A joyful history of anthropology

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Bhrigupati Singh and Jane I. Guyer. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau6.2.014


A joyful history of anthropology

Bhrigupati SINGH, Brown University

Jane I. GUYER, Johns Hopkins University

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.

Keywords: History of anthropology; theories of knowledge; teaching anthropology; Marcel Mauss; Franz Boas; joyful history[198]

A labor of the affirmative

I think the peculiar office of scholars in a careful and gloomy generation is to be (as the poets were called in the Middle Ages) Professors of the Joyous Science, detectors and delineators of occult symmetries.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Scholar,” Lecture at the University of Virginia, June 28, 1876.

And as long as you are in any way ashamed before yourselves, you do not yet belong with us.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, The gay science ([1887] (1974)

In what mood do we, students and teachers of anthropology, face our disciplinary past? Are we ashamed? And even in this supposed shame, do we implicitly assume a posture of superiority in facing the past? To put it differently, could it be the case that our current ways of professing to know this history make us less curious about and less resourceful with the anthropological archive? Our invocation of an anthropological gai saber does not equate the joyful with a necessarily positive or optimistic relation to the past. Instead, just as philosophers invoke the labor of the negative, we want to ask if it may be possible to conceive of a labor of the affirmative, of openness, as a way to encounter and inhabit the history of anthropology, from different vantage points. Such a labor may include affinities and antagonisms and forms of immersion and companionship, as well as fault lines that distance us from our past. How do we measure these distances? Unlike a telos of negation, by joyful we mean an intensity of engagement that, even in its disagreements and discomforts preserves a form of agonistic respect for the scholarly past and for opposing positions. We hope to face the anthropological archive as an open field dotted with patches, many of which are well-trodden and others left fallow for long enough, may be ripe for recultivation.

Such a claim seems agreeable enough. Who would disagree? Our initial impulse for this collection came from an antagonism we felt to a contemporary form of anthropological doxa. This doxa can take varied forms but it hinges on some version of a disavowal or refusal or impoverishment of the past, often assuming and imputing a telos of our own increasing enlightenment, even as the ghosts and straw men of the past stand accused for precisely similar crimes. Instances would include commonsensical and repeated evocations of a “prereflexive” past (with its implicitly self-congratulatory assumption of our present state, as one of greater self-awareness); the idea that anthropology in the past is best understood as filling a “savage slot” (Trouillot 1991), overwritten by evolutionism, or as simply a handmaiden of colonialism, undergirding political domination. At times this doxa traverses the humanities, area studies, and the human sciences more broadly. For instance, in a disciplinary review of South Asian Studies, Nicholas Dirks confidently asserts his compass of moral and teleological certainty: “The modern era of South Asian studies might be said to have begun in 1978, with the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism” (Dirks 2004: 362). In this collection of essays we seek to inhabit the “premodern,” “dark ages” without necessarily assuming a predetermined negation of the past, and either greater light or darkness for the present. This is not to say [199]that nothing “new” ever happens. Emergent, at times unprecedented conditions may compel a generation to recognize itself as positioned differently in history even from its current teachers, or from a previous self. We already see that each era contains its joys and anguishes, truths and framings, and we become increasingly aware that older terms, such as those arising from an evolutionary theory of the past, are now being projected onto the future, as in Isabelle Stengers’ (2015) In catastrophic times: Resisting the coming barbarism.

These complex mixtures of the old and the new notwithstanding, the doxa we posit is not merely stray opinion. It also relates centrally to the ways in which the history of anthropology is taught, often as a serial labor of the negative, with each new “ism” (evolutionism, functionalism, structuralism, poststructuralism) announcing an Oedipal displacement and negation of the previous circle; with each thinker, however innovative they may have been “in their own time,” now entirely overwritten by the “ism” or school within which they are federated and bound. And in this tightly serialized order, what we teach or “learn” (and more often we don’t learn, since we already know the outcome) are a series of imperfections, accompanied by the occasional smirk or “critical” gesture at old-fashioned turns of phrase, and half-baked imputations of villainy. Are there other ways to navigate and to inhabit the anthropological past? How else might thought move, if it can be said to move?

We might call this a local problem, specific to anthropology. And we might wonder, too, what kind of a particular, serial ritual murder, or the production of a disciplinary locality is this? Why don’t economists, for instance, present their disciplinary past in a similarly harsh light? In the sense of agonistic respect and self-respect, even for the position (or the unformulated doxa, which is not necessarily a “position”) against which we are arguing, we might ask, is there something soulful, even charming, about the specifically anthropological form of self-aversion? Or is it rather a tragically Oedipal self-blinding? Can we write our own anti-Oedipus? This is a local and a global problem given that anthropologists, the world over, teach some version of the history of anthropology. While there are major differences in the ways in which this history is taught in different countries and traditions of scholarship, we might tentatively notice some shared problems, based at least on the two editors’ own cumulative experiences of teaching and learning anthropology across four continents.

Our editorial conversation around these questions of closure and opening began in part through courses we respectively taught at graduate and undergraduate levels. Even at the most routine level of a “service” or introductory level course, the question for us is an intellectual and an ethical one: in what ways do we take responsibility for an inheritance, and for conveying a history? Bhrigupati Singh’s undergraduate course “History of Anthropology” taught at Brown University, was structured around juxtapositions of old and new texts that may offer some surprises when read together. Instances from within American anthropology would be Alfred Kroeber’s 1917 piece “The Superorganic” read alongside Stefan Helmreich’s 2011 essay “What was Life? Answers from Three Limit Biologies,” or Ruth Benedict’s 1934 essay “Anthropology and the Abnormal” read alongside Arthur Kleinman, Byron Good, and Joao Biehl’s introduction to their 2007 edited volume, Subjectivity: Ethnographic investigations. Or to take a different instance, to [200]not entirely refuse existing “isms” through which anthropological practitioners of the past often recognized themselves, we juxtaposed Durkheim-influenced functionalism with Marxism on the shared question of how social formations are reproduced over generations, to draw out a set of dilemmas around modes of conflict and cohabitation, and forms of inequality, that remain as puzzling and troubling today.

In resonant ways Jane Guyer’s graduate course on the history of anthropology, taught at Johns Hopkins University, entitled “Revolutions and Recuperations,” set out the idea of “Recuperations” referring to concepts, concerns, empirical findings, and the historical context of particular debates, all of which may fruitfully be brought forward in time, across the “revolutionary” moments in the macrotheoretical orientation of our discipline. For Guyer these movements create an opportunity for a younger generation of anthropologists to become acquainted rather than to caricature lineages and to identify instances that could become motivators and points of reference for their own work, whether in incorporative or contrastive modes. For Guyer, the labor of a disciplinary history may take the form of intellectual companionships, within and sometimes across disciplines, to come to grips with new conditions and theoretical moments. An example from Guyer’s course would be Victor Turner’s extraordinary description of his informant, “Muchona the Hornet” (1967), which opens up methodological issues and approaches toward the imagery of existential being, in contexts where poetic imagery and shape-shifting are ordinary modes of conceptualizing “the person,” that could engage with what is now termed “the ontological turn.” Or, somewhat differently, a historical labor of the affirmative may be to recreate forgotten intensities, with which subsequent generations may have lost touch, such as we draw attention to in our allusion to the foundation of the annual Frazer Lecture immediately after the end of the enormous tragedies of the Great War. For Guyer and for Singh, the past can then take the form of a flash, or an encounter, a sudden inspiration that scholars may find for themselves, when given the freedom to venture out on their own rather than being warned off from an entire field. Guyer refers to such unanticipated encounters using Nigerian writer Ben Okri’s imagery, “the quickening of the unknown” (Guyer 2013).

Our call for an open field: Against teleology and canonical stability

In our call for papers for this special section, we argued that often—despite protestations at being the antiteleological discipline—the history of anthropology itself (particularly in the Anglo-American academy) tends to be taught as a predictable teleology: a parade of “isms,” where each “ism” leaves the previous one outmoded. Linked to such teleological orientations is a falsely self-congratulatory sense of “postreflexive” anthropology, as if “old” anthropology had no sense of global inequality or human subjectivity, when immersion in the anthropological archive yields ample evidence to the contrary. Our dismay as teachers is that armed with this picture of the past, students come away with a terribly impoverished idea of the past and a false sense of the present as necessarily more enlightened. Somewhat differently, in other contexts (parts of Europe and Asia and other places where departments follow a more tightly “structured” curriculum), the relationship to [201]the anthropological past faces a different problem. It often posits too stable and distant a canon (of unapproachably “great” thinkers and theories) and is thereby deadened in a different way. In either of these directions, teleological negation or titanic stability, the past becomes not a living agon or a source of new conversations and surprises but a fossil—either too villainous and unreconstructed to be of use, or too great and monumental to be of immediate consequence.

In search of alternative orientations, we asked, in our call for papers, what it might mean to enliven our relation to the history of anthropology. To reiterate: we mean “joyful” not as a naïve positivity or optimism but rather joy in an Emersonian-Nietzschean1 sense: a kind of fullness and intensity of engagement that may include tragic possibilities, and the reemergence of the old as the new, or at least as fodder for the new. To bring words back to life: that is a joyful task. Does our way of teaching and reading the history of anthropology enliven it or contribute to its demise? We issued this as an open call for papers, circulated on HAU-NET, since in many ways the journal HAU very much expresses the spirit of ancestral abundance and agonistic exchange with which we approach the history of anthropology. We did not want to personally solicit papers from leading, senior scholars who would dictate our route to the past. Nor did we want the lamentation of experts, who would finger-wag about the woeful ignorance of today’s younger scholars and exhort us to return (for instance) to the glory days of the seminar culture of British social anthropology.

We were thinking in the spirit of “immersion” that lies at the center of ethnographic method, but here applied to our own history. Rather than insisting on the reinstatement of something lost, are there other ways to imagine immersion, copresence, and companionship however contentious that might be, across passages of time? How do concepts lose their grounding and sense over time, and might some of these senses be regained? “Savage” can serve as an example of the shifts and nuances, over time and translation. “Savage,” as sauvage (in French), with the wild pansy—la pensée sauvage—as its image, was once associated with “free thought,” that is, escaping from the doctrinal authority of the church. Perhaps the English translation of Lévi-Strauss’s La pensée sauvage as The savage mind (1966) creates exactly the kind of distance that the author was explicitly arguing against when he claimed that, “man has always thought equally well.” And then there are certain postures (quite literally!) of scholarly life that may also go out of vogue: for instance, rather than a blanket dismissal of “armchair” anthropology, we ask what kind of labor went into these works that developed categories such as “savagery” in an evolutionary or in an antiteleological series? Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient society (1877) is less voluminous and empirically rich than his lesser-known Systems of consanguinity and affinity of the human family (1871). In the latter text, almost 600 pages long, Morgan’s comparison of the Tamil and Seneca-Iroquois systems covers 237 kin terms. An appendix on Tongan and Fijian systems defines 218 different terms. What would immersion offer to us now, if we tried to imagine [202]receiving or undertaking the actual work of this work, which Morgan wrote while also practicing as a lawyer, writing a book on The American beaver ([1868] 1986), and visiting Iroquois longhouses?

In our invitation we did not offer any orienting examples or outlines of what ought to be a canon but we hoped that those who responded would reconnect to the anthropological archive (and it remains an open question, as we argue ahead, of where this archive begins and ends), in ways that worked with immersion and companionship, of whatever kind and depth they found compelling. The essays we received in response to our call for papers, by and large from a younger generation of scholars, far exceeded any predictions we might have made about the answers that could be offered to the question of what constitutes a joyful history of anthropology. We group these essays into three themes, although there is considerable crossfertilization across the groups. For instance, many of the essays begin with what we might, via Wittgenstein, call a scene of instruction, a consideration of the moments of coming into language, into anthropological language in this case, in a classroom or in the world at large, as a student, or as a teacher, or as a mix of both. The three themes of our collection are as follows: 1) Canonical recreations, 2) Minor events in the history of anthropology, and 3) Ways of inhabiting a body of knowledge.

Canonical recreations

The term canon has a complex history: etymologically a Semitic word meaning “measuring rod,” it was adopted to refer to the papal authorization of saintly status through the production of biographies and proofs of miraculous potency (Stietencron 2001: 7), and gradually transfigured, and as with many secularized concepts that retain a theological trace of transcendence, applied to authors and authoritative bodies of work that set a standard. Disciplines in the Western intellectual tradition have either implicitly or explicitly cultivated a core of works that are considered canonical, as a kind of professional apprenticeship. The long history of anthropological self-critique quite importantly serves to soften our measuring “rod,” away from its transcendent sense of imposing a discipline, an “authorizing discourse” as Talal Asad (1993) would call it, to instead, potentially offering a kind of freedom (a few hard-earned degrees of freedom) to experiment with genealogies, what we would like to call canonical recreations.

We mean recreation in two senses; first as play, a joyful, playful spirit that many of our essays in this collection embody, venturing into the past without a sense either of patriarchal obligation or Oedipal hostility. In this sense of recreation, anthropological texts may be a source of jouissance, a place to return to for pleasure and regeneration. Second, in a related but distinct sense of the term, such returns are a re-creation of an archive that is available but impermanent. Just as in certain conceptions of religion, gods and ancestors need to be sustained through sacrifice, our anthropological genealogies and ancestral texts are not self evidently “foundational.” Rather, they need to be continually found and regenerated through forms of engagement and disputation. In this second sense, recreation is not only play but also an offering. And a rod is not necessarily or only a source of discipline but [203]a fragile form of kinship or friendship or companionship with the past. And we learn, even if our current “disciplines” (in all the senses of that word) differ, how it was that scholars brought entire libraries of sources together, often in several languages, to configure them and turn the results into a corpus that we no longer need to treat as final authoritative statements, but rather to see them as condensations or maps that have generated landmarks of movement across landscapes, at a time when we perhaps no longer labor in the “comparative” style as Morgan, Frazer, and others.

This section of our collection on canonical recreations is composed of three such offerings: close engagements with James Frazer’s The golden bough (1995), Marcel Mauss’ The gift (1954), and Franz Boas’ Anthropology and modern life (1962). Each of these texts and authors can of course be taken as “indisputably” canonical, which may, as we argue, also be a way of deadening and monumentalizing a form of thought. Instead of assuming a canonical authorizing discourse, each of our three contributors in this section undertakes a differently precarious route to bringing their object—text or author—momentarily, back to life. In “Rediscovering Papa Franz: Teaching twenty-first century undergraduates with Anthropology and modern life,” Holly Swyers leads us on an exciting journey of her and her four-field anthropology class’s “discovery” of Boas as a voice against racism. As Swyers provocatively puts it, to her students and to us as readers, “Papa Franz set us a task, and we seem to have muffed it.”

Swyers’ journey with Boas begins from a point that we are calling “monumental” (death by canonization): her “vague recollection,” as she calls it, of Boas’ significance, less as a writer and more as a “great” institutional founder and teacher, “who died in the arms of Claude Lévi-Strauss.” We witness her initial tentative adoption of Boas, and we see how her engagement gradually increases in intensity until he slowly becomes a “copilot” in her class. Through a classroom ethnography structured almost like a thriller, we move between lines from Boas to classroom and social situations, back to Boas, in the process encountering his “forgotten interlocutors,” who are not so distant from today’s antagonists, as Swyers shows us, whether these be online white supremacists or those, even in her class, who mistakenly feel that they are “unmarked” by questions of race. Here, the joyful is encountered as a thrill, literally of finding a text brought back to pedagogic and political life. Boas is not “recuperated” in an “ironic” mode (Krupat 1988), or by better clarifying this or that historical detail, but rather reanimated, channeled, as a challenge to the contemporary.

Swyers also flags two distinct waves of “Boas denigration” within the human sciences, a theme that provides an interesting bridge to Victor Kumar’s very different recreation of Frazer’s The golden bough, a text that at first sight looks less like a sometimes forgotten but nevertheless venerable foundation qua Boas, and more like an ugly imperial ruin that no wants to visit, although we know it exists and that some misguided souls fell under its spell, once upon a time. Kumar asks, if we might, for a moment, meet Frazer less like a failed pedant and instead treat him more like an “interlocutor in a more ethnographic context.” Unlike Swyers, Kumar offers us the opposite of a pedagogic thriller. With its 150-page bibliography and nearly endless compendium of lore dubiously linked to the central organizing myth of the Nemi priest and the runaway slave, Kumar admits that he “found the text so [204]boring as to be almost unreadable.” And yet, Kumar can’t help but wonder, “Why did it become such a notable source of inspiration and scorn?”

Kumar works through some of the most famous of Frazer’s critics—Leach, Lang, Wittgenstein—noticing how each somewhat differently identifies the source of Frazer’s faulty reasoning. Kumar juxtaposes these faults with Frazer’s own conception of the errors of “superstitious” reasoning. Contemporary readers are perhaps unanimously more sympathetic to Wittgenstein’s demonstration of the “stupidity” of Frazer’s “science,” and to his memorable crack about Frazer’s affinity to an English country parson. And yet, Kumar contends, what if we didn’t let Frazer’s constant positing of unlikely similarities, the pomposity of his “comparative method,” irritate our temper? Is it our scientific temper that is irritated? To quote Kumar, “What if we were to take The golden bough as expressive magic rather than erroneous science?” Building on Talal Asad’s (2003) provocative question of whether or not there can be “an anthropology of secularism,” we can read Kumar as rereading Frazer in a more fluctuating “irrational” light, as a bricoleur working “somewhere between magical and scientific reasoning.” In this playful, almost “extracurricular” form of reanimation, without any claim to the lasting pedagogic value of a text, Kumar shows us that error, too, may be as interesting a landmark in the history of thought as analytic success.

Stephanie Frank’s contribution within this section reenters a text that would most likely win if we were to have a global vote on the one enduring analytic success story within “old” anthropology: Marcel Mauss’ The gift. Frank returns to one of the most crucial questions of this text: wherein lies the necessity of reciprocation? Differently put, how is mutual obligation created without recourse to authority? And, do we remember, what was Mauss’ answer exactly? Frank invites us back into The gift with a striking proposition: the history of reading this text within anthropology, in ways famously associated with Lévi-Strauss, Marshall Sahlins, and Raymond Firth among others, has led to a repeated obfuscation of the core argument, by locating the impetus for reciprocity in a mysterious metaphysical force, the Maori concept of hau (the “force in the thing”), and in assuming that Mauss himself just echoed this “ethnographic” concept, and conflated the distinction between things and persons, as being equally pervaded by hau. While invocations of the “agency of things” are currently much in vogue, Frank’s argument can be read as part of an older genealogy of critiques of concepts of force and “thing-power” from within anthropology (examples of this “anti-mana” group would be Firth, Keesing, Leach, and Needham, among others).

In contrast to a metaphysical presupposition of force, Frank offers a different way to “recreate” The gift, by returning to Mauss and Hubert’s debate with the Durkheimian jurist Paul Huvelin on the difference/similarity between magical and juridical rites. The central proposition that Frank offers us is to reread The gift by shifting the emphasis from hau to the ancient Roman legal concept of nexum (to pledge oneself)2 and of Mauss’ absorption of a series of potentially separate juridical concepts within the logic of nexum. In a pessimistic view, this may be seen as a thesis of enslavement (we are all “bonded” and pledged). However, as Frank argues, [205]a “completely unencumbered” idea of agency may be part of the problem, a “fantasy representing the flipside of authority.” In contrast, in her deeply Durkheimian reading, The gift remains as fertile as it ever was, as a way of understanding “nonauthoritarian sociality.” As Frank puts it in her moving, concluding sentence, “we always already owe our very selves to each other.”

Minor events in the history of anthropology

To speak of a canon as an unfixed (exhaustible and renewable) stock also means that sources of renewal might arise from beyond the stockpile of contestably, but reasonably well-acknowledged founding figures like Mauss, Frazer, and Boas. The question here is not only of where an anthropological canon begins and ends. We might also ask what constitutes an event in the history of anthropology? And might the singularity of certain “minor” events in a Deleuzian sense, exceed the idea of canonical texts altogether? The two essays in this section (Morriera, Krebs) chart the history of anthropology in a minor key, in a gesture of mourning, finding their habitations amid lesser-known deaths and displacements.

Shannon Morreira’s journey into anthropology is, in ways resonant with Swyers above, also structured as a bildungsroman, a way of gradually coming to know the (at times violent) implication of the self in the world. Morriera begins by examining her discomfort and fragmented intimacy with passages of her politician grandfather Blair Ewing’s autobiographical account of his part in resettlement operations along the Zambezi River in Southern Africa. Morreira contrasts her grandfather’s narrative (overheard in snatches by Morreira as a child), with an anthropological account of these events, Elizabeth Colson’s 1971 book, The social consequences of resettlement. Emphasizing the sharp awareness of colonialism, racism, and sexism in Colson’s text, Morriera discusses her experience of teaching this text four decades later, as a young lecturer in the legendary anthropology department at the University of Cape Town. Offering us a rich conundrum of how we might think of genealogies (with Morriera, for instance, as much a descendant of her grandfather, as she continually acknowledges, as of Colson, an intellectual predecessor), Morriera places Colson in the context of the Rhodes Livingston Institute, which Colson joined in 1946, under the directorship of Max Gluckman, and which she later took over as Director herself when Gluckman left for Manchester in 1947. Morriera repossesses Colson for the present, bringing her into conversation with current student protests at UCT to de-institutionalize racism, which began with a call to take down a campus statue of Cecil Rhodes.

Here, we encounter histories of “non-Western” anthropology freed from distancing labels like “world” anthropologies, a label that is bound to disappoint, as we discover the proximity, at times even the apprenticeship of intellectuals at the “periphery” to those at the “center,” and vice versa, the dependence of intellectuals at the center on native research “assistants,” a theme that Morriera discusses. Rather than “worlds,” let us say that the joyful signals one world. And further, keeping with the Deleuzian invocation of the minor (as a concept within the philosophical lineage of gai saber), let us also acknowledge that a minority is not necessarily only to be found in a “peripheral” location. Our next essay in this section takes up a “minor” figure within French intellectual life, in relation to other places and times.[206]

Edgardo Krebs takes us on a moving journey through the life of the Swiss-born, French-trained anthropologist Alfred Métraux, who spent his childhood in Argentina and returned there at age twenty-six, in 1928, to be the founding director of the Instituto de Etnologia Americana at the Universidad de Tucuman. Krebs focuses on Métraux’s hostility and fractured intimacy with the cosmopolitan group of artists and writers gathered around Victoria Ocampo’s journal SUR, including Borges. Métraux berates this group for its elitism and for its lack of what we might recognize as an ethnographic impulse: “I am convinced that I know your land better than all of you. . . . How can you love the pampas if you have only seen them from a train, on the way to Mar del Plata?” While being a source of some irritation to Borges, Krebs argues that Métraux became a recognizable presence in his fiction, in particular in stories such as “Dr. Brodie’s Report” and “The Ethnographer.”

Krebs shows how, in ways worse than his problems with the SUR group, Métraux became sidelined within French academic life, even as Lévi-Strauss declared him to be “necessary for the mental hygiene of anthropology.” Krebs ends his narrative with two epitaphs: lines from Victoria Ocampo’s letter after she learned of Métraux’s suicide in Paris in 1963 (“Dear Métraux you were right. . . . You knew the Americas better that I did.”), and Métraux’s tombstone epitaph, placed by his sister, quoting Juan Tepano, his main Easter Island collaborator. Krebs’s essay shows us a way of entering the history of anthropology in an elegiac mood. Moreover, rather than invoking a seamless synthesis of “literary ethnography,” the “minor” event of Métraux’s death illuminates a tragic contest between anthropology and literature, in which the former is bound to lose despite its feeling of knowing more about particular milieus. But a contest need not only be tragic. What other kinds of games and affairs might anthropology create?

Ways of inhabiting a body of knowledge: Bricolage and play

In what ways might we make a body (of knowledge) our own, not through pedagogical injunctions and heaviness but through forms of play? Andrew Brandel suggests a name for the practice of working together, since anthropology is inherently (is it not?) a practice of working together, even when we are alone. He calls it “the art of conviviality.” As Brandel suggestively puts it, “And in the end, is ours not too a love affair with the world?” How does one start such an affair? It may begin through “the ghosts whose books we cherish,” as Brandel puts it. This essay returns to a canonical ghost, easily rendered hollow and spectral by classroom caricatures of “binary oppositions,” which ought to be a source of some dismay because he is also one of the most endlessly generative figures, as one draws closer, although perhaps we lack the strength and patience to do so. We refer of course to Lévi-Strauss. As one of the editors (Singh) has argued elsewhere, “poststructuralism” is a nonsensical term, given for instance (among other differences), Derrida and Deleuze’s sharply contrasting views on Lévi-Strauss (Singh 2014: 162)3. Brandel conjures a different Lévi-Strauss into existence, by placing his oeuvre, closely read, in conversation with [207]Jena Romanticism, particularly Novalis, and arguing for the (troubling?) possibility that anthropology may be a romantic science, seeking not “hospitality” but conviviality, a kind of union, a picture of knowledge as an existential transformation of the self, a way of being marked by an other. Brandel also invites us into a particular picture of reading, and a way of inhabiting the history of anthropology not through “use” but as a habitation, of living with texts and “allowing them to mark us.” Other possibilities are born from the “fantastic combination” that Brandel creates, ones that may not be foreseen. Could it be that Lévi-Strauss is actually the finest thinker of the so-called ontological turn? Could it be that romanticism holds the secrets to our most current catastrophes? Did we (almost?) throw away an inheritance “richer than all our tribe”? Brandel takes a step towards a possible retrieval.

And finally, since we have invoked a joyful spirit, which demands rigor and a measure of lightness, we end not with the ponderous conclusions of wissenschaft but with a game, “A figure game,” as Jason Price calls it, which lies outside, in the Colloquium Section, but also inside, at the heart of our enterprise in this special section. We don’t want to give the game away but we should introduce you to it. It begins “. . . with two magic words. Myth! She cries. Oh no . . .” Is it a poem? How do you play? If you want to know the rules, you could begin at the end (with the author’s “foreward”) and then return to the start. You will find captions relieved of their obligation to images, and fragments: “An everyday scene, showing groups of people at their ordinary occupations 1922. . . . El in his studio making beats 2013.” Can this be called history?

Price shows how an anthropologist’s use of captions often continues their style of writing and thinking. It is “a cipher long hidden in plain sight.” Price began composing this piece by collecting a mass of images from the anthropology shelves in the UC Berkeley library, “in a desktop folder labeled simply JOY.” Unexpectedly stymied by the copyright issues involved in reproducing these images, Price was spurred to create something even more innovative perhaps than a catalog of images, namely, captions brought together in a “metalogue,” a literary form developed by Gregory Bateson (1972). Walter Benjamin wanted to write an essay composed solely of citations. Price manages perhaps to fulfill this desire. Lightness too has its own rigor. You might notice that the game has the longest bibliography of all the contributions to our collection.

We will not end by offering a final definition of the “joyful.” Definitions are often the least memorable part of an anthropological text. What we have tried to offer instead is an opening, a way, akin to a genre or an ethos. For a genre too, for instance melodrama or romantic comedy, one might offer a definitional “formula” (“two people meet, they overcome a socially produced obstacle to their union”). We have tried to offer some elements of our formula: antiteleological, a labor of the affirmative, the minor as joyful, forms of companionship (including antagonism) and more. But the formula is nothing without the instances that populate and exceed it, that bring it to life. As such, our introduction and the pieces in this volume are written in the hope of further instances to come. A route becomes richer when others continue and extend it, as we hope will be the case. Rather than a strict definition, we will end by citing a pair of birds, sighted by our “gamer” Jason Price, quoting Edward Sapir (1986). In “A pair of tricksters,” Sapir writes of two classic figures in Native American folklore (the raven and the bluejay): “one is a mind and [208]one is a heart / And the two are a trickster pair; Croaker and screamer—each has an art / Of escaping from despair.”


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———. 2003. “What might an anthropology of secularism look like?” In Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity, 21–66. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Babich, Babette E. 2006. “Nietzsche’s ‘gay’ science.” In A Companion to Nietzsche, edited by Keith Ansell Pearson, 95–114. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.revproxy.brown.edu/doi/10.1002/9780470751374.ch6/summary.

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Cavell, Stanley. 2003. “Old and new in Emerson and Nietzsche.” In Emerson’s transcendental etudes. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Colson, Elizabeth. 1971. The social consequences of resettlement: The impact of the Kariba resettlement Upon the Gwembe Tonga. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Dirks, Nicholas. 2004. “South Asian studies: Futures Past.” In The politics of knowledge: Area studies and the disciplines, edited by David L. Szanton, 341–85. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Frazer, James George. 1995. The golden bough: A study in magic and religion. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Guyer, Jane I. 2013. “The quickening of the unknown”: Epistemologies of surprise in anthropology.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3 (3): 283–307.

Helmreich, Stefan. 2011. “What was life? Answers from three limit biologies.” Critical Inquiry 37 (4): 671–96.

Kleinman, Arthur, Byron Good, and João Biehl. 2007. “Introduction: Rethinking subjectivity.” Subjectivity: Ethnographic investigations, edited by Arthur Kleinman, Byron Good, and João Biehl, 1–25. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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———. 2014. “How concepts make the world look different: Affirmative and negative genealogies of thought.” In The ground between: Anthropologists engage with philosophy, edited by Arthur Kleinman, Michael D. Jackson, Veena Das, and Bhrigupati Singh, 159–88. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

———. 2015. Poverty and the quest for life: Spiritual and material striving in rural India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Une histoire joyeuse de l’anthropologie

Résumé : Beaucoup d’entre nous, en divers endroits, ont pour responsabilité d’enseigner l’histoire de l’anthropologie. Comment pouvons-nous raconter cette histoire? Bien qu’il existe des différences de pédagogie entre cultures et contextes, il [210]y a aussi des postulats partagés que nous tentons de déstabiliser. Par exemple, une histoire de la pensée anthropologique qui se réduirait à une parade téléologique de mots en “-isme”, se succédant les uns après les autres, ou bien encore une interprétation œdipienne et post-réflexive de l’anthropologie qui ne trouverait dans la “vieille” anthropologie aucune attention à la subjectivité ni à la politique. Dans cette section spéciale de HAU intitulée “Une Histoire joyeuse de l’anthropologie” nous nous interrogeons sur ce que cela signifierait d’égayer notre rapport à l’histoire de l’anthropologie. Par “joyeuse”, nous n’entendons pas une simple affirmation, mais une intensité dans l’engagement, la possibilité d’une ré-émergence de l’ancien dans le nouveau et le potentiel qu’ont les textes anthropologiques de dépasser les “ismes” auxquels ils sont souvent relégués. Nous avons choisi d’inclure des articles qui a) recherchent des façons non téléologiques d’habiter l’histoire de l’anthropologie; b) qui se fondent sur la rencontre ethnographique, ou dans lesquels l’auteur construit un engagement en profondeur avec un texte de l’archive anthropologique, sur le mode de l’immersion et de la familiarité; c) qui identifient des textes, des moments ou des méthodes qui déstabilisent les idées établies sur l’ancien et le moderne en anthropologie. Parmi les propositions, émises par des chercheurs vivant sur les quatre continents, que nous avons reçues, nous avons sélectionné dix articles en conversation autour de trois thèmes: 1) Réinventer le canon; 2) Incidents mineurs dans l’histoire de l’anthropologie; 3) Explorer le champ du savoir. Nous ne prétendons pas que notre entreprise soit entièrement novatrice, nous espérons plutôt que cette collection intensifiera une tendance, qui sans être récente demeure encore balbutiante et souvent réprimée au sein de la discipline anthropologique, à revisiter l’archive de cette profession comme plus qu’une histoire constituée d’erreurs et d’infamie, comme un champ des possibles.

Bhrigupati SINGH is Assistant Professor of anthropology at Brown University. His recent book, Poverty and the quest for life: Spiritual and material striving in rural India (University of Chicago Press, 2015), was awarded the Joseph Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences and the 2016 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion (analytical-descriptive) from the American Academy of Religion. His articles have appeared in journals including Cultural Anthropology, American Ethnologist, Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory, and Contributions to Indian Sociology. He is the coeditor of The ground between: Anthropological engagements with philosophy (Duke University Press, 2014). He is currently working on an ethnography of mental health issues in contemporary India, with fieldwork based at the Department of Psychiatry, AIIMS (Delhi), and a book of essays titled What comes after Postcolonial Theory?.

Bhrigupati Singh
Department of Anthropology
Brown University
128 Hope Street
Providence, RI 02912


Jane I. GUYER is Professor Emerita at Johns Hopkins University. A graduate of the London School of Economics (1965) and the University of Rochester (1972), she undertook field research projects on economic life in Nigeria and Cameroon. She has held faculty appointments at Harvard, Boston, and Northwestern Universities. At Northwestern, she was Director of the Program of African Studies (1994–2001). Book publications include Family and farm in Southern Cameroon (1984), An African niche economy (1997), Marginal gains: Monetary transactions in Atlantic Africa (2004), Legacies, logics, logistics (2016), and a new translation of Marcel Mauss, Essay on The gift (Expanded Edition, 2016).

Jane I. Guyer
Department of Anthropology
Mergenthaler Hall
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD 21218



1. For more on Nietzsche’s sense of a gay science, in contrast with less affect-imbued senses of wissenschaft, see Babich (2006: 97). For more on the deep resonance between Emerson and Nietzsche’s sense of the old and the new, see Cavell (2003: 224), and one of the coeditor’s own essays, Singh (2006: 365).

2. See also Deleuze and Guattari’s emphasis on the concept of nexum in A thousand plateaus (1987: 565); see also Singh’s emphasis on “nexum” as a conceptual term in his study of a community of former bonded laborers in Poverty and the quest for life (2015).

3. For more on the very different philosophical inheritances and implications of Deleuze and Derrida, see Smith 2003.