Deconstructing anthropology: First Annual Stephen F. Gudeman Lecture

Adam Kuper


This lecture makes a start at deconstructing some of anthropology’s most venerable avatars. Classical theories invoked a certain kind of person as the subject of anthropology. He was the savage, the tribal, the indigenous. More recently he became simply The Other. Always, he was our mirror opposite, ourselves turned upside down in a fairground mirror. And the theories that tried to explain this imaginary actor recycled a recurrent set of ideas and arguments about nature and culture, and savagery and civilization.

If we are to return to the real world we must free our thinking of these imaginary dichotomies, and set aside the repetitive cycle of mythical transformations that they support. Begin with the recognition that we are very like the people we study. Then construct a cosmopolitan anthropology that will confront current theories, models and methods with the experience and the understanding of the people we live with as ethnographers.


History and theory, culture, social evolution, cosmopolitan anthropology

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/703730