In Defense of Anthropology
An Investigation of the Critique of Anthropology
This book argues that the history and character of modern anthropology has been egregiously distorted to the detriment of this intellectual pursuit and academic discipline. The "critique of anthropology" is a product of the momentous and tormented events of the 1960s when students and some of their elders cried, "Trust no one over thirty!" The Marxist, postmodern, and postcolonial waves that followed took aim at anthropology and the result has been a serious loss of confidence; both the reputation and the practice of anthropology has suffered greatly. The time has come to move past this damaging discourse.
Herbert S. Lewis chronicles these developments, and subjects the "critique" to a long overdue interrogation based on wide-ranging knowledge of the field and its history, as well as the application of common sense. The book questions discourses about anthropology and colonialism, anthropologists and history, the problem of "exoticizing ‘the Other,’" anthropologists and the Cold War, and more. Written by a master of the profession, In Defense of Anthropology will require consideration by all anthropologists, historians, sociologists of science, and cultural theorists.
“[A]n articulated, public version of what many of us have felt: How can studies of diffusion possibly be construed as presupposing an isolated cultural whole? . . . a welcome remedy to criticisms which, ironically, often treat classical anthropology as homogenous, unchanging, and radically disconnected from contemporary anthropological theory. . . . a welcome addition to the literature which demonstrates the role that the history of anthropology can play in challenging our discipline’s contemporary self-understanding.”
—Alex Golub, History of Anthropology Newsletter
"This volume brings together Herb Lewis’ previously scattered papers written over the past two decades. Taken together they challenge anthropology’s detractors and constitute a powerful critique of disciplinary critics, both within and beyond its borders. Lewis speaks in the multiple voices of historian of anthropology, disciplinary elder, and participant in many of the events he argues have been misrepresented by careless and uninformed scholarship. His incisive critique of the critics is devastating to their undocumented and inaccurate dismissals of anthropological knowledge and practice. . . . He calls for study of the discipline’s past to inform contemporary life. The anthropology he valorizes is up to the adaptive challenges of new social, political and economic forces.”
—Regna Darnell, general editor, Franz Boas Papers: Documentary Edition and Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology, University of Western Ontario, Canada
“A sustained effort by one anthropologist to rebut the critics by challenging the accuracy of their portrayal of conventional anthropology. . . . This work reports an important set of changes in important parts of anthropology. Moreover, it does so from a stance that is rarely recorded, that of those who experienced the old order and took it seriously. As the wave of criticism that arose in anthropology around the 1970s seems to be receding, it is useful to have a book that points to some of what that criticism might have cost us.”
—James G. Carrier, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
“Herbert Lewis takes on the task of defending anthropology as a discipline from the sweeping indictments emerging from 1960s radicals, then subsequently from purveyors of post-modernist and deconstructionist theories. In a lucid critique of those within and without the field who disparage its intellectual heritage, he eviscerates the claim that anthropology was a handmaiden of colonialism and imperialism. As well, he offers a compelling brief in support of the founder of American anthropology, Franz Boas. The volume is an invaluable guide to the intellectual history of the discipline.”
—Crawford Young, professor emeritus of political science, University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Table of Contents
1 The Misrepresentation of Anthropology and Its Consequences
2 The Radical Transformation of Anthropology: History Seen through the Annual Meetings
of the AAA, 1955–2005
3 Anthropology Then and Now
4 Was Anthropology the Child, the Tool, or the Handmaiden of Colonialism?
5 Imagining Anthropology’s History
6 The Passion of Franz Boas
7 Franz Boas: Boon or Bane?
8 American Anthropology and the Cold War
9 Anthropology or Cultural and Critical Theory?