 24, 2020. The conference program includes a number of panels related to the history of anthropology.

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Digital Conference: “Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future”

The “Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future” conference is jointly organized by the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI), the Royal Geographical Society, the British Academy, the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS-University of London, and the British Museum’s Department for Africa, Oceania and the Americas. The conference was originally planned as a face to face conference to be held in June 2020, but it will now be an online conference to be held September 14-18, 2020. It will feature a wide range of speakers on issues concerning the relationships between anthropology and geography, both past and present. Bruno Latour will deliver the keynote address.

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Faustian Bargains: The Legends and Legacies of German “Liberal Ethnology”

This extended review is a collaboration between the Reviews and Field Notes sections of HAR.

H. Glenn Penny. Im Schatten Humboldts: Eine tragische Geschichte der deutschen Ethnologie. 287 pp., 37 illus. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2019.

Author’s Note: I would like to thank the C. H. Beck Verlag for kindly providing me with an advance manuscript of this book in the original English. Parenthetical page numbers below refer to the manuscript, rather than the published translation.

Salvage anthropology has carried something of a sour reputation ever since the term was introduced by Jacob Gruber in 1970. This has good reasons. One has to do with the fatalism that this practice implies: the moral mission of early ethnographers, according to Gruber, was “not to stem the tide of civilization’s advance, but to preserve that which was about to be destroyed.”[1] Even the most humane impetus to “rescue” the pristine cultural heritage of indigenous groups took the inevitable disappearance of those groups for granted.

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Proposal to “Un-Name” Kroeber Hall

On July 1st, the University of California Berkeley Name Review Committee received a proposal to “un-name” Kroeber Hall, home to the Phoebe Hearst Museum and Worth Ryder Art Gallery . The building is named for Alfred L. Kroeber, who established the Department of Anthropology at Berkeley in 1901 (see HAR’s recent Generative Texts entry on Kroeber’s Anthropology textbook). Signed by members of the UC Berkeley Native American Advisory Council and the UC Berkeley Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Advisory Committee, the proposal encourages the “un-naming”  of the building on the grounds that Kroeber’s name “sends a harmful message to Native American students, faculty, and staff at UC Berkeley, deters prospective students, and hinders repair of a damaged relationship with Native Californians and all Indigenous people.”

Rosemary Joyce and Nancy Scheper-Hughes, both members of the anthropology department, have contributed thoughts on the matter to the Berkeley Blog, touching on Kroeber’s work with Native American communities, the life and death of the man Kroeber named Ishi, Berkeley’s earlier positions on indigenous remains in their collections, and the politics of naming and un-naming. The proposal, along with Joyce and Scheper-Hughes’s posts, have already generated substantial comments on the blog as well as on the History of Anthropology Interest Group listserv.

The review committee plans to open up the proposal for public comments on July 20, 2020. We welcome thoughts and discussion from HAR readers in the comments section below.

Recent Publications at BEROSE

BEROSE International Encyclopedia of the Histories of Anthropology is pleased to announce its June roundup of its online, open access articles on the history of anthropology. More than a dozen articles (in French, English, Italian and Portuguese) are summarized below for HAR readers.

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Upcoming History of Anthropology Talks at the BSHS Global Digital History of Science Festival

The Global Digital History of Science Festival is a five-day online celebration run by the British Society for the History of Science featuring talks, discussions, workshops, performances, discussions, and more – free to everyone! The Festival will take place from July 6 through July 10, 2020.

The HAR News editors would like to highlight two lightning talks on the program related to the history of anthropology. Please note that the event times given are in U.K. time/UTC + 1:

Monday, July 6, 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. (part of Lightning Talks A panel):

Francis Galton and Joseph Jacobs’ Co-Construction of the ‘Jewish-type’: A Critical Image Analysis  – Efram Sera-Shriar, King’s College London

Reflecting on Francis Galton’s anthropometric work in anthropology from the late Victorian period, his former student Karl Pearson remarked that ‘There is little doubt that Galton’s Jewish type formed a landmark in composite photography.’ These images, it was claimed, produced with ‘extraordinary fidelity’ what many of Galton’s proponents believed to be examples of genuine ‘Jewish physiognomy.’ Although Galton’s photographic research played a pivotal role in constructing a new conception of the ‘Jewish type’ in Victorian anthropology, he did not work alone. His composites of Jewish schoolboys were a collaboration with the Jewish folklorist, literary critic, and anthropologist Joseph Jacobs. In fact, it was Jacobs who initiated the idea, and contacted Galton for assistance in making the photographic images. Galton took the lead in assembling the composites, but it was Jacobs who provided the most sophisticated analysis of them at the time. Through an analysis of these images, which appeared in The Photographic News in 1885, this lightning talk will explore the processes by which Galton and Jacobs co-constructed a so-called ‘Jewish type.’

Ethnographic studies of Northeast Siberian peoples in imperial Russia c.1890-1917, their political context and international significance  – Ekaterina (Katya) Morgunova, PhD Candidate, Centre for the History of Science, Technology & Medicine (CHoSTM), Department of History, King’s College London

This project aims to investigate studies of Northeast Siberian ethnic groups, conducted by the Russian Empire’s political exiles c.1890-1917. It considers their research against the backdrop of the Russian political context and the international landscape of anthropological research. I aim to shed light especially on the fascinating behind-the-scenes of scientific fieldwork. Using expedition diaries and correspondence alongside governmental and published sources, I investigate how ethnography was shaped by diverse actors including governmental authorities, philanthropists, and the less visible actors, especially the indigenous research subjects.

To get oriented and explore the many events taking place, as well as find details on how to access the events online, visit the Festival welcome page. You can also browse the full program. Please note that events are subject to change and it is best to check the program regularly for the events you are interested in.

Call for Papers: Special Issue on History of World Anthropologies

The journal Horizontes Antropológicos has issued a Call for Papers for a special issue on the theme of “History of World Anthropologies.” This issue (no. 62) is slated to be published in January 2022.

This thematic issue intends to contribute towards a reassessment of the past of anthropology in a broad sense, by understanding the knowledge and ethnographic practices that precede or complement scientific institutionalization, including features of amateurism and experimentalism in varied and interconnected contexts. The editors seek not only a post-colonial criticism of the attempts to survey and analyze human variability, but rather to examine the contributions in their own time and place, in the historical dynamics of anthropology. This issue is open to case studies focused on peripheral, external or off-center anthropological traditions as compared to the so-called “major traditions.”

The editors seek to pay special attention to the Lusophone and Ibero-American contexts (including all of Latin America), considering not only their intersections, but also the fact that they are often excluded from hegemonic historiographic narratives. They hope to produce a comparative reflection on the historical antecedents of the current paradigm of World Anthropologies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (up to the 1970s) and the dissemination of anthropological praxis. Interdisciplinarity between anthropology, history, history of science, and historical anthropology is encouraged, as is dialogue through a re-reading of ethnographic and anthropological texts from different places, times and dimensions.

The issue’s editors are Eduardo Dullo (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul – Brazil), Patrícia Ferraz de Matos (Universidade de Lisboa – Portugal), and Frederico Delgado Rosa (Universidade Nova de Lisboa – Portugal). 

Submission of articles will be open from October 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021. Full details about the special issue can be found on the website of Horizontes Antropológicos, or obtained via e-mail at horizontes@ufrgs.br.

“Who’s Zoomin’ Who”: A Reflection on the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropology Association

Editors' note: We are delighted to announce that Participant Observations is widening its remit. We welcome shorter reactions to conferences, exhibitions, research projects, and reflections on elements of the history of anthropology as a field. How has your experience of organizing or participating in remote conferences been? What online resources have caught your eye in this moment? What works, events, or conversations that you've recently encountered seem to capture vital new or ongoing conversations in the history of anthropology? If you have an idea for a piece, please email news@histanthro.org or one of our News editors. In this spirit, we are pleased to publish HAR editor Nick Barron's short reflection on the 2019 American Anthropology Association Meeting.

In the crowd, I caught your eye
You can’t hide your stuff
You thought I’d be naive and tame
(You met your match) but I beat you at your own game

Such were the lyrics from the song that emanated from Lee Baker’s smart phone as he prepared to give his comments for the panel “Re-Presenting Historical Legacies: A Decolonial Reckoning with Anthropology’s Ruin.” Alongside his co-discussant Christien Tompkins, Baker considered an assortment of papers focusing on the discipline’s tangled historical encounters by centering analyses from the perspectives of those who call field sites “home.” Each of the panelists explored cases at the interstices of anthropologist-community engagements in regions that have been heavily mined for ethnographic knowledge including the Brazilian Amazon, Canadian Pacific Northwest, U.S. Southwest, and Egypt. Less concerned with the “truth” of past ethnographic depictions, the panelists, in various ways, considered what happens when anthropologists (and other social scientists) leave the field. What it is that these interlopers leave behind? How do the people that call “the field” home come to live with the debris of ethnography?

As a participant and panel co-organizer, I was quite intrigued by Baker’s theatrical introduction. As Tompkins underscored post-panel, “all panel papers should have entrance music.” But of course, the choice of this particular song from the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was hardly trivial as were the sincere and challenging comments from Baker and Tompkins. [1] As Baker noted, the song tells a story of romantic role reversals in which the seduced becomes the seducer (“you thought you had me covered… but you’re bound to be my love”). While the papers from myself, Rosanna Dent, Taylor Moore, and Joseph Weiss and the panel abstract conceived by myself and Hilary Leathem were perhaps light on romance (at least of the non-platonic variety), they did speak of collaboration, intimacy, affect, magic, and the ways in which these phenomena have continued to bind communities of study to the discipline and vice versa. Importantly, the song indexes an obfuscated and creative agency (“here stands an experienced girl/I ain’t nobody’s fool”). The papers, though hardly unequivocally celebratory in their examination of agency, motioned toward the enduring ways in which the “objects” of ethnographic inquiry have long been engaging, salvaging, adopting, and enchanting anthropology on their own terms. 

I reflected on the keen observations of my fellow panelists the following morning as I sat in on the panel “Hate USA,” an appropriately sobering title for an 8:00 a.m. timeslot. In a series of wonderful papers, I was most struck by Nancy Scheper-Hughes comments on Benjamin Teitelbaum’s Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Radical Nordic Radical Nationalism.[2] Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with this book before the panel. However, as Scheper-Hughes summarized, Lions of the North is a recently published ethnography concerning alt-right, white nationalist groups in various Nordic countries. Scheper-Hughes was invited to comment on one of Teitelbaum’s recent articles for a forum in Current Anthropology.[3] She expressed great consternation in the face of Teitelbaum’s self-proclaimed “immoral anthropology,” which has led him not only to observe these groups, but take an active role in their dissemination of propaganda. After a couple of exchanges with members of the audience who made a respectful plea for the value of Teitelbaum’s work and the spirit of his relativism, Scheper-Hughes’s response did not mince words: we are not simply here to parrot the views of others, to be “handmaidens to informants.”[4] With Ms. Franklin’s lyrics still ringing in my ears, I couldn’t help but think, “Who’s zoomin’ who?”

On my return flight to California, I took it upon myself to read Teitelbaum’s article as well as Scheper-Hughes’s published comment. The characterization of Teitelbaum as a “handmaiden” remained most prominent in my mind. In my own research, I consider how anthropologists become wittingly and unwittingly enrolled in the political projects of their research subjects—specifically indigenous groups living in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.[5] Seen from the perspective of the historian (and the self-reflexive anthropologist), the roles of “ethnographer,” “advocate,” and “handmaiden” exists on a continuum, and anthropologists do not necessarily determine where they will fall. The ethnographic method is shot through with dialogical twists and turns that are hardly the exclusive design of the anthropologist.

To be fair, Teitelbaum underscores the dynamic nature of participant-observation when explaining his questionable engagements with white nationalists. “So long as we prefer dialogic and intersubjective models of understanding to those of observation and monologue, we are led to embrace a research practice laced with political and moral compromise.”[6]

I suppose this is a helpful reminder for anyone just starting out in the field who might be inclined to take a naive view of knowledge production, which assumes they can stand outside the webs of power in which they operate. However, recognizing the inherently dynamic and situated nature of the ethnographic approach in no way invalidates Scheper-Hughes’s critique nor does it justify Teitelbaum’s rationale. One might assert that all anthropologists are handmaidens of one sort or another. Perhaps there is always some degree of zoomin’. But the important aspect of Franklin’s question (“Who’s zoomin’ who?”) is not just the “zoomin’” but the “who.” Is it not one thing to be a handmaiden of a small community of borderlands Indians, for example, and another thing to be a handmaiden of white nationalists? Veiling such a question behind invocations of the inherently intersubjective nature of the discipline’s signature method is not just morally dubious—it is historiographically hollow.

Ms. Franklin may have passed away, but her acute anthropological commentary remains relevant to the discipline and persistent debates within the ranks regarding the relationship between anthropologists and their interlocutors.

[1] Aretha Franklin, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” (Arista, 1985).

[2] Benjamin R. Teitelbaum, Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

[3] Nancy Scheper-Hughes, “The Case for a Moral and Politically Engaged Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 60, no. 3 (2019): 427–30.

[4] I am paraphrasing from my notes.

[5] Nicholas Barron, “Assembling ‘Enduring Peoples,’ Mediating Recognition: Anthropology, the Pascua Yaqui Indians, and the Co-Construction of Ideas and Politics,” History and Anthropology (2019).

[6] Benjamin R. Teitelbaum, “Collaborating with the Radical Right: Scholar-Informant Solidarity and the Case for an Immoral Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 60, no. 3 (2019): 415.

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