artigos e ensaios - 2003 / Mariza Peirano

The sins and virtues of anthropology

A reaction to the problem of methodological nationalism

During the past decade, anthropology has been accused of many sins and malpractices in the course of its development. Indeed, for many practitioners anthropology is no more - in the United States at least, anthropology is considered to be doomed to extinction. Personifying the worst of the "politically incorrect" social disciplines, for the past two decades anthropology has slowly but relentlessly been replaced by alternatives, such as "cultural studies," "STS (science, technology and society) programs," "culture critique," "situated knowledges," and so on, all within the context of post-anthropology. In other places, however, such as Brazil and India, anthropology blooms and flourishes. Besieged at the center, it looks like anthropology is well and thriving in the periphery, providing a positive, critical, constructive approach. How this situation relates to the question of "methodological nationalism" and what anthropology has to contribute to this pressing problem is my concern here.


The present idea of "incorrectedness" is often related to past sins. Amongst these sins, I want to mention four

(i) The first sin relates to power relations: for a long time anthropology was defined by the exoticism of its subject matter and by the distance, conceived as both cultural and geographic, that separated the researcher from the researched group. This situation was part and parcel of a colonial context of domination, anthropology being "the outcome of a historical process which has made the larger part of mankind subservient to the other." This quotation from Lévi-Strauss (1966) illustrates that since the 60's there had been no illusion that the relationship between anthropology and its subject matter had historically been anything but one of inequality and domination. But this consciousness did not impede anthropologists from continuing their own work back then, as is the case now.

(ii) The second sin relates to the researcher in the field. Being very few in number, until mid-century anthropologists became "owners" of places and regions they studied, consequently opening room for area studies which corresponded exactly to the exoticism that forged present day "white-man's" guilt. It is in this context that "Americanists," "Africanists," specialists in the Pacific Islands or in Melanesia appeared on the scene. The further combination of these geographical areas with topics such as kinship, religion, law, economics thus made it almost impossible for the replication of specialists. As a consequence each anthropologist became an institution in itself, in many cases inhibiting further fieldwork in their areas of specialization. (It took several decades for an anthropologist to dare study the Nuer after Evans-Pritchard, or the Trobrianders after Malinowski).Leia na íntegra...