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.