Annihilating the “savage slot” from anthropology: Materializing reflexive practices

Vineeta Sinha


Calls to “decolonize” the social sciences have reverberated in academia since at least the 1950s. Anthropology, in particular, has been marked as the “child of colonialism” and “handmaiden of imperialism” (Gough ). Over the course of eight decades now, critics have highlighted the unequal power structures which have framed ethnographic practices and anthropological knowledge production. Yet, anthropology’s “savage slot” (and its manifestation in newer iterations) along with its epistemological and political logic have yet to be dislodged, persisting in contemporary disciplinary practices. This short essay argues for the need to address this crucial gap between anthropological theory and disciplinary practices, to act urgently to acknowledge and then resoundingly reject the haunting legacy of anthropology’s “savage/primitive/native slot.” Given that decolonization is ultimately about dismantling global hierarchies, I suggest that this can only be achieved through materializing progressive and deeply reflexive practices in the work of doing, writing, and teaching ethnography.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/713838