Anthropology

The title of Gillian Bottomley’s lively study addresses both the major theme of migration and her own position as an academic anthropologist. Bottomley targets specialist studies with hard and fast disciplinary categories and attitudes and rejects the tone of impersonal scholarship which such works frequently adopt.

... (read more)

More Than Mere Words edited by Paul Monaghan and Michael Walsh & Ethnographer and Contrarian edited by Julie D. Finlayson and Frances Morphy

by
December 2020, no. 427

Anthropology, in my experience, is commonly confused in the popular imagination with archaeology. ‘We study live people, whereas archaeologists study dead people,’ I have sometimes explained half-jokingly to the perplexed. Although public understanding of anthropology’s engagement with living human societies and cultures is at times sketchy, Australian anthropologists have in fact made significant contributions since the 1970s to the recognition of prior Aboriginal land ownership over vast tracts of the Australian continent. The essays in this two-volume Festschrift celebrate the multifaceted life and legacy of anthropologist and linguist Peter Sutton, perhaps the most significant exemplar of this ‘applied’ branch of Australian anthropology.

... (read more)

‘It is hard to reach the truth of these islands,’ observed Robert Louis Stevenson of Samoa in a letter written to a close friend in 1892, two years after the author had moved to an estate on Upolu. Stevenson, who died in 1894, could never have anticipated the prophetic dimension added to those words. Less than a century later ...

... (read more)

In Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering ancient Australia, Billy Griffiths describes the process of imagining the past through the traces and sediments of archaeology as ‘an act of wonder – a dilation of the commonplace – that challenges us to infer meaning from the cryptic residue of former worlds’. In his endeavour to infer ...

... (read more)

In retrospect, it seems hard to explain the widespread influence of the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. When he died at the age of one hundred in 2009, the New York Times said in its obituary that he was ‘the French anthropologist whose revolutionary studies of what was once called “primitive man” transformed Western understanding of the nature of culture, custom and civilization’. It was a typically inflated assessment. Not so Patrick Wilcken’s excellent biography of Lévi-Strauss, which brings into sharp focus the extremely idiosyncratic nature of his oeuvre, while at the same time showing how it managed to catch a post-World War II Modernist wave of popularity. When the intellectual surf rolled out again later in the century, Lévi-Strauss was left standing alone, but by then that was exactly how he liked it.

... (read more)

At the outset of Mothers and Others, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy poses a thought experiment. Each year 1.6 billion passengers fly around the world. We do so with remarkable ease. Just imagine, Hrdy asks, if our fellow human passengers suddenly morphed into another species of ape. We would be lucky to disembark with all ten fingers and toes still attached, or with any babies on board still alive. Bloody appendages would litter the aisles. It would be mayhem.

... (read more)

There has been so much media hoopla about Roger Sandall’s The Culture Cult that its broad features are already well known. Sandall claims that a relativist mafia, whom he dubs the Culture Cult, holds unchallenged sway over contemporary anthropological discourse. As a result, academic anthropology is shot through with romantic primitivism, a bohemian vice that the cult inherits from Rousseau and Herder. Romantic primitivism is infatuated with difference, championing the irreducible idiosyncrasy of traditional cultures (the plural is emphatic) over the oppressive singularity of rational-progressive bourgeois Civilisation. In keeping with romantic-primitivist dictates, anthropology celebrates tradition over reason, stasis over development, gerontocracy over equality, the collective over the individual, and so on – the litany is a familiar one. As if this weren’t enough, romantic primitivism is also contagious. Anthropologists transmit it to their tribal objects of study, who fall over themselves to fit into the hidebound traditionalist cap that romantic primitivism has fashioned for them. Alarmingly for Sandall, this contagion can lead to land rights.

... (read more)

When Baldwin Spencer, the eminent Professor of Biology at Melbourne University, arrived in Alice Springs in 1894 as a member of the Horn party, the first scientific expedition to Central Australia, he knew very little anthropology. Edward Stirling, South Australia’s Museum Director who would write their chapter on anthropology, was not much better off. The man who was in the know was the man on the ground: Frank Gillen, the local Telegraph Officer, Magistrate, and sub-Protector of Aborigines. A genial, curious, open-minded fellow of Irish Catholic faith, Gillen had been in the region for nearly twenty years.

... (read more)

Ian Reid’s Narrative Exchanges argues against older formalist and structuralist approaches to narratology, from Propp to Todorov. They reduced the play of narrative by insisting that texts possess an underlying fundamental ground, a ‘basic unity’ that is the ‘primary constituent of narrative’. Structuralism treats texts as self-contained semiotic systems, emphasising consistency, linearity, interlinked sequences, completion. Structuralists exhibit a ‘compulsion’ to order and classify texts in rigid, invariable, almost algebraic ways.

... (read more)

I first came across the name of Eric Michaels through a review article he published in the journal Art & Text titled ‘Para-Ethnography’. The article rigorously critiqued Chatwin’s The Songlines and Sally Morgan’s My Place, situating them as ‘para-ethnographic’ texts. It was very impressive. The note at the end remarked that ‘Eric died on 24 August 1988 after a long period of illness’. I heard later on that he had died of AIDS.

... (read more)