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The Ethnographic Experiment

The Ethnographic Experiment: A.M. Hocart and W.H.R. Rivers in Island Melanesia, 1908

Edvard Hviding
Cato Berg
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Ethnographic Experiment
    Book Description:

    In 1908, Arthur Maurice Hocart and William Halse Rivers Rivers conducted fieldwork in the Solomon Islands and elsewhere in Island Melanesia that served as the turning point in the development of modern anthropology. The work of these two anthropological pioneers on the small island of Simbo brought about the development of participant observation as a methodological hallmark of social anthropology. This would have implications for Rivers' later work in psychiatry and psychology, and Hocart's work as a comparativist, for which both would largely be remembered despite the novelty of that independent fieldwork on remote Pacific islands in the early years of the 20th Century. Contributors to this volume-who have all carried out fieldwork in those Melanesian locations where Hocart and Rivers worked-give a critical examination of the research that took place in 1908, situating those efforts in the broadest possible contexts of colonial history, imperialism, the history of ideas and scholarly practice within and beyond anthropology.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-343-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Edvard Hviding and Cato Berg
  6. Map of Island Melanesia
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Introduction The Ethnographic Experiment in Island Melanesia
    (pp. 1-43)
    Edvard Hviding and Cato Berg

    In 1908, three British scholars travelled, each in his own way, to the south-western Pacific in order to embark on pioneering anthropological fieldwork in the Solomon Islands. They were William Halse Rivers Rivers, Arthur Maurice Hocart and Gerald Camden Wheeler. Rivers (1864–1922), a physician, psychologist and self-taught anthropologist, was already a veteran fieldworker, having been a member of the Cambridge Torres Strait Expedition for seven months in 1898 (Herle and Rouse 1998), after which he had also carried out five months of fieldwork among the tribal Toda people of South India in 1901–2 (see Rivers 1906).

    The Torres...

  8. 1 Acknowledging Ancestors The Vexations of Representation
    (pp. 44-70)
    Christine Dureau

    How to write about W.H.R. Rivers’s and A.M. Hocart’s 1908 Percy Sladen Trust Expedition to the Solomon Islands? The mere title of their undertaking – an expedition – evokes a journey into a recently pacified area aboard a colonial mission yacht in order to investigate a social evolutionist project on ‘mother-right’ societies, as Rivers called them (see also Hviding and Berg, Berg, Rio and Eriksen, this volume). On one hand, the expedition is a case of colonial and social evolutionist anthropology, with implications of cultural and racial ranking. On the other hand, it was an under-appreciated contribution to the development of participant-observation...

  9. 2 Across the New Georgia Group A.M. Hocart’s Fieldwork as Inter-island Practice
    (pp. 71-107)
    Edvard Hviding

    In circles beyond Pacific anthropology (e.g. Stocking 1995: 119; Barth 2005: 15–18; see also Dureau, this volume) it is recognised that the fieldwork carried out by A.M. Hocart and W.H.R. Rivers in the Solomon Islands in 1908 was of extraordinary quality for its time, that it was – through Hocart’s original developments of field methodology – a founding instance of what came to be called participant observation, and that it provided important ethnographic materials for Rivers’s two-volume magnum opusThe History of Melanesian Society(1914). Nevertheless, the fieldwork itself – easily the first example of what modern anthropological method as many stranded,...

  10. 3 The Genealogical Method Vella Lavella Reconsidered
    (pp. 108-131)
    Cato Berg

    The genealogical method as developed by W.H.R. Rivers has been praised as a milestone of anthropological inquiry, having provided one of the first frameworks for dealing systematically with kinship and descent. But since its inception, the genealogical method has also been targeted by critical voices, even from Rivers’s students and colleagues (Hocart 1915; Radcliffe-Brown 1952). Some recent commentators have been more generous towards Rivers (e.g. Scheffler 1985; 2000), both in terms of concepts and method. In the following, I seek to give a brief background to Rivers’s mode of inquiry in the field of kinship, as it was initially conceived...

  11. 4 Rivers and the Study of Kinship on Ambrym Mother Right and Father Right Revisited
    (pp. 132-154)
    Knut M. Rio and Annelin Eriksen

    The paradigm of kinship studies founded by W.H.R. Rivers, with the genealogical method at its methodological centre, has over the last century served as a model example for ethnographic fieldwork, since asking about relationships is a good way to get to know people everywhere. However, it has also been a major impediment because of its Eurocentrism. More precisely, the method has ontological assumptions built into it concerning the nature/culture divide and the universality of kinship (see Bamford and Leach 2009). A question raised in this chapter, with reference to the great puzzle of kinship on the island of Ambrym, is...

  12. 5 A House upon Pacific Sand W.H.R. Rivers and His 1908 Ethnographic Survey Work
    (pp. 155-178)
    Thorgeir S. Kolshus

    In 1912, Charles Seligman, member of the 1898 Torres Strait Expedition, wrote in a letter to his student Bronislaw Malinowski: ‘field research in anthropology is what the blood of martyrs is to the Church’ (in Stocking 1995: 115). In this book, Arthur Maurice Hocart and William Halse Rivers Rivers are credited for their significant share in this generative sacrifice that brought about the discipline’s distinguishing traits. This should be regarded as a modification of the established opinion that Malinowski was the first to both carry out and codify what is still to a large extent regarded as proper anthropological fieldwork....

  13. 6 Colonialism as Shell Shock W.H.R. Rivers’s Explanations for Depopulation in Melanesia
    (pp. 179-213)
    Tim Bayliss-Smith

    On 12 March 1920, William Rivers reached his fifty-sixth birthday and, despite some persistent health concerns, he was arguably in the prime of life. Transformed by his experiences in the Great War, Rivers was no longer the diffident and reclusive young scientist whose stammer and shyness had once made lecturing at Cambridge University something of an ordeal. After a five-year absence, his colleagues and friends welcomed back to St John’s College a more confident and much happier man (Myers 1923; Bartlett 1937, 1968; Slobodin 1978; Langham 1981; Whittle 2000). Since his return from Melanesia in 1915, Rivers had developed an...

  14. 7 A Vanishing People or a Vanishing Discourse? W.H.R. Rivers’s ‘Psychological Factor’ and Depopulation in the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides
    (pp. 214-251)
    Judith A. Bennett

    With eighteenth-century European explorers and their train of whalers, traders, missionaries and settlers to the Pacific Islands came their continental diseases in epidemics, which quickly found out vulnerable insular populations.¹ By the early nineteenth century, rapid population decline in some Polynesian archipelagos, especially the Hawaiian Islands, the Marquesas and Tahiti, was apparent.

    Not all islands suffered to the same extent. It is Stephen Kunitz’s thesis that those people who retained their lands and thus their subsistence base and kinship links, though as liable to be infected by epidemics as those whose lands were alienated, had more resources for successful recovery...

  15. 8 Objects and Photographs from the Percy Sladen Trust Expedition
    (pp. 252-282)
    Tim Thomas

    Amongst the many obscure and neglected dimensions of the Solomon Islands fieldwork carried out in 1908 by W.H.R. Rivers and A.M. Hocart is the extent and nature of their photography and artefact collecting. Though it could hardly be said that the published articles and archival manuscripts produced from their endeavour are widely known, they are comparatively well understood and have repeatedly been made use of by regional specialists and others. In contrast, no summary account of the collected artefacts or photographs exists, and barely any have ever appeared in print. Despite the recent resurgence of academic interest in photographic and...

  16. Appendix 1 Unpublished Reports by W.H.R. Rivers to the Trustees of the Percy Sladen Memorial Trust Fund
    (pp. 283-290)
  17. Appendix 2 Materials in Archives from the 1908 Percy Sladen Trust Expedition
    (pp. 291-294)
    Cato Berg
  18. Appendix 3 Planning the Expedition: Letters Written Before the Fieldwork Began
    (pp. 295-302)
  19. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 303-306)
  20. Index
    (pp. 307-322)