HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: a surprising new article in English on Alfred Cort Haddon.
Walsh, Ciarán, 2022. “Artist, Philosopher, Ethnologist and Activist: The Life and Work of Alfred Cort Haddon”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
Alfred Cort Haddon (1855–1940) is usually associated with the famous Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits (1898–99), and the movement from armchair anthropology to the professionalization of ethnographic fieldwork in Britain. Other important dimensions in his trajectory and his work – particularly the political dimensions – have often been overlooked. In this challenging article, Walsh claims that Haddon was written out of the (hi)story of anthropology in his own lifetime for the same reasons that make him interesting today: he stood in solidarity with the victims of colonialism and his advocacy of an engaged, social and cultural anthropology was widely interpreted as an attack on the academy, church, state, and empire. Moreover, Haddon was the ultimate trickster, a situationist who adopted the persona of a headhunter to disrupt the common sense of the relationship between anthropologists, the people they study, and the representations they produce, thereby anticipating the crisis of representation that terminated colonial anthropology almost a century after Haddon first entered the field in Oceania and Ireland.
Unfortunately for Haddon, he was not a writer. He was an artist whose preferred form of ethnography was the proto-cinematic slideshow. This modernism was overwritten as anthropology became, according to Margaret Mead in 1974, a discipline of words constrained by a scientist mindset and disciplinary traditions established in the 1920s. The story of the modernization of anthropology placed Haddon outside of that tradition and historians conventionally assigned him the role of a whipping boy for Thomas H. Huxley’s (1825–1895) version of anthropology, i.e., an unholy mix of biology and evolution bracketed by race and empire. This essay seeks to correct this by using an “Irish’” reading of Haddon’s papers and related institutional records, drawing on digitized newspaper archives to fill gaps and add political context to events as they unfolded within the small community that constituted organized anthropology in the 1890s. Walsh proposes that Haddon’s upbringing in a nonconformist family steeped in the arts, humanitarian activism, and radical politics made confrontation with the imperial establishment and its agents in anthropology inevitable. He situates Haddon’s emerging sense of the function of anthropology in a lively anarcho-utopian movement and argues that this placed him in the vanguard of an anti-imperial insurrection within anthropology in the 1890s and cost him a job as the first academic anthropologist in Cambridge. This is, Walsh concludes, the “real story” of post-evolutionist anthropology in Ireland and England in the 1890s, reflecting a tension which never fully dissipated and has re-emerged in the current stand-off between a tradition of disruptive social anthropology and a practical discipline of political utility.