Difficult Folk?

Difficult Folk?: A Political History of Social Anthropology

David Mills
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qckpt
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  • Book Info
    Difficult Folk?
    Book Description:

    How should we tell the histories of academic disciplines? All too often, the political and institutional dimensions of knowledge production are lost beneath the intellectual debates. This book redresses the balance. Written in a narrative style and drawing on archival sources and oral histories, it depicts the complex pattern of personal and administrative relationships that shape scholarly worlds.

    Focusing on the field of social anthropology in twentieth-century Britain, this book describes individual, departmental and institutional rivalries over funding and influence. It examines the efforts of scholars such as Bronislaw Malinowski, Edward Evans-Pritchard and Max Gluckman to further their own visions for social anthropology. Did the future lie with the humanities or the social sciences, with addressing social problems or developing scholarly autonomy? This new history situates the discipline's rise within the post-war expansion of British universities and the challenges created by the end of Empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-031-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION: IDEAS, INDIVIDUALS, IDENTITIES AND INSTITUTIONS
    (pp. 1-10)

    Over the last three decades, scholars in the humanities and social sciences have energetically reflected on their intellectual role, their relationship to the world and their disciplines’ potential contribution to it. This has taken the form of some hard and productive self-questioning. Despite the best efforts of sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu, academics have paid rather less attention to the role that universities play in legitimating and sustaining disciplinary knowledges. Many academics now depend upon the intricate and unique intellectual ecosystems that higher education institutions nurture and protect. Yet we still know relatively little about the institutional role universities and funders...

  6. Chapter 2 WHY DISCIPLINARY HISTORIES MATTER
    (pp. 11-28)

    Scholars in the humanities and social sciences tell disciplinary tales with deceptive ease. We tell our histories in private and in public, in gossipy intrigue and in the published record. Yet the narration of these pasts always legitimates some forms and traditions of disciplinary knowledge and practice above others. Intellectual history is never simply self-evident, a neat and seamless evolution of ideas and methods.

    If one is to write a disciplinary history, which stories are important to tell, and who is best placed to tell them? Should we focus on the histories of ideas, or histories of the institutions and...

  7. Chapter 3 A TALE OF TWO DEPARTMENTS? OXFORD AND THE LSE
    (pp. 29-48)

    All disciplines have founding legends and hero figures. Social anthropology is no exception. Foremost amongst these was the brilliant young Polish émigré Bronislaw Malinowski, appointed to a lectureship at the LSE in 1923, on the basis of the ‘ethnographic magic’ he spun in the Trobriand Islands (Stocking 1992). He continues to rule pre-eminent over histories of the discipline, perhaps because of the romantic mystique surrounding the emergence of a new style of social research – the ethnographic method – from a South Pacific island.

    An exhaustive and comprehensive biography of Malinowski’s early life has now been published (Young 2004), and the second...

  8. Chapter 4 THE POLITICS OF DISCIPLINARY PROFESSIONALISATION
    (pp. 49-68)

    Social anthropology’s rise to post-war intellectual favour was a triumph of methodological and analytical innovation. Yet it was a triumph that depended on finding organisations prepared and willing to fund this new approach to anthropological research. Up till the 1930s, the search had been relatively fruitless, even though anthropologists had been employed by the Colonial Office and by individual colonial governments. Malinowski’s breakthrough came from his skill at cloaking his vision in the rhetoric of ‘practical anthropology’. His success in getting the US-based Rockefeller Foundation to support the work at the LSE transformed the discipline’s fortunes.

    This chapter explores these...

  9. Chapter 5 ANTHROPOLOGY AT THE END OF EMPIRE
    (pp. 69-92)

    In this chapter I describe the evolving relationship between the discipline of social anthropology and the main funder of social research in Britain in the years after the Second World War – the Colonial Office. The Colonial Social Science Research Council (CSSRC) funded a whole generation of anthropological researchers, and a major programme of training and research institutes in Africa: all the key building blocks of an academic discipline.

    The story begins in the dark days of war, and with the networks of reformers who sought to influence British Colonial Office policy. At home, debate about the eventual post-war reconstruction of...

  10. Chapter 6 TRIBES AND TERRITORIES
    (pp. 93-112)

    The post-war years were expansive ones for British universities and the new social sciences. There was an unprecedented expansion of the proportion of the costs of higher education borne by the British Treasury, doubling from 31 per cent in 1938/39 to 65 per cent in 1951/52. This chapter describes the growth of social anthropology in the 1950s, during what Annan calls the ‘golden age of the don’ (1990, 337). Yet not every anthropologist welcomed this expansion. The creation of new anthropology departments was sometimes resisted by existing centres, leading to growing rivalry and rifts amongst Firth’s ‘band of brothers’. I...

  11. Chapter 7 HOW NOT TO APPLY ANTHROPOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE: THE RAI AND ITS ‘FRIENDS’
    (pp. 113-128)

    At the end of the Second World War, the Labour Party’s election victory under Clement Attlee led to hopes of an economic renaissance. Key manifesto promises included the nationalisation of the coal and steel industries, and the application of scientific planning and management. Policymakers began to consider the role that the social sciences might play in understanding human behaviour within industrial settings. In this chapter, I describe social anthropologists’ reluctance to ‘apply’ their disciplinary knowledge to such utilitarian ends during this period. The story reveals the distance that the discipline had travelled since Malinowski successfully marketed ‘practical anthropology’ to Rockefeller...

  12. Chapter 8 ANTHROPOLOGISTS AND ‘RACE’: SOCIAL RESEARCH IN POSTCOLONIAL BRITAIN
    (pp. 129-148)

    The United Kingdom of the 1940s and 1950s was shamed by a sudden and vociferous explosion of racial prejudice. The first wave of post-war Commonwealth migration provoked a widespread, if informal, ‘colour bar’ within many parts of society. Yet social anthropology had little intellectual interest in engaging with this postcolonial racial politics.

    Kenneth Little, one of Raymond Firth’s students, was an iconoclastic exception. He began his career as a physical anthropologist, and then carried out innovative ethnographic research on the black community in Cardiff. Recruited to launch a new department at the University of Edinburgh, the work he championed was...

  13. Chapter 9 DISCIPLINE ON THE DEFENSIVE?
    (pp. 149-172)

    The 1960s found British social anthropology nursing a post-colonial hangover. The unseemly scramble out of Africa at the end of empire had meant a sudden end of CSSRC funding. The new generation of academic anthropologists could no longer be sure that their students would get research funding, or even research access, and found themselves negotiating increasingly politicised fieldwork environments. Many turned their attention to research questions ‘at home’. But this too had its challenges and compromises, such as the hidden agendas of would-be corporate sponsors of applied research, or the challenge of studying racism. Even the discipline’s professional associations turned...

  14. Chapter 10 THE USES OF ACADEMIC IDENTITY
    (pp. 173-182)

    I became intrigued by anthropology for two reasons: its ideas and its iconoclasm. Later I realised that it also offered a closely-knit intellectual community, with the benefits of both status and a vibrant disciplinary identity. This is still its appeal for many postgraduates who aspire to academic careers, despite the paucity of tenured posts, decreasing autonomy and meagre professional rewards. Disciplines like anthropology continue to attract recruits because they offer rich and fertile traditions for thinking and debate. At best they offer a theoretical ‘triangulation point’ from which to make sense of new horizons and new fields in the world...

  15. Appendix. DISCIPLINING THE ARCHIVES
    (pp. 183-188)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 189-204)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 205-222)