Bringing 2013-14 class to a close.

Eight months ago we gathered for our first class.  The opening topic was decolonizing anthropology.  Today, our last day of this course, we have returned to this topic via a book that exhorts us to reverse the anthropological gaze.  This is fitting.  History, for that is what we are studying, is constructed, debated, and revised generation by generation.  There are empirical traces left for us to find – these are the readings, especially in our first term.  What becomes more interesting, I think, are the narratives that spin these facts into the whole cloth of the anthropological tradition.

Let’s review the original learning objectives that I set:

1.   develop your understanding of  anthropology in terms of the people, schools, and theoretical models that have been instrumental in shaping the canonical texts.

2.   locate the historical development of anthropology as a discipline within the context of wider historical processes, such late 19th century colonial expansion and industrial development, nation building in the Americas, post-world war II decolonisation, and late 20th century socio-economic transformations. 

3.   evaluate the mechanisms by which marginal voices have been excluded from the mainstream of the discipline.

From our first term we explored the following topics

·      Anthropology and Colonialism

·      Creating the ‘Field’ & the ‘Methods’ of Anthropology (Cushing, Barbeau and Malinowski).

·      Creating the ‘Discipline’

o    I: Franz Boas & Americanist Anthropology   

o   II: The British School (Structure & Function)

o   III: The French Ethnographic Tradition

o   Is there a Canadian Anthropology?

·      Structure, Order, and Exchange (Durkheim)

·      Anthropology and Marx’s Legacy

o   (I): Labour, Production, and Estrangement

o   (II): Power and Ideology

·      Three transformative ideas:

o   Interpretive Anthropology: Geertz.

o   Engaging with Gender: Second Wave Feminism & Anthropology

o   Engaging with History: Political Economies

By beginning with the twinned concepts of Anthropology and Colonialism our discussion was situated within a well-recognized trope.  We could have taken a more historical, rather than political,  approach.  We could have started with Herodotus, for example, the Greek historian and ethnographer of  the 5th century BC and then traced our way forward tracking the traces of European civilization as it’s members cogitated upon the strange people met.  But we didn’t.

I began with the idea of colonialism as anthropology in order to unsettle our comfortable ideas of the discipline of one neutrally located within simple fields of inquiry: content, method, practice.  Do we remember our first fieldtrip?  We walked over to be hind the museum of anthropology, to view the replica Haida village as though we were coming a shore on a vessel.  To get there, we had to pass over the vestigial structures of a World War Two gun emplacement.  Then we had to scramble around a large event tent.  Finally, after pushing through the overgrown weeds, we were able to stand as though in a canoe or on a merchant sailing ship and look ashore to the village. 

This is the view of the stranger, the visitor, the newcomer.  This is the vantage point that anthropology has taken throughout most of it’s academic life – to cast a gaze over top of other people, to play with use with foreign theories, to become experts upon us.  But, this is not what anthropology has to be.

In our second term we have explored a set of subjects that should, if we reflect upon them, help us turn our gaze around. 

·      Turning into/to Text and Considering Film

o   Anthropology at Home

o   Affect, Autobiography, and Autoethnography

o   Ecology & Poetics

o   Collaborative Anthropologies

·      Reversing the Gaze

Here we have explored a series of recent ethnographies (written over the course of the past two decades or more).  These ethnographies offer us examples of approach.  Incidentally, they also show us a wide range of the topics anthropologists work on.  Let’s review the books:

·      We eat the mines and the mines eat us, June Nash

·      The devil and commodity fetishism, Michael Tausig

·      In my father’s study, Ben Orlove

·      Stranger in the village of the sick, Paul Stoller

·      Abalone Tales, Les Fields

·      More than a labour of love, Meg Luxton

·      Between history and tomorrow, Gerald Sider

·      Ordinary affects, Kathleen Stewart

·      Lines in the water, Ben Orlove

·      Reversing the gaze, Mewenda Ntarangwi


This is quite the range of books we have travelled from South America through North America and Africa.  In our films we visited France and Africa again.   Today we will end the course back again near our start.  So it should be.  You are learning the history of your chosen discipline.  You are finding the walls and boundaries to this particular intellectual tradition.  While we might  “make our own history, we do not make it just as we please; we do not make it under circumstances chosen by ourselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”