Which is why, to the degree that it retains an identity at all, that identity lies — as Spencer, Gledhill, and others have said — in a community of practice that knows itself as a community but is struggling to define the precise content of its practice. This is also why it has become so difficult to characterize British anthropology in the present tense. Its present, to be sure, is somewhat tense. And therein lies an important set of clues.
The fact that British social anthropology is post-national does not mean that it is post-historical. Hence the questions we posed above:. The decline began in the Thatcher years, during which the restructuring of institutions produced a relentless culture of audit, evaluation, and standardization, of funding squeezes, creeping privatization, and unvarnished economism; E. What is more, adds Gledhill n. Of these, the most stark has been the pressure exerted by funding agencies, more or less directly, to do research — on topics like crime, immigration, terrorism, poverty — that might be deployed against vulnerable populations, that serves the interests of government, or that appeal to the private sector.
Nor is this merely an ethical issue.
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As this implies, the changing institutional ecology in which British anthropology finds itself is part and parcel of a broader process: the neoliberalization of the political economy of knowledge. We refer here primarily to its epistemic, not its pragmatic, effects, to what present themselves as suitable objects for study, suitable concepts with which to study them, the Weltbild , the world-picture, into which our research interpolates itself.
Neoliberalization — itself a rather crude, under-specified gloss for the contemporary moment in the history of capital, tout court — has effected major transformations in the lineaments of economy and society, of politics and culture, and, as we have said, of the nation-state. These transformations have occasioned shifts in the ways in which the social sciences perceive, problematize, and portray the world. This, in part, is why we, in the social sciences, find ourselves debating the utility of our ur -concepts, noun-concepts like society or culture, finding it easier to speak in adjectives the social, the cultural.
Put the two things together — the prevailing institutional ecology and the neoliberalization of the political economy of knowledge — and the terrain of contemporary British anthropology becomes more legible. For one thing, its research foci have been affected, evincing a strong turn toward the pragmatics of applied anthropology, the anthropology of development, and the anthropology of public policy Barth 56—57; Gledhill n. There has also been a growing concern with topics related to the sciences, like conservation ecology, the environment, ethnobotany, behavioural genetics, human-animal relations, human evolution, new [Page xxxvi] technologies, historical demography, cognition, and medicine; also with topics of broad popular interest, such as new media, aesthetics, civil society, tourism, trauma and conflict, work and unemployment Kuklick 76— At first glance, this would appear simply as a cynical move to make the discipline more marketable, to make it more appealing to an imagined community of consumers, and to make its brand more sustainable.
But many anthropologists have been attracted to these sorts of issues for their intrinsic interest and importance. But it is not merely by feeling the need to overhaul their subject matter, to address topics of current concern, or to reach out to various publics that British anthropologists have been imbricated in the neoliberal moment. A fair number have been drawn by the critical challenges posed by the effects of that moment, some of them deeply troubling, to broaden their conceptual horizons in order to explore the impact of translocal economic, political, and cultural forces on the lifeworlds of both the global south and, if to a lesser extent, the global north; hence, for example, recent efforts to interrogate the diverse faces of cosmopolitanism, 5 thus to make anthropology itself more, well, cosmopolitan.
By and large, though, the disciplinary response in the UK to the provocations posed by the history of the present has been to write exquisitely detailed accounts of the coming to ground of planetary processes in different exotic locales: in the more-or-less bounded, intimate lifeworlds that have always been our first object of study, worlds putatively accessible only to ethnography as a hands-on craft.
Of course, few locales can plausibly be held these days to escape the reach of the Empire of Capital; the founding fiction of a non-capitalist universe of self-reproducing societies — productive as it once was for the theory-work of a rising anthropology — has long been unsustainable. Arguably, however, the implicit refusal to address the historical entailment of those peoples in the global order, or to analyse the larger forces that are reshaping their micro-environments, is itself an effect of the Weltanshauung of neoliberalism — which has a tendency to hide its own inner workings, thereby to render invisible the ways in which they play themselves out in dispersed places on dispersed peoples.
In so doing, they reinforce the illusion of the relative autonomy, integrity, and self-determination of those peoples, many of whom seem at least as anxious to claim connection to the global order as disconnection from it. But the most fundamental effects of the neoliberal moment on British anthropology, perhaps, are those of which we spoke earlier: the resort to an episteme that tends to de-historicize history; that, in stressing the contingent and the continuous present over the systemic and processes of the long run, confines its descriptive analyses largely to the surface planes of social, cultural, and material life; that, in taming risk, puts much of its faith in the respectable facticity of empiricism; that is sceptical of the value, or even the possibility, of theory, preferring, when necessary, to import it, ready-made, from outside, from such established scholarly sources as British or French sociology.
Kuper may be stretching a point in respect of the past. But his observation does seem to apply in the present. Still, in the neoliberal Weltanschauung , method, the technical means by which specific ends are accomplished, is given a great deal of weight — and not only in anthropology. Has a liberal anthropology given way seamlessly to a neoliberal one?
This, in turn, raises a yet more fundamental question: Should British anthropology continue to exist as a distinct, empirically oriented, inductive discipline that focuses — in a mobile universe, a universe of inordinately complicated, labile webs of transactions, relations, mediations, and flows — on social phenomena of small, observable scale?
Also, Ought we to persist in leaving theory-work to the prophets and the philosophers and a few select sociologists? There are good reasons to believe that this would not serve British anthropology well. They turn, once again, on the double sense of disciplinary distinction: on what remains distinctive about our analytical perspective and on what of its accomplishments distinguish themselves in the contemporary political economy of knowledge production. Both are anticipated in what we have already said.
Many of the Big Questions in the Age of Now that strike anthropologists as compelling are shared by other disciplines as well. But ours brings a particular perspective to them. Above all, it has, in the past, been more ready than its sibling social sciences to estrange taken-for-granted terms, concepts, and phenomena, asking what they actually mean , wherein lies their phenomenal reality, how they came to be constructed and construed as they have been.
Take democracy and development, two common tropes of our times, both of them elements in the globalization of neoliberal governmentality. By contrast, anthropology, at its best, begins by interrogating their ontological status as social facts in the world. In posing these foundational questions from its particular vantage, the discipline situates itself well to speak back critically to Euromodern social theory, its normative ideals, and its conceits.
In this regard, as we have intimated, the discipline has long been at the vanguard in analysing how those processes imbricate themselves in, and inflect, the lives of sentient [Page xxxviii] subjects in dispersed places. And how they are apprehended, configured, and deployed, from within vernacular moral and material economies, in terms that are never entirely predictable. To be sure, ethnographers ought to be able to read, in the encounter between the local and the worlds beyond it — there are, after all, many scales of relevance between the local and the global — what the proportionate effects are of each on the others.
But, to reiterate, if any of this it to be done by we anthropologists, we cannot stand back from taking seriously the interrogation of the larger determinations so evidently at play in and on the social ecologies in which we work, either methodologically or theoretically.
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Methodologically speaking, the way has been prepared by developments in the discipline in recent years. Echoing the earlier innovations of the Manchester school, scholars of translocal phenomena have devised new techniques — multi-sited ethnographies, ethnographies of different dimensions, and ethnographies of peripatetic persons, objects, and signs, for instance, not to mention ethnographies that triangulate the field, the text, and the archive — to lay bare social worlds at once situated and mobile, at once fixed and in flow, at once concrete and immanent.
The directionality and logic of these processes, like magnetized iron filings, can never be taken, a priori, to be random. Quite the opposite. Ethnography as method demands that we seek out the relationship between the contingent and the constellation, and the incidental and the incidence — all the better to account for hidden determinations and to grasp how they may be made manifest in any locale, whether it be in the concentrations of power and domination, the vectors of vulnerability, or the zones of autonomy that compose the topography of ordinary life.
Theoretically speaking, the message is clear.
Retreat into inductive particularity is insufficient, at once epistemically and ethically. If we are to grasp what it is that constructs and configures the lifeworlds that we study, if we are to make sense of the often troubling social facts that we discern within them, it is necessary to connect the dots, so to speak: to disinter, render visible, and account conceptually for, those larger processes and phenomena, those forces and determinations — and for the manner in which they affect, and are affected by, their encounter with the practices, purposes, moralities, and materialities of different peoples and places.
Here, it would serve us well to recover something of the hubris of an earlier anthropological age, to operate with the presumption, unless and until proven otherwise, that it is both possible and necessary to establish systemic relations among the minutiae of the phenomenal world, holistically conceived — and to indulge in inspired guesswork in seeking out, indeed explaining, the [Page xxxix] connections among them.
The content of those classic theories is no longer of salience to us, of course; the limits of their analytic assumptions, for all their heuristic value, ensured their failure. Nor ought we to sustain the faux independence that our disciplinary forefathers claimed from the other human sciences — from which they borrowed liberally anyway.
But what we can take from them is a willingness to refashion existing theory, thus to estrange the worlds that we study. And to take peripheral facts and recast them into forms of knowledge of very general salience to the academy at large. If that is theory as theology, it has the advantage at least of rendering anthropology a potentially revelatory critical project.
To be sure, social anthropology, with its continuing history of unassailable accomplishment, does remain uniquely capable of sustaining itself as just such a critical project. The bolder, we believe, the better. After all, we should surely be wary of ceding the large, complex theoretical questions of our day to the ready reductionism of market rationality, popular scientism, psychologism, emotionalism, or biogenetic determinism.
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There could hardly be more challenging times, in sum, in which to commit ourselves again to the counter-hegemonic inquiry that has always characterized our endeavour at its most vibrant: to renew, that is, a critical social anthropology that is at once distinctive and distinguished.
Kuklick and Gledhill n. CQ Press Your definitive resource for politics, policy and people. Remember me? Back Institutional Login Please choose from an option shown below. Need help logging in? Click here. Don't have access? View purchasing options. Online ISBN: Online Publication Date: September 05, Print Purchase Options. Copy to Clipboard. The Natural Home. View Copyright Page [Page iv]. Wilson Chapter 1. Cowan Chapter 1.
Moore Chapter 1. Watson Part 2 Introduction and Chapter 2. Martinez Chapter 2.
Eades Chapter 2. Marchand Chapter 4.
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Dunbar Chapter 4. Rival Chapter 4. West Chapter 4. Ltd, India. Notes on Contributors. Kuper , Adam. London : Routledge. Mills , David. Professionalising or Popularising Anthropology? Anthropology Today 19 5 : 8— Spencer , Jonathan. British Social Anthropology: A Retrospective? Annual Review of Anthropology 29 : 1— Strathern , Marilyn ed.
Comaroff and Jean Comaroff. Barth , Fredrik. Britain and the Commonwealth. Bourdieu , Pierre.
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Translated by Richard Nice.