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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Anthropology and the contemporary societies

Antropologi.info conveys some interesting commentary on the absence of anthropologists in the debates on the French suburban riots, quoting an editorial by Didier Fassin in Anthropology Today (subscription required) and a comment on the editorial by Keith Hart, reproduced in his homepage.
That anthros were not heard in a situation where their colleagues elsewhere would most likely have a lot to say and would be sought for comment has to do with the rather weak position of anthropology was mostly because very few of them have ever worked in the apartment block areas where the riots took place or on issues of race and inequality, and also because many found their own beliefs of secularity and colorblindedness of the French society uncomfortable challenged.

Keit Hart's comment is very much worth reading (lukutäytylö) for its notes on the histories of anthropology especially in France and Britain, and on the present directions it is taking outside of the traditional centers of anthropological authority:
National variations in the present condition of anthropology are striking. If French anthropology seems to be beleaguered these days, Brazilian anthropology, having once been confined largely to Amazonia, is now booming as a source of investigation and commentary on mainstream urban society. Scandinavian anthropology offers a flourishing model of public engagement.1 Anthropology is a major operation in India and Nigeria today, being mainly concerned with ‘tribal’ populations and internal cultural diversity. Anthropologists in the USA and Britain have organized themselves quite effectively as professional guilds, but there is little public knowledge there of what they do (try using ‘anthropology’ as a keyword for email alerts from the New York Times); and the discipline’s relationship to the universities is precarious. Perhaps institutional inertia will save anthropologists from the oblivion that perennially threatens us, perhaps not.

To comment on the present trends in Korean anthropology I should check the programs of the last years' annual conferences (see for example my note from May 2005) and other events, but my hunch is that despite of staying in the villages quite long (who could blame researchers of the culture of human beings seeking places where so much of the human interaction is laid bare just to observe), Korean anthropologists are well engaged with the contemporary world. In the comments above it is noted that the French anthropology is being dominated (beleaguered) by Sociology departmentwise. I don't see that happening in Korea (but perhaps my view is too restricted on one certain department), and also the increasing contacts and engagement with the rests of the world (and the increased wealth of the country) has improved the position of anthropology in South Korea.

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