American Anthropological Imperialism? An Overdue Dialogue– Papers Now Available

December 12, 2012

Anthropologists are proud of their ethos of social justice, egalitarianism and reciprocity. Nevertheless, for historical, geopolitical and economic reasons, the discipline of anthropology is divided into privileged and underprivileged regions. Cross-cutting and overlapping disparities find expression in such academic concepts as center and periphery, Global South and North, and East and West, reifying these metaphorical relationships. They are reflected in material inequalities in knowledge production, academic employment, and access to resources. And it is anthropology in the United States that is commonly perceived as the most powerful and influential force within this landscape. Existing structures of wealth and power (publications, fieldwork opportunities, English language dominance) produce a hierarchical system of anthropological knowledge and rewards.

But simultaneously, working in various regions of the world, U.S. researchers encounter local scholars with their own national and regionally centered forms of knowledge production and circulation. Thus, the local situation generates intricate relations between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ as well as ‘expatriates’ and ‘hybrid actors.’ What kinds of relationships emerge from these encounters? Do U.S. anthropologists working in another cultural and geographic region take into consideration local insights and scholarship and collaborate with their colleagues? Or are these entirely asymmetric and hegemonic relationships? Are there elements of the relationships that transform them into something closer to our normative ideals? Questions of imperialism and hegemony in anthropological practices have been discussed previously in universities and at academic conferences. Nonetheless, the trend is toward greater imperialism within the discipline because of language and journal dominance and research funding, such that the World Council of Anthropological Associations decided that the conversation should be more public and receive greater attention. Without an ongoing dialogue, the emerging global anthropology will not be able to support the multiple world anthropologies that are our greatest resource. These issues were discussed by both American and non-American anthropologists working respectively in post-socialist (Romania), postcolonial (India) and hegemonic (Latin America) contexts at the AAA session on American Anthropological Imperialism: An Overdue Dialogue. The session was intend to raise questions through a frank discussion and now we would like to open up the discussion to you. On the WCAA website you will find three of the papers from the session. The first by Katherine Verdery, the second by Liviu Chelceathe third by Akhil Gupta, and the fourth by Chandana Mathur. Each raises intriguing points and different issues that a commitment to anti hegemonic anthropology requires that we address. But the examinations of hegemony and imperialism are complicated by local national concerns and distinct histories of thought as well as politics. Let us know what you think.

Michal Buchowski and Setha Low

Attached papers (by author): Liviu ChelceaAkhil Gupta, Chandana MathurKatherine Verdery



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  • 1. Marcelo Mercante  |  December 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    I am a Brazilian anthropologist. Some years ago I requested a grant for a post-doctoral research on the use of ayahuasca (an Amazonian psychoactive beverage) for treating drug adiccion.

    Their answer was that my proposal was not anthropology…

    One year latter I received a grant from one of the most important Brazilian financial support agencies, Fapesp.

    Was it or was it not anthropology? What was anthropology for Wenner Gren and for Fapesp?



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