Aesthetics or Ethnography? Notes on the Amsterdam Anthropology Lecture Series (AALS)

By Matthias Teeuwen            When one thinks of a Muslim artist in the Netherlands one naturally thinks of someone who, with his or her art, tries to address issues of integration, tensions between Islam and secularism or the clash between Islamic and western society. Because that is what art by Muslims in the Netherlands is supposed to be about. Right? In last week’s AALS lecture Dr. Bregje Termeer came to talk to us about her dissertation research on artistic strategies of young Muslim artists living in the Netherlands. What she discovered was that these artists did not subscribe to the definition …

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Why is Anthropology so Critical?

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 …

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Thin Description? Notes on the Amsterdam Anthropology Lecture Series (AALS)

By Matthias Teeuwen    Last AALS lecture was an inspiring and thought-provoking presentation by Dr. Paolo Favero on the myriad possibilities that emerging technologies provide to conducting ethnographic research. He talked about the implications of the use of i-docs (interactive documentaries such as Highrise), wearable camera’s (used exclusively in Leviathan), user GPS (Dr Favero gave an example of its use in Rider Spoke), and much more in ethnographic research. Here are some impressions.

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

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.

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Another Answer to the Question "What is Anthropology?"

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: ???????? (human; man) + ????? (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 …

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Rereading Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Ethnographer”

By Matthias Teeuwen        I have read “The Ethnographer” and “Dr. Brodie’s Report” without thinking much of it. Sure, I had found it curious that Borges, who ranks among my favourite authors, would devote some of his writings to ethnography, but I haven’t thought much of it. Or, to be precise, I had planned to do my thinking on it at a later time. So when I came across an article in HAU Journal (2016, Volume 6, nr. 2) by Edgardo Krebs who argues that the anthropologist Alfred Métraux was Jorge Luis Borges’ inspiration to write the two stories, my …

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Ankara’s Long Arm: Notes on the Amsterdam Anthropology Lecture Series (AALS)

By Matthias Teeuwen            Last Thursday Professor Thijl Sunier gave a lecture on the backlash in the Netherlands of the coup attempt in Turkey in July. The room was packed with students, faculty members and other people interested in the subject. What Sunier particularly succeeded in, was challenging and debunking the assumption that the concern Turkish-Dutch citizens showed with the coup and its consequences was an indication of failed integration on the part of these Turkish-Dutch citizens. Sunier argued that this is not a case of failed integration; instead, this is a case of the complex and transnational interplay between religion, …

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Are anthropologists getting sick of culture?

By Matthias Teeuwen  Lately I have been captivated by what some call ‘existential anthropology’. It started when I found a book in the library aptly called: ‘What is Existential Anthropology?’ edited by Michael Jackson and Albert Piette. Jackson and Piette lament the fact that the human being has nearly disappeared from academic writing in social and cultural anthropology. The human subject seems to have been replaced by abstract social concepts and cultural mechanisms in anthropological literature. In his contribution, Laurent Denizeau mentions an uneasy realisation that authors of literature often seem more capable to seize concrete human existence in their …

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