Global Arguments

January 13, 2012

It has long surprised me how anthropologists from different societies don’t argue much. American, or Japanese, or Indian, or Mexican, or Brazilian anthropologists might argue vociferously with one another over anthropological issues because they share a common reference group.  But we don’t see, as much as might be expected, arguments between a Japanese, a Mexican, and a Bulgarian anthropologist over the changing meanings of “culture,” the different global impacts of neoliberalism, the different cultural effects of global tourism, nationalisms and how they play out in different societies, and so on.  We don’t see many genuinely global arguments.


Why?  One major factor is language.  English has become the de facto international language, but many anthropologists around the world are far more comfortable writing in their own language.  Computer translations may be improving, but have a long way to go before they can enable a truly global anthropological communication.  A second reason is the history of the discipline: anthropology over its history has long been largely a matter of those from richer societies investigating those of poorer societies across the globe (or richer members of a given society investigating its poorer, often indigenous members), and so the idea of a global anthropology has taken a long time to fully emerge.  Today there remains a power difference in world anthropologies, with an Anglo-American core, and semi-peripheries and peripheries. This power imbalance works against the emergence of a genuinely global anthropology.


But it’s time to overcome this.  This blog and forum can maybe serve, in a small way, as a means of  overcoming the barriers to global anthropology.  Let’s discuss things! Let’s argue!  Wherever you are from, write down your opinions on any aspect of anthropology in the world today and send them on, to the e-mail address listed below.  We’d love to hear from you and throw your work out there to a global audience!  Send us a blog!  Register on this WCAA website and give us your comments!



Gordon Mathews

Blog Moderator

World Council of Anthropological Associations


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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. setha low  |  January 19, 2012 at 2:52 am

    Maybe the place to start this discussion is with a clearer understanding of anthropological imperialism and hegemony. The role of power in the production of knowledge. I know that we all talk about this, but what exactly do we mean? Michal Buchowski are working to put together a session for the AAA of asking a”local or native” anthropologist working in a region to have a conversation about hegemony/imperialism with a colleague from the US who works in the same region. You can not imagine how hard it is to create the pairs because we do not know each other and because so many anthropologists are still being trained in the US and UK. Plus the “english” issue. How do we get out of this mess?

  • 2. Gordon Mathews  |  January 22, 2012 at 10:06 am

    The panel that Michael Buchowski is putting together is a great idea, and as you imply, the problems he’s having are indicative of “unwitting imperialism.” We indeed need a clearer understanding of anthropological imperialism and hegemony: jump in if you can, and offer that understanding! But as you note, jumping in won’t lead us out of this mess. One path out will be perfected computer translation in a decade or two, but that solution is only partial…


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