Lebensphilosophie and the revolution in anthropology: Uncovering the original “turn to life”

Andreas Lipowsky


In two recent themed collections in this publication, numerous contributors have explored the term and concept of “life” in its relationship to ethnographic theory. This article seeks to uncover a historical precedent for this constellation. More precisely, I argue that anthropology has seen an original “turn to life” within the very foundations of modern fieldwork methodology. Rarely acknowledged in the history of anthropology, the development of “participant observation” drew significantly upon the continental Lebensphilosophie tradition and popular vitalist practices. In a larger project, I demonstrate this intellectual history of the ethnographic method across national schools. In this article, I focus on Bronislaw Malinowski and British social anthropology.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/711881