ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

After-Dinner ASA Keynote Speaker, 8.30pm

Professor Andre Beteille, University of Delhi, India: An Anthropologist in his own Country
Welcome: John Gledhill, ASA Chair

Anthropology has been defined as the study of other cultures and the anthropologist, in Lévi-Strauss’ picturesque phrase, as ‘the astronomer of the social sciences’. What should the anthropologist do in his own country?

When anthropology was developing as a distinct empirical discipline a hundred years ago, anthropologists did not study their own country. They were Europeans who went out to other countries or Americans who went into the reservations to investigate communities that were very different from the ones to which they belonged. The preoccupation with difference and otherness has given a very distinctive intellectual orientation to anthropology as a discipline in contrast to, say, sociology, political science and economics. It has to come to terms now with major changes in the composition of the profession that began in the middle of the last century. Anthropologists are no longer all Europeans and Americans studying communities in countries that are different from their own. Increasing numbers of them are Asians, Africans and Latin Americans who practise anthropology in their own countries. Western anthropologists are, as it were by definition, ‘cosmopolitan’. Are their counterparts in Asian and other countries condemned to remain ‘provincial’? Or do they have to relocate to Western universities to maintain a cosmopolitan approach to the study of society and culture?

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