Friday, February 3, 2012

Background and origin of Anthropology

According to Alan Barnard in History and Theory of Anthropology ,the French philosopher Charles Montesquieu ( 1689-1755) was the common ancestor of modern anthropology.Anthropology began in 1748 with the publication of his The Spirit of Laws.Then came the Darwinian period in 1860s with the advent of Sir Henry Sumner Maine (1822-88),Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-81),Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) who defined the intellectual tradition leading to modern anthropology.In 1871 the Anthropological Institute was founded in London.Stalwarts like Franz Boas,Bronislaw Malinowski and A.R Radcliffe Brown established the practice of ethnography.


In America Franz Boas started teaching at Columbia university in 1896.In Britain a new diploma in anthropology was introduced at Oxford in 1906.At the same time the practice of anthropology was established as ethnography which was the extended study of how and where people live.Marvis Harris in The Rise of Anthropological Theory talks about the contributions of Denis Diderot (1713-84),Jacques Turgot (1727-81) and Marquis de Condorcet (1743-94).He also mentions the essay 'On the Cannibals'written by French writer Michel de Montaigne in 1580.Montaigne had met some South American Indians performing at a fair in France.His essay framed non western people by their lack of the defining attributes of civilization.This was the period when Europeans had expanded their geographical horizons and knowledge.Montaigne's ideas were based on speculation and not on experience which conveniently ignored the cultural aspects of the 'new people'.

Anthropologist William Y Adams looks at major trends in western thought,ideas that influenced the discipline of anthropology.These were -Progressivism which was the  identification of human cultural history with progress on an upward escalator from nasty and brutish to the modern west that is always on top.Primitivism which is a reverse idea including nostalgia for primitive simplicity and the idea of degeneration,humankind marching downhill from the beginning though some are saved by civilization.Natural law which are codes, behavioral prescriptions and restrictions common to all people and part of nature or God.German idealism based on the dualistic separation of mind and matter.Indianology popular ideology about American Indians.

Adam discuss the minor trends prevalent in the study of Anthropology- Rationalism is a belief in an ordered universe governed by laws that conform with and are comprehensible by human reason.Positivism is label for Empiricism comprising observation and induction or deduction.Marxism where Marx and Engels based their thinking on the work of American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-81) known for his study of Iroquois Indians.Utilitarianism and Socialism which were British schools of radicalism and approach to social reform.Structuralism is the belief in a structured universe or inherent and coherent structuring in nature's order that is not imposed by the observer,the structures are therefore universal.Nationalism is the predominant western ideology to shape national traditions of anthropology and other social sciences.

Imperialism had a deeper impact on the study and growth of anthropology as a discipline.For anthropologists ,subject peoples of the colonies were uniquely theirs to study.British anthropologist Ernest  Gellner  described the colonies as the reserved laboratory where anthropology took up its studies.In his classical text Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (1973) Talal Asad argued that anthropology served as the handmaiden of colonialism.Anthropology did not create colonialism but its origins are certainly an epiphenomenon of colonialism.


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