Introduction: A joyful history of anthropology

Bhrigupati Singh, Jane I. Guyer


Many of us, in different parts of the world, face the responsibility of teaching the history of anthropology. In what ways do we narrate this history? While there are differences in styles of teaching across cultures and contexts, there are shared assumptions that we seek to challenge, for instance, the history of anthropological thought conceived of as a teleological parade of “isms,” each one outmoded by its successor, or an Oedipal sense of “postreflexive” anthropology as if “old” anthropology had no sense of politics or subjectivity. In this Special Section of Hau , entitled “A Joyful History of Anthropology,” we ask what it would mean to enliven our relationship to the history of anthropology. By “joyful” we do not mean a simple affirmation, but an intensity of engagement, the possibility of the reemergence of the old as the new, and a sense of anthropological texts as potentially exceeding the “isms” within which they are often bound. We invited articles that sought a nonteleological way to inhabit the history of anthropology, in the mode of immersion and agonistic or convivial companionship in ways that unsettle ideas of old and new within anthropology. Among the several abstracts we received in response from scholars across four continents, we selected the following six articles and a “game” that converse with one another across three themes: 1) Canonical recreations, 2) Minor events in the history of anthropology, and 3) Ways of inhabiting a body of knowledge. We do not necessarily make a claim to newness in our endeavor. Rather, we hope that this collection intensifies a longstanding albeit often incipient, and sometimes repressed tendency within anthropology, which is to encounter our disciplinary archive not necessarily as a history of error or villainy but as a field of possibilities.


History of anthropology; theories of knowledge; teaching anthropology; Marcel Mauss; Franz Boas; joyful history

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.2.014