Tag Archives: anthropology

Why is Anthropology so Critical?

Portrait of Giambattista Vico by Francesco Solimena

By Matthias Teeuwen            I want to thank Ton Salman for his insightful take on the question whether anthropology is the most scientific of the humanities or the most humanistic of the sciences or both, it gave me food for thought. For one: how is it that anthropology is considered science? It seems that Ton sees the scientific aspect of anthropology in its critical function of looking past the representations and meanings of people and examining the empirical conditions in which they arose.

I very much agree with Ton on this point. But I think that this hybridity is easily misunderstood in the sense that the critical, scientific side of anthropology is emphasised at the neglect of the hermeneutical, humanistic side. Continue reading

Anthropology's heterodoxy

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“Flowers” by Claude Monet

By Ton Salman            In the following blog, Ton Salman reacts to Matthias Teeuwen’s contribution to Standplaats Wereld of 13-2-2017, titled “Is Anthropology the most Humanistic of the Social Sciences and the most Scientific of the Humanities?

First of all, allow me to thank Matthias Teeuwen for, once again, an intriguing and pertinent contribution to the ongoing dialogue on the nature of anthropology and its potential contribution to contemporary societal issues and challenges. The question is not a new one – but it is correct to make it a persistent one in anthropological reflection, because the –always provisional– answers have real consequences for what sort of endeavor anthropology in the end might be and what its ambitions may entail. A frequently heard characterization of anthropology is that it is something “between the sciences and the humanities”, or “the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities”. The phrase is indeed often attributed to Kroeber, but sometimes also to Eric Wolf or Edward Sapir. But let that be the least of our worries. The substance of the matter is of course about the métier’s epistemology, methods and relation to other disciplines and professions like philosophy and text exegesis, but also sociology, political sciences and other social sciences. Continue reading

Is Anthropology the most Humanistic of the Sciences and the most Scientific of the Humanities?

Still Life with Flagon, Glass, Jug and Bridle, by Johannes Torrentius, 1614

By Matthias Teeuwen       The epithet in the title, commonly attributed to Alfred Kroeber, is often used to classify anthropology in-between the sciences and the humanities. Apparently we anthropologists manage to, once again, place ourselves in a position of simultaneous intimacy and distance, this time with regard to science and the humanities. Now, the question is: Is this where anthropology belongs? Even though a position between science and the humanities sounds like a very fruitful one, I would like to argue that anthropology belongs more properly in the humanities. Continue reading

Another Answer to the Question "What is Anthropology?"

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Photo by David Barnas on Flickr

By Matthias Teeuwen            As a student of cultural anthropology you are invariably confronted with the question: what is anthropology? It can briefly be answered by pointing to the etymology of the word: άνθρωπος (human; man) + λόγος (word; reason) = anthropology, the study of humans. However, this simple definition of anthropology soon gets swamped in the sheer diversity within anthropology: social anthropology, cultural anthropology, anthropology of crises, anthropology of religion, medical anthropology, digital anthropology, anthropology of the city, anthropology of music, etc….

Here I propose an understanding of what anthropology is based on the juxtaposition with philosophy, and with philosophy I mean that branch of philosophy that regards humans: philosophical anthropology. Anthropology and philosophy seem to share an engagement with the limits of the human:[1] What is human and what is not? Or, stated differently: what is the result of nurture and what is the result of nature? Continue reading

Confessions of a Native? Anthropologist in the Making

 

joshBy Josh Maiyo. I have not attended a single anthropology class and neither can I readily give a standard definition of it. In fact, I cannot tell for sure whether it is a distinct discipline, an overarching framework, a field of study, or a particular science of society. The simple definition, attributed to the Oxford Dictionary by Wikipedia as “The study of humankind” doesn’t sound convincing enough…and that citation shows how deeply I am not embedded within its literature. That I am doing my PhD at an anthropology department remains a paradox. I am probably more conversant with its ethnographic research methods of extended field work and participant observation, than its analytical approaches and theoretical frameworks. In this brief text, I chart my troubled journey and encounters with anthropology in its various forms, and my ongoing struggle to situate myself in the divide between its European roots and its African subject. This starting point is relevant, in case further down, you do not find familiar and high-sounding references to its heritage, or scintillating vignettes from its founding venerables whose names are vaguely familiar: Margaret Mead, Franz Boaz, Malinowski and the like. Continue reading

Don’t be a hero, just make anthropology public

wikipediaHet onderstaande blog werd eerder gepubliceerd op www.savageminds.org, een blog van antropologen die proberen antropologisch onderzoek meer “onder de mensen te brengen” en de maatschappelijke relevantie van antropologie te verhogen. Alex Golub geeft twee onorthoxe suggesties om dit doel te bereiken.

By Alex Golub. I really enjoyed Erin Taylor’s recent piece on SM about how to make anthropology public, and I wanted to add on to her suggestions about how to make anthropology public with a few, slightly more unorthodox ones of my own. These suggestions rub against the anthropological grain because they involve small, quiet, and steady work that doesn’t feel heroic, despite the big impact that it has. So it may seem strange at first blush, but I firmly believe the most effective way to get the best anthropology in front of the most people is to edit wikipedia and write book reviews on Amazon. Continue reading

500ste blog Standplaats Wereld!

Bron: Boogie en AJ

Bron: Boogie en AJ

Door Lenie Brouwer. Ongeveer vijf jaar geleden bespraken wij – enkele stafleden van de afdeling Antropologie – de kwaliteit van het publieke debat. Wij stoorden ons aan de negatieve toon van het islamdebat, hoe bijvoorbeeld de hoofddoek uitsluitend als een vorm van vrouwenonderdrukking werd gezien of hoe er alleen maar óver moslims werd gediscussieerd in plaats van met hen zelf. Een andere bron van frustratie betrof de discussie over ontwikkelingssamenwerking, hoe rechtse partijen dit debat monopoliseerden waardoor er weinig ruimte was voor nuancering . Wij misten een antropologische visie in deze maatschappelijke debatten en wilden onze kennis delen met een breder publiek. Maar als je een ingewikkeld maatschappelijk probleem weigert in one-liners te benaderen, dan is het niet eenvoudig je stem te laten horen in het publieke debat.
Daarnaast merkten wij dat het algemene beeld over antropologie nodig bijgesteld diende te worden. De koloniale en exotische erfenis zijn al lang geleden afgezworen en hebben inmiddels plaats gemaakt voor kritische studies over actuele onderwerpen als armoede, protestbewegingen of duurzaamheid, die niet alleen in het buitenland maar ook in eigen land worden onderzocht. Kortom, we hadden meer dan voldoende redenen om een antropologisch weblog te starten met als standplaats niets minder dan de wereld! Continue reading

Het Spinhuis: Reclaiming the Public University

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By: Touraj Eghtesad

In the first week of this academic year, a group of concerned students and ex-students squatted the Spinhuis Common Room, just two months after being closed down. This room was once the meeting spot for academics and students from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, until the University of Amsterdam decided that the profit made from real estate sales was worth more than cultural heritage.

‘I hate that I have to go to Roeterseiland now. The Spinhuis is so beautiful, it’s central and we had a real sense of community with the professors and students here.’ – Joanna, anthropology student.

The Spinhuis is a typical example of what the anthropologist David Graeber calls ‘zones of cultural improvisation’ in which ‘diverse sorts of people with different traditions and experiences are obliged to figure out some way to get on with one another’. The initial squatters were political activists, but we soon managed to include many non-activists who were delighted to witness this social space take shape. The Spinhuis Collective is not limited to anarchists: there are communists, liberals and non-political students. What unites them all is a sense of community and their drive to defend a free university, devoid of commercial interests.

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The advertisement campaign of the UvA focuses on the ‘intellectual rebel’. This powerful imagery was helpful in legitimizing the Spinhuis action.

Many students involved with the Spinhuis feel a sense of community in this space that they had yet to feel at university. Members of the collective constantly remind each other that running the Spinhuis demands hard work, but that they do not mind it because it is meaningful. Public services are being provided to students and non-students who come to enjoy a quiet study atmosphere during the day and fun, informative events every night of the week. They have been overwhelmingly popular, as universities provide too few opportunities for students to organize free cultural and political events.

‘The Spinhuis taught me a lot about being the change you want to see and how life can be different if you step outside the social norms. There are so many possibilities now that I never noticed before.’ – Jan, 26, UvA graduate.

There seems to be a widespread ‘squat stigma’, whereby people refuse to attend squatted social centres because they are an attack on private property. I invite those people to come see for themselves what they have missed out on. In fact, anyone can feel free to organize events at the Spinhuis. So far these have ranged from parties to discussion nights; cinema nights to benefit dinners; activist meetings to poetry readings. If these things are not appealing, there is the cheapest food and in all of central Amsterdam and coffee, tea and snacks are free.

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The Spinhuis Common Room.

The Spinhuis is safe for now, as the University of Amsterdam has another month to provide evidence that they have plans for the building (which they currently do not). In the most recent court ruling, the judge decided that this was an act of civil disobedience and that a speed eviction had no legitimacy as long as the space is used in the public interest.

In the meantime, the university community’s support for the Spinhuis and its principles will go a long way. The ideal of the university as a ‘community of learners’ is still worth defending. The example of the Spinhuis shows that when students are given an opportunity, they can also create amazing practical outcomes. They are not just consumers of education waiting to become working adults, but are also actively engaged in shaping the society they want to live in.

For more information, check hetspinhuis.wordpress.com

Electoral democracy confirmed: The 2014 Tunisian parliamentary elections

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Photo: Touraj Eghtesad

By Touraj Eghtesad Almost four years after the Tunisian Revolution, electoral democracy is becoming a reality in this little country where citizens often feel distant from the process of democratic transition. Meanwhile, much of the European media praises the ‘advent of democracy’ in Tunisia, where a democratic tradition has little consistency so far, as if democracy was a ‘thing’ rather than an ongoing process of checks and balances.

After a first set of elections with hundreds of political parties, Ennahdha (conservative) won and led a coalition government (Troika). Many people trusted that an Islamist party could not become corrupt and that Ennahdha would pursue a whole different trajectory than the Ben Ali regime which long oppressed them. Over the past three years, however, many Tunisians were frustrated that the Troika government did little to stop the growth of Islamist terrorist groups and carried out the same economic policies of the Ben Ali era.

The murder of far-left parliamentary Mohammed Brahmi by Salafist extremists in July 2013 brought one million Tunisians onto the streets . The Troika government, under pressure, promised to step down in favour of a technocratic government after a process of ‘National Dialogue’. This culminated in the vote of a new Constitution, praised as the most progressive in the Arab world, in January 2014.

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