Anthropology: One Discipline, Four Schools now in Arabic Translation

26 August, 2017

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies has published an Arabic translation of One Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French and American Anthropology, a book devoted to exploring the differences between the major approaches to the study of anthropology. The original English version of this book, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2005, is made up of (English) texts of lectures by four leading anthropologists: Frederik Barth, Robert Parkin, Andre Gingrich and Sydel Silverman. Greater than the sum of its parts however, the book also provides illustrations of the interconnections between these differing schools of anthropological study.

The British School of Anthropology

 The first section of the book is titled "Britain and the Commonwealth," by Frederick Barth, is composed of five separate chapters. The first of these "The Rise of Anthropology in Britain, 1830-1898," explains the initial reluctance within the British academy to accept Anthropology as a fully legitimate discipline. In a following chapter, Barth describes the fieldwork of Alfred Cort Haddon, who lived for years among the indigenous population of the Torres Straits (a region in the South Pacific which lies between New Guinea and Australia) and who gathered some of the earliest high quality primary materials on the beliefs and myths of the South Pacific. Barth's charting of the history of British anthropology however makes the point that the greatest-yet paradigm shift in British anthropology had to wait until 1922 and the publication of two seminal works: Argonauts of the Western Pacific by Malinowski and The Andaman islanders by Alfred Radcliffe-Brown. Barth also describes the "living legacy" of these authors as setting the stage for a British anthropology armed with solid ethnographic credentials.

The German Scene: Nationalism, Diffusionism and Socialism

A second section, also composed of five chapters and penned by Gingrich, gives an explanation of the state of affairs of the German anthropological school, and of the socio-cultural history that made such a school possible. Following a survey of the most pressing methodological issues underpinning German anthropology and its historical formation; the work then goes on to understand how the history of German anthropology informs present-day debates in the German academy. A following chapter gives an overview of the development of German anthropology from the 1840s to the end of the twentieth century, taking in especially the work of folkloric studies in Germany, both within and outside of academic institutions. The chapter also deals with the rise of the socialist theory of anthropology within the German academy.   

Gingrich details in the fourth chapter some of the leading trends in anthropology during the Nazi era, explaining how German anthropologists vied for the approval of the Third Reich and in fact adopted the Nazi worldview. Despite this institutional adaptation to Nazism on the part of German anthropologists, there were also examples of professional anthropologists being persecuted by the authorities of the Third Reich, and the book does provide some examples of these. Gingrich explores how the question of complicity impacted the growth of anthropology in Germany, before describing the growth of anthropology in the German speaking countries. 

Durkheim: Before and After

A third section, by Robert Parkin, explores the role of Durkheim in shaping the discipline of anthropology in the Francophone countries, taking in also the sociological antecedents of French anthropology. Parkin's section also takes in the roots of the French social sciences prior to 1789, and specifically the impacts of the Enlightenment. Parkin uses these as a springboard to explain Durkheim's ideas of social determinism, religion and his theory of the totem.

A third chapter provides an overview of French anthropology during the interwar years and the impact of Durkheim on such scholars as Mauss and their shared emphasis on the importance of evolution. Parkin further takes in the sociology of religion advanced by French anthropologists.

American Anthropology

The fourth and final section, by Sydel Silverman, explores the development of anthropology in the United States which, the author of this section claims, was not a readily identifiable discipline until comparatively late, instead being subject to theoretical, societal and institutional debate.   Silverman explores the distinguishing features of American anthropology, such as the study of pluralist, multicultural societies as well as well as the study of local societies; national groups; agrarian societies; theories of modernization; urban studies; and ethnic studies. In a fourth chapter, Silverman explains how the growth of the Marxist school transformed American anthropology as well as the schools of materialism and cultural studies beginning in the 1990s. In a fifth and final chapter, Silverman shows how legal and political considerations have increasingly constricted the spaces available for anthropological study in the United States.

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