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BvilisI SociaI AnlIvopoIog A Belvospeclive

AulIov|s) JonalIan Spencev


Souvce AnnuaI Beviev oJ AnlIvopoIog, VoI. 29 |2000), pp. 1-24
FuIIisIed I Annual Reviews
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Annu. Rev.
Anthropol.
2000. 29:1-24
Copyright
( 2000
by
Annual Reviews. All
rights
reserved
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY:
A
Retrospective
Jonathan
Spencer
Department of
Social
Anthropology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh
EH8
9LL,
Scotland;
e-mail:
jonathan.spencer@ed.ac.uk
Key
Words sociocultural
anthropology, history,
British social
science, seminars,
British universities
* Abstract This article reviews the
history
of British social
anthropology,
con-
centrating
on the
expansion
of the
discipline
in the British
university
sector since the
1960s. Particular
emphasis
is
placed
on the
relationship
between social
anthropology
and the main source of its
funding,
the British
government,
in
particular
the Economic
and Social Research Council. After a
particularly
difficult time in the
1980s,
social an-
thropology
in the 1990s has
grown swiftly.
In this
period
of
growth, formerly
crucial
boundaries-between academic
anthropology
and
practical policy-related
research,
between "social" and "cultural"
anthropology-appear
to have withered
away.
Yet
British social
anthropology
retains much of its distinctive
identity,
not least because of
the
peculiar
institutional
structures,
such as the research
seminar,
in which the social
anthropological
habitus is
reproduced
in new
generations
of researchers.
DECLINE AND FALL?
Is British social
anthropology
still
distinctively
"British"? Or to
rephrase
the
question,
is it still
distinctively
"social"? This is a
question
about
disciplines
and
their
boundaries,
and the answer I offer concentrates less on the substance of what is
currently being
written,
taught,
and debated in Britain and more on the institutions
and
practices through
which a
strong
sense of
discipline
and boundedness is
still,
I
believe,
reproduced.
When he
published
the first edition of his
history
of moder British social an-
thropology,
the
young
Adam
Kuper (1973)
had no doubt about the coherence of
his
subject
matter: "'British social
anthropology'
is not
merely
a term for the
work done
by
British or even British-trained social
anthropologists.
The
phrase
connotes a set of
names,
a limited
range
of
ethnographic regional specialities,
a list
of central
monographs,
a characteristic mode of
procedure,
and a
particular
series
of intellectual
problems.
In
short,
it connotes an intellectual tradition"
(Kuper
1973:227). By
the second edition in
1983,
Kuper's
confidence had
begun
to wane.
0084-6570/00/1015-0001$14.00 1
2 SPENCER
Reviewing
British social
anthropology
in the decade since the book's first
publi-
cation he
spoke
of "institutional
stagnation,
intellectual
torpor,
and
parochialism"
while
seeking
solace in the
continuing vitality
of "its
greatest strength,
which is
its fine
ethnographic
tradition"
(Kuper 1983:192). By
the
early 1990s,
in a French
reference
work,
he lamented that it was now difficult to see what was
"specifically
British" about social
anthropology
in Britain
(Kuper 1991:307),
and in a later
edition of his book
(Kuper 1996:176),
he declared that "as a distinctive intellec-
tual
movement,"
British social
anthropology
lasted
only
for the
half-century
from
the
publication
of Malinowski's
Argonauts (1922)
in the
early
1920s
to-oddly
enough-the
moment in the
early
1970s when he
published
his own book
(Kuper
1973).
The future of social
anthropology,
for
Kuper,
lies not in national
traditions,
but in an
increasingly cosmopolitan European exchange (Kuper 1996:193).
Any
writer on moder British
anthropology
works in the
long
shadow cast
by
previous
historians.
Apart
from
Kuper, though,
most historical work has concen-
trated on the
period
between the turn of the
century
and the late 1940s or
early
1950s,
the
period
when social
anthropology
consolidated its
position
within British
academic life
(Goody
1995;
Kuklick
1991;
Langham 1981; Stocking 1984, 1992,
1995;
Urry 1993). Although Kuper
took the
story
forward to the late 1960s and has
extended it to the 1990s in a series of
epilogues
to his
original
work,
his
emphasis
is
overwhelmingly
on the intellectual
history
of the
discipline,
with
relatively
little
attention to the
changing political, social, and institutional context within which
that
history
was worked out
(cf Leach
1984:2-3).
In what follows then, I want
as far as
possible
to discuss themes and issues that have been left
relatively
unex-
plored
in recent
historiography;
to work, as it were, "after
Stocking"-starting
at
that
point
in the
early
1950s when
Stocking's magisterial
work
(Stocking 1995)
leaves off-and
following
a
significantly
different line of
enquiry
from
Kuper's
(1983). Since the
publication
of the first edition of
Kuper's (1973) book, British
social
anthropology
has been
heavily dependent
on the material
support
of the
British state and has been forced, like all other academic
disciplines
in British
universities, to
adapt
its
practices
of
teaching
and research to an ever more activist
educational
bureaucracy.
So the
question
that dominates an institutional
history
of
recent British social
anthropology
is this: Has
anthropology triumphantly
survived
the
increasingly
directive attentions of its main source of material
support,
or has
it been
irretrievably compromised
and
corrupted by
this
relationship?
The central section of this
chapter
addresses that
question through
a review
of the
demography
of the
discipline,
seen
through
the lens of
changing funding
regimes.
The
closing
section
attempts
to assess the intellectual
consequences
of
institutional
change
and returns to the sense of decline so
forcefully
articulated
by
Kuper
in his recent versions of
disciplinary history.
But in
partial disagreement
with
Kuper,
I
suggest
that "British social
anthropology"
retains its distinctiveness
as a
relatively
small and coherent
group
of intellectual
practitioners,
even
though
the
particular
markers of distinction-the
things
that make it "British,"
or
"social,"
or
"anthropological"-have changed,
and continue to
change.
This means that
we have-in true British
spirit-to replace
the cultural
question
of what
particular
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
intellectual
(or "cultural")
content makes British social
anthropology
"British" for
the more
sociological question
of what
particular
institutions,
practices,
and rituals
continue to ensure its distinction from its
neighbors
while
allowing
it to
change
its
empirical
focus and its theoretical
emphases.
STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION
In the
closing chapter
of his book, Stocking (1995) gives
a
gripping
account of
Meyer
Fortes'
appointment
to the William
Wyse
Chair in
Cambridge
in 1949. In
so
doing,
he reminds us of two
things:
how small the
discipline
was in Britain
in the late
1940s,
and how
tenuously placed
social
anthropology
was within
British
anthropology
of the time. Fortes' main rival for the
Cambridge
chair was
Christophe
von
Ftirer-Haimendorf,
a German-trained
ethnographer
of limited the-
oretical ambition but with distinct "culturalist" inclinations. If
Fiirer-Haimendorf,
then at the School of Oriental and African Studies
(SOAS)
in the
University
of
London,
had been
appointed
to the
Cambridge
chair,
social
anthropology
would
have been reduced to two
university departments,
at Oxford and the London School
of Economics
(LSE),
with
fragments
in Manchester and
Edinburgh. Instead,
Fortes'
appointment
sealed a
period
of
postwar
consolidation in which the social
anthropology
of Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown became the dominant strand of
British
anthropology (Stocking 1995:427-32).
Yet in all that
follows,
it must be
recognized
that we are
dealing
with a
remarkably
small
group
of
people.
A
good
sense of the
demographics
of the
discipline
at this moment can be
gleaned
from Forde's contribution to a
compendium
of world
anthropology (Forde
1953).
Altogether
there were just over 30 social anthropologists in British
universities. At
Oxford,
Evans-Pritchard held the
chair,
with an
extraordinary
team of
lecturing
staff,
including
JG
Peristiany,
Paul
Bohannon,
Godfrey
Lienhardt,
Louis
Dumont,
and Fritz Steiner. At the
LSE,
Raymond
Firth held the
chair,
with
Isaac
Schapera,
Edmund
Leach,
Maurice
Freedman,
and Paul
Stirling
in
support,
whereas
Lucy
Mair held a
separate position
as Reader in Colonial Administration.
In
Manchester,
Max Gluckman was
supported by
Elizabeth
Colson,
John
Barnes,
Ian
Cunnison,
and AL
Epstein.
At
Cambridge, Meyer
Fortes
presided
over a rel-
atively
small
department; Daryll
Forde,
Mary Douglas,
and
Phyllis Kaberry
were
at
University College
London
(UCL);
and von Furer-Haimendorf was at SOAS.
1All the
population figures
that follow
require
mild
qualification,
as
they
are
gleaned
from
published
lists of the names of
people employed
in
university departments,
with a certain
amount of informed
guesswork necessary
to
separate
social from
physical anthropolo-
gists,
or in later
lists,
social
anthropologists
from
sociologists
in
joint departments.
The
main sources are Forde
(1953),
the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook
(1963, 1973,
1983, 1993),
and the Annals of the Association of Social
Anthropologists (ASA 1999).
For
useful
demographic
accounts of the
discipline
at crucial moments in its recent
history,
see
Ardener & Ardener
(1965)
and Riviere
(1985).
3
4 SPENCER
The
story
of British social
anthropology
in the
years
that followed is
heavily
shaped by
the
story
of British universities and their
relationship
with the British
state.
Although
the number of
anthropologists working
in universities had in-
creased to more than 50
by 1963,
these were all to be found in the same few
departments
as in the
early
1950s
(with
the
exception
of a few odd
figures
work-
ing
on their own in
large
institutions without
departments
of
anthropology
around
them).
In the
early 1960s,
the British
government
launched a
major expansion
of
what until then had been a small and elitist
university
sector: New universities were
opened,
and a whole additional class of
institutions-polytechnics-was
created
to
supplement
the more conventional universities. In the next
decade,
anthropol-
ogy
was
established,
sometimes in
joint departments
with
sociology,
at the new
Universities of
Sussex, Kent,
and East
Anglia,
while new
departments struggled
into life at older universities like
Belfast, Hull,
and Swansea.
By
1973 there were
about 90
anthropologists
in
post,
and
by
1983 the
figure
had risen to
120,
with
two more new
departments,
at Goldsmiths and St Andrews.
By
1993 there were
more than 160
anthropologists working
in British universities. A check of the ASA
Annals
(1999) suggests
that the latest
figure
is around 220
(this figure
includes
anthropologists working
on short-term
contracts,
for
example
as
replacements
for
staff on
leave).
This is
not, however,
the
straightforward
tale of
growth
and
expansion
it
might
seem to be. After the
rapid expansion
of the mid-1960s to
mid-1970s,
universities
were
badly
hit
by government austerity measures,
and with the election of
Margaret
Thatcher as Prime Minister in
1979,
the social sciences were
singled
out for
especially
harsh treatment. With cutbacks in state
support
for
universities,
by
the
early
1980s the
discipline
was felt to be in real crisis as the
supply
of academic
jobs
almost
completely
dried
up.
The situation
only
started to
change
at the end
of that
decade,
when the
government changed
tack and launched a further
huge
expansion
of
university teaching.
This
time, however,
most of the increase was
accounted for
by
much
larger
student numbers within
existing departments
and
degree
courses,
rather than
by creating
new
institutions,
as had
happened
in the
1960s. The new boom in student recruitment coincided with a moment of
higher
public visibility
for social
anthropology,
and demand for
places
on
anthropology
courses has soared since the late 1980s.
Is
this, then,
a
straightforward
tale of
expansion (apart
from the Thatcherite
hiccup
in the
1980s),
as it
appears
from the
figures?
Or is it a case of
tightly
limited
expansion
(in
the context of the
growth
of universities in
general,
and
social sciences in
particular)
since the
early
1950s? A
comparison
with
sociology
is instructive
here,
not least because the two
disciplines
have been
closely
linked
throughout
this
period.
Before the 1960s boom in
universities,
sociology
as an
academic
presence
in Britain was
arguably
smaller and more
dispersed
than social
anthropology.
But
by
1981
(the gloomiest year
of Thatcher's rule for the social
sciences),
the
discipline
had
expanded
to more than 1000
government-funded
university positions, growing
at almost 10 times the rate of social
anthropology.
What is most
significant
in the
comparison
with
sociology's expansion
is the
places
where
anthropology
was not found. With a handful of
exceptions,
it was not
taught
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
in the
polytechnics,
or in the innovative
Open University
set
up by
the Labour
Government of the 1960s.2 Nor was it established as
part
of the school curriculum.
By
the
mid-1970s,
more than
100,000 18-year-olds
had studied
sociology
as an
A-level examination
subject;
in
1999,
the
figure
for
anthropology
remained stuck
on zero
(Abrams 1981).
There are three
possible explanations
for the limits to
anthropological expan-
sion. One is a
simple problem
of demand: The new welfare bureaucracies of
postwar
Britain
required sociologists (or thought they did)
and not
anthropolo-
gists,
and the universities and the
government
accommodated themselves to this
brute fact.
The second is
demographic:
There were
only just enough anthropologists
to
build the
departments
that were built in the
1960s,
and not
enough
to sustain a
huge expansion.
Yet a number of
leading anthropologists-Peter Worsley,
Max
Marwick,
and Ronald
Frankenberg, among
others-took
up positions
in the new
sociology departments
in the
1960s,
while
others,
most
notably
Victor
Turner,
and
later FG
Bailey
and
Stanley
Tambiah,
left Britain for the United States. This reveals
an
important
difference in the mode of
expansion
of the two
disciplines
at the time:
Social
anthropology departments
were concerned with
staffing
themselves
only
with social
anthropologists; sociology departments
were staffed with whomever
was
available,
and the issue of
professional
or
disciplinary
coherence was raised
after-rather than
during-the period
of
expansion.
This difference was
explicit
in the
development
of the relevant
professional organizations
for the two disci-
plines.
The Association of Social
Anthropologists (ASA)
was founded in 1946
with a
strong
model of
professionalization
in mind:
Membership required
a
higher
degree
in social
anthropology
and/or evidence of
publications
and a
teaching po-
sition in
anthropology. Up
until the
1990s,
the annual
meetings
of the Association
were marked
by
careful
(and
for some
distasteful) scrutiny
and discussion of the
qualifications
of would-be members
(cf Tapper 1980).
The British
Sociological
Association,
in
contrast,
remained a far more
open organization-a
broad church
much more like the AAA in the United
States-despite
occasional
attempts
to
create a more elite
professional standing
for
sociologists (Barnes 1981).
The
third,
and
perhaps
most
compelling, explanation
for the limits to anthro-
pological expansion
is internal to the
discipline. Anthropology
did not
expand
into other educational
settings
because
anthropologists
themselves did not want
to
expand.
It was seen
as,
above
all,
a
subject
for
graduate researchers,
not for
2Ruth
Finnegan
has been almost the
only anthropologist employed by
the
Open University-
a
pioneering distance-learning
initiative set
up by
the Labour
government
of the late 1960s-
whereas Oxford Brookes
(formerly
Oxford
Polytechnic) was,
for a
long time,
the
only
one
of the former
polytechnics
to teach
anthropology
as a
degree subject.
3British
anthropologists
were
heavily
involved in
establishing
a social
anthropology
com-
ponent
in the International Baccalaureate examination for
high-school students,
but for all
its
merits,
this
program
reaches a
tiny proportion
of students in the relevant
age group,
compared
with the A-level
examinations,
which are taken
by virtually
all
18-year-olds
in
the school
system
in
England
and Wales.
5
6 SPENCER
undergraduates,
let alone school students. In
1973,
for
example,
Leach
argued
forcefully against any attempt
to introduce
anthropology
to
school-age
students:
"It could be
very confusing
to learn about other
people's
moral values before
you
have confident
understanding
of
your
own"
(Leach 1973:4).
In Oxford in the
1970s,
social
anthropology
was not
taught-and
not
thought
to be teachable-to
undergraduates
as a
degree subject. Twenty years later,
in the conclusion to his brief
memoir of British social
anthropology,
Jack
Goody
reiterated the
point
that the
lack of attention to
undergraduate teaching
was one of the
great strengths
of British
social
anthropology
in what
was,
for
him,
its
golden age (Goody 1995:157-58).
Whatever the
reason,
the limits to
expansion
had some obvious
consequences
for
the
discipline.
The
places
not visited
by
the
insights
of
anthropological
science-
the
polytechnics
and the
Open University
in
particular-became
the academic
home of a
great
deal of
interdisciplinary
and
pedagogic innovation,
as well as a
refuge
for the
post-1968
intellectual Left. These were the
ingredients
that coalesced
into the
heady
brew now known as "British Cultural Studies," but the work of
leading figures
in this area
(from
EP
Thompson
and
Raymond
Williams to Paul
Gilroy,
Stuart
Hall,
and Paul
Willis) barely
touched British social
anthropology
until it was
reimported
in the 1980s via the work of American
anthropologists
(cfNugent
& Shore
1997). Anthropology,
unlike cultural studies or even
sociology,
was almost
entirely
confined to the
older, research-based,
elite
universities,
such as
Oxford and
Cambridge,
and the more
prestigious
London
colleges,
such as the LSE
and UCL. On the other hand, and in contrast to the United States in the
early
1990s
(cf
Turner
1993),
in Britain cultural studies never looked a threat to
anthropology
because it
rarely occupied
the same niche in the academic
ecosystem.
In the 1950s and 1960s, anthropology's place
at the heart of the academic es-
tablishment did not
go entirely
unremarked on. The
young Perry Anderson, in
his
sweeping polemic against
the
pervasive empiricism
and liberalism of 1960s
British academia, specifically excepted anthropology
from his strictures. Anthro-
pology, however, was allowed to be theoretical and
totalizing (a "good thing"
for
the 1960s Left) because it
displaced
its attentions to the
colonies, and he
quoted
a
prominent sociologist
of the time on the social correlates of British
anthropol-
ogy:
"British social
anthropology
has drawn on the same intellectual
capital
as
sociology proper,
and its
success, useful
to colonial administration and
dangerous
to no domestic
prejudice,
shows at what a
high
rate of interest that
capital
can be
made to
pay....
The
subject
... unlike
sociology,
has
prestige.
It is associated with
colonial
administration-traditionally
a career for a
gentleman,
and entrance into
the
profession
and
acceptance by
it confers
high
status in Britain"
(see
Anderson
1969:265, original emphasis).
This view of the social
centrality
of British social
anthropology
is
partly
cor-
roborated
by Leach, himself a formidable academic
politician,
in the context of
a
panegyric
to the
diplomatic
skills of his
mentor, Raymond
Firth: "From the
1940s to the 1960s he had a wide
variety
of
personal,
but
quite informal,
ties
with senior civil servants in
key positions.
He used these contacts with outstand-
ing
skill.... Firth went behind the scenes and talked with the
people
who
really
mattered.
Considering
the
tiny
scale of the whole
enterprise
in Britain of the
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
1950s,
the central
funding
of social
anthropological
research was
quite dispropor-
tionately generous.
It was a
phase
which
only
endured while Firth was at the
helm
at the LSE"
(Leach 1984:13-14).
All
this,
it could be
argued, changed
when a new breed of
professional
acad-
emic-survivors from the 1960s
expansion
of the universities
and,
with their allu-
sions to "wealth creation" and "market
forces,"
fluent in the new
lingua
franca of
the times-took control of the central institutions of British social science in the
1980s.
Nevertheless,
in the 1990s
(the
decade of the
performance indicator),
the
institutional distribution of academic
anthropologists
had its
advantages.
In offi-
cial assessments and
peer-based quantifications
of
teaching quality
and research
performance-which
now dominate British academic
life-anthropology depart-
ments have
consistently performed
better than other social science
disciplines.
Although
outsiders
might grumble
about the clannishness of a
discipline
that so
overtly protects
its
own,
anthropologists merely point
to the kinds of institutions
they
are found in and
suggest
that their
high ratings
are no more nor less than
would be found elsewhere in those institutions.4
PRODUCTION AND REPRODUCTION
The
impression
of a
tightly
bounded
discipline
confined to a small number of
high-
status institutions is
heightened
if we shift our attention to the social
production
of
social
anthropologists.
There are two
ways
to assess this: Either examine where
the PhDs in social
anthropology
are
being awarded,
or look to see where successive
cohorts of
university
teachers were trained. Whichever
way
we
look,
the
picture
is the
same,
but a new element is also introduced: the increased
vulnerability
of
the
discipline (like
its sisters in the social
sciences)
to
government
intervention via
state
funding organizations.
Let's start with the first
question:
Where do the successful PhDs come from?5
In the
quarter century
from 1970 to
1994,
just
under 1000 PhDs were awarded
in social
anthropology
in
Britain,
of which
just
under half came from
just
three
departments: Oxford,
Cambridge,
and the LSE
(Table 1).
Between them
they
accounted for 460 of 964 PhDs
granted
in that
period.
If we break these
figures
down into
5-year periods (Table 2),
a
slightly
more
nuanced account of the distribution
emerges.
In
particular,
we
get
a better sense
4Again,
a
comparison
with
sociology
is instructive. Even
now,
sociology
is a
marginal
discipline
in Oxford and
Cambridge
whereas some of the
strongest departments
are found
in
relatively
unfashionable universities such as Lancaster and Essex
(Heath
& Edmondson
1981).
For a valuable
guide
to
anthropology's passage through
the
stormy
bureaucratic
waters of the
1990s,
see Gledhill (in
press).
5Data on
anthropology
PhDs in Britain since the
early
1970s are available
through
the
Index to Theses
accepted
for
higher degrees by
the Universities of Great Britain and Ireland
(searchable
online at
www.theses.com);
some of this material is also summarized in Webber
(1983),
which contains a
thorough
discussion of the limitations of the classifications used
in
organizing
the information.
7
8 SPENCER
TABLE 1 PhDs in social
anthropology by
department,
1970-1994
Department
Oxford
Cambridge
London School of Economics
School of Oriental and African Studies
Manchester
Sussex
University College
London
Edinburgh
Belfast
All other
departments
Total
No. PhDs
187
137
136
82
59
51
46
37
31
198
964
of the
lag
between
changes
in
funding
and the
completion, years
later,
of PhDs
affected
by
those
changes.
So in the
early
1970s, although
the new
departments
from the 1960s were
beginning
to build
up
their own
pools
of
researchers,
few
of these had
yet completed degrees:
Much as
might
be
expected,
the three
key
departments-Oxford, Cambridge
and the
LSE-provided
60% of the PhDs.
By
the second half of the
decade, however, although
the total number rose from 132
(about
26 a
year)
to 214
(45
a
year),
the
Oxford-Cambridge-LSE
share
dropped
to less than
40%,
as students in newer
departments-notably
Sussex-started to
complete
their doctoral studies. The total numbers for all
departments briefly
rose
in the first half of the
1980s,
before
settling
at,
or
just
below,
40 a
year.
And as the
TABLE 2
intervals)
PhDs in social
anthropology by department,
1970-1994
(5-year
Total
Oxford, Cambridge,
Years Oxford
Cambridge
LSEa (all
UK)
LSE
(%of
all
PhDs)
1970-1974 33 20 26 132 60
1975-1979 40 27 17 214 39
1980-1984 42 40 19 232 44
1985-1989 41 23 41 204 51
1990-1994 31 27 33 182 50
Total 187 137 136 964 48
aLSE,
London School of Economics.
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
TABLE 3
Postgraduate training
of academic
anthropologists employed
in
British
departments,
1999a
Department
Pre-1989 staff Post-1989 staff Total
%age
of total
Cambridge
23 24 47 24
LSE 16 23 39 17
Oxford 16 22 38 16
SOAS 11 8 19 8
UCL 10 6 16 7
Manchester 4 7 11 5
Sussex 6 3 9 4
Edinburgh
3 2 5 2
Durham 1 4 5 2
Kent 2 1 3 1
Belfast 2 0 2 1
Hull 1 0 1 < 1
Other
(UK)
2 10 12 5
Other
(non-UK)
8 19 27 12
Total 105 129 234 100
aLSE, London School of
Economics; SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies; UCL, University
College
London.
figures settled,
so the share held
by
the
"big
three"
departments
stabilized at ab-
out 50%.
These
figures
tell another
story,
of the rise and decline of state
support
for
graduate
research in social
anthropology,
which I return to
shortly.
What,
though,
of academic
jobs?
Table 3 shows collated information on the
graduate training
of
anthropologists currently working
in British
departments. They
are divided
into two cohorts: those first
employed
before the crisis
years
of the
1980s,
and
those who took
up
their first
permanent appointment
afterward. For local historical
reasons,
1989 is taken as the watershed
year.6
The division
by
cohorts is instructive. Over half the staff
(55%) working
in
British
departments
in 1999 had been first
appointed
in the
preceding
10
years
whereas
just
under half
(45%)
were survivors from the
pre-Thatcher expansion
of the
discipline.
But the dominance of the
big
three
departments
is remark-
ably
stable across the
generations:
55 of the
pre-1989 generation
were trained at
6In some
years
in the
1980s,
there were
virtually
no
permanent
academic
jobs
offered in
British
anthropology departments.
In
1989,
an
unprecedented
number of new
posts
became
available at LSE, UCL, Brunel, SOAS, and Manchester.
9
10 SPENCER
Oxford,
Cambridge,
or the
LSE,
as were 68 of the
post-1989 generation (52%
and 53% of their
respective cohorts).
Within the three
departments, Cambridge
is
disproportionately important: Although
it awarded
only
14% of the doctorates
in social
anthropology
between 1970 and
1994,
in 1999 its
graduates
held 24%
of the
jobs
in British universities
(Oxford
had 19% of the doctorates and 16% of
the
jobs,
and the LSE had 14% of the doctorates and 17% of the
jobs).
In other
words, although
three
departments
continue to dominate the
discipline,
the
depart-
ment at
Cambridge
has been
especially
successful in
providing
new
generations
of academic
anthropologists.
There are other
patterns
that are not clear from the
aggregated figures
alone.
Some
departments display high
levels of
endogeny, recruiting heavily
from their
own
graduates.
This has been
especially
true of Oxford and
Cambridge
over the
years,
but also of SOAS and UCL until
recently.
Oxford students have been un-
derrepresented
in recruitment at the LSE and vice versa. And there are
signs
of
more diverse recruitment in recent
years, especially
from North America:
only
five of the
pre-1989 generation
hold North American PhDs
compared
with 15
of the
post-1989
cohort
(including
four from
Chicago
and two from
Princeton).
Unfortunately,
data are not
easily
available on other
aspects
of
anthropologists'
educational
background,
such as their class or ethnic
origins.
We
can, however,
see
significant
shifts in the
gender
balance. In the
mid-1980s,
Riviere
(1985)
re-
ported
to the ASA on the
demographic shape
of the
discipline, using
a
sample
of
nine
departments.
His
analysis
showed that the ratio of men to women had
barely
changed
since the
early
1970s: In 1973 there were 12 women to 67
men;
in
1983,
there were 15 to
69,
a
tiny
rise from 15% to 18%
(Riviere 1985:11).
In
1999,
in the
discipline
as a
whole,
there were 97 women in
teaching positions,
or 41%
of the
total,
and a breakdown
by
cohort shows how much has
changed:
In the
pre-1989 generation
there are 23 women
(22%)
to 82 men
(78%),
a
figure
in line
with Riviere's
report
from the
1980s;
in the
post-1989
cohort,
the
figures
are 55
men
(43%)
and 74 women
(57%).
If we
step
back from the details and
try
to look at the
larger picture,
a num-
ber of
patterns
are clear.
Although
British social
anthropology
has remained a
relatively
small and
tightly
knit
community, taught
in a few universities
only,
graduate
research-and the
production
of new
generations
of
anthropologists-
has been
extraordinarily
concentrated in the same three
departments:
Oxford,
Cambridge,
and the LSE. Viewed in the
long
run,
diversity
has tended to be
pe-
ripheral
and short-lived. The distinctive strand of work
pioneered by
Gluckman
and his followers in Manchester did not
long
survive Gluckman's own retirement
in the
early
1970s: The rebirth of that
department
in the 1980s owed
everything
to the
imaginative appointment
of
Marilyn
Strather to the chair in 1984 and
signaled
the
beginning
of the second wave of diversification in British anthro-
pology.
In the
1970s,
Sussex
emerged
as the main
producer
of new
graduate
researchers
(other
than the
big three)-often working
in new fields such as
Europe
and Latin America-but with the cutbacks of the 1980s, it,
like the other new
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
departments
of the
1960s,
lost access to the funds that would
keep
its
graduate
program
alive.
As this
might suggest,
a
great
deal of what
happened
can be
explained by
the distribution of
support
from one central
agency.
Until the
mid-1960s,
British
social
anthropology
had relied on a combination of sources for its
relatively
modest
research needs: the Colonial Social Science Research Council and other British
government
sources,
certain American foundations
(such
as the Ford Foundation
and the National Science
Foundation),
and a few British foundations
[a
more
detailed account of
pre-1968 funding
can be found in a
report
to the Social Science
Research Council
(1968:92-99)].
In
1965,
the British
government
established its
own Social Science Research Council
(SSRC),
which
provided grants
for new
research
projects
and
supported graduate
students at masters and doctoral levels.
In its first
decade,
the new SSRC
presided
over a boom in
graduate
research
in the social sciences. Such was its
impact
that
by
1971,
the chair of its social
anthropology
committee,
Edmund
Leach,
could
report
that it
provided "virtually
the
only
source of financial
support
for field research in social
anthropology"
(Leach 1971:11).
At the
peak
of its
munificence,
in
1973,
the SSRC was able
to offer 84 new awards to
graduate
researchers in social
anthropology, spread
around 11
departments,
but with
just
over half directed to the
triangle
of
Oxford,
Cambridge,
and the LSE.7
The SSRC was a 1960s
initiative,
initially
ill-suited to the straitened circum-
stances of the 1980s. When
Margaret
Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in
1979,
one of her
government's
first actions was to slash its
budget.
An
enquiry
into the activities of the SSRC failed to
produce
the recommendation for abolition
favored
by
some Conservative
politicians,
but it was the
catalyst
for a number
of
changes.
The
organization
was renamed the Economic and Social Research
Council
(ESRC)-the
Minister
responsible apparently
had a
deep suspicion
of
any
claim to social science-and its internal structure was
changed
so that social
anthropology (along
with other
disciplines)
lost its own
cozy subject
committee.
From the
peak support
of the
mid-1970s,
studentships
fell to between 20 and 30 a
year,
where
they
have remained ever since. After these
reforms,
the ESRC
aggres-
sively
reinvented itself as the
vanguard organization
for the Tories' new cultural
command
economy.
New ESRC
priorities
in research
funding
at first
explicitly
em-
phasized
"wealth creation" and
implicitly
focused almost
entirely
on UK-focused
work,
apparently discouraging
the kind of classic
anthropological
field
projects
that had been
supported
in the
past. Tough
controls on PhD submission rates
meant that
by
the late
1980s,
most British
departments (including
at one
point
Cambridge, UCL,
and
SOAS)
had been blacklisted for ESRC students.
They
also
meant that theses had to be written more
quickly,
fieldwork and
writing-up
time
7The
figures
for
graduate
student
support
from the late 1960s to the
early
1980s can be
tracked
through
the issues of the SSRC
Newsletter,
which also contains annual
reports
of
the Social
Anthropology
Committee.
11
12 SPENCER
were
squeezed, and compulsory generic social science research training ate into
prefieldwork preparation.8
REPRESENTATIONS, INITIATIVES,
AND BOUNDARIES
In a broad
overview,
the difficult trick is to move back from this kind of institu-
tional
history
to see what intellectual resonance it has. One
way
to do this is to
look at the
discipline's
own
self-representations.
These
might
include
everything
from the content of
undergraduate reading
lists,
to textbooks and introductions to
the
subject, through
the
presence
(and
nonpresence)
of
anthropologists
as
public
intellectuals in the mass media. In the interests of
space,
I concentrate on four
defining
occasions,
the Decennial conferences of the Association of Social An-
thropologists, alternating
between
Cambridge
and
Oxford,
in
1963, 1973, 1983,
and
1993,
the occasions when British social
anthropology put
on its best
party
dress and
displayed
itself to the world.
The 1963
conference-coorganized by
M Gluckman and F
Eggan-brought
together leading
British and American "social
anthropologists"
from the
"younger
generation" (Gluckman
&
Eggan 1965:xii).9
The
papers
were
published
in four
distinctive volumes
[on religion, political systems, complex
societies,
and the use
of models
(Banton 1965a-d)],
with a common introduction from the two coor-
ganizers.
This set out an
explicit agenda
for the
meeting:
not so much the cele-
bration of the distinctiveness of British social
anthropology
as an
exploration
of a
set of sensitive boundaries. The most obvious of these was between British and
American
anthropology,
and the
opening
shot came with Gluckman and
Eggan
implicitly coopting
the likes of Schneider and Geertz as "social"
(rather
than "cul-
tural") anthropologists. Equally important,
however,
were the boundaries between
anthropology
and the other social
sciences-economics,
political
science,
soci-
ology, psychology-each
of which was
weighed up
as a
potential partner
in the
introduction. In the different
volumes,
the British contributors-on the whole-
concentrated on
typologies
and formal model
building. [Turner (1965),
as
ever,
provided
a
magnificent exception
in his classic
paper
on Ndembu color
symbol-
ism.]
This was
anthropology
as
generic
social
science,
ready
for the brave new
world of the 1960s
expansion,
and
many
of the British
participants
moved into
chairs and
readerships,
often in new
joint anthropology
and
sociology departments,
in the
subsequent
decade.
8It must be
remembered,
of
course,
that the SSRC/ESRC was far more
important
to anthro-
pology
than
anthropology-which
never claimed more than a
tiny
fraction of the
organiza-
tion's resources-was to its main funder.
Anthropology's relatively
low
profile
also had its
uses,
as in the
early
1980s,
when
sociology
became the focus of attack from
ideologues
of
the New
Right.
9The occasion has attracted a fair amount of reminiscence from the
participants (see e.g.
Frankenberg 1988;
Geertz
1991, 1995; Goody
1995;
Schneider
1995).
Of course it
only
became
recognized
as the "first" Decennial much later in the
day.
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
The 1973 conference came at the
peak
of a decade of
growth,
and the
pub-
lications that
emerged
reflected the kind of intellectual
optimism
that academ-
ics
usually only manage
in a
period
of
apparently
unlimited
expansion.
The
generic
editorial introduction was this time
provided by
Edwin
Ardener,
who in his
Malinowski Memorial lecture a few
years
earlier had detected a
spirit
of
novelty
running through
the
discipline: "[F]or practical purposes
text-books which looked
useful,
no
longer
are;
monographs
which used to
appear
exhaustive now seem se-
lective;
interpretations
which once looked full of
insight
now seem mechanical and
lifeless"
(Ardener 1971:449).
In
keeping
with Ardener's
passion
for the
new,
the
conference theme was "New Directions." In his
introduction, however,
Ardener
seemed keen to stress the
"deep
roots" of some of the
topics
covered,
pointing
out
that the
offerings
of the 1963 conference had not become the stuff of
controversy
in the
intervening years,
not least because "new"
theory
in the 1960s had
usually
come from France rather than the United States
(Ardener 1975).
Of the
topics
cov-
ered
by panels
in the conference
itself,
six
eventually
found their
way
into
print:
on Marxism
(Bloch 1975), symbolism (Willis 1975),
"biosocial"
anthropology
(Fox 1975),
texts
(Jain 1976),
transactionalism
(Kapferer 1976),
and mathemati-
cal
techniques (Mitchell 1980).
But whereas the
founding monographs
from the
1963
meeting
had served as canonical texts in the new
undergraduate syllabuses
of the
1960s,
only
two or three of the 1973 volumes endured to fill that niche.
If the
year
of the "isms"
(as 1973 is now
recalled) provided
a conference for
its
time,
this was even more true of 1983.10
Only
one volume
emerged
from
the
proceedings, although
more were
originally planned.
The theme was "social
anthropology
in the 1980s," and
despite
all the
panels
on
gender (unrepresented
in 1973 but now a
major theme),
on
family
and
economy,
and on
anthropology
and
policy,
and
despite
the
keynote
addresses
(from
Beteille and
Tambiah,
Goody,
Godelier,
and
Mary Douglas),
the
question
for
many participants
was
whether,
in
Thatcherite
Britain,
there even would be a social
anthropology
after the 1980s.
The
only
volume to
emerge
from the conference was on the interface between
anthropology
and
development policy (Grillo
& Rew
1985), reflecting widespread
heart-searching
about the future of the
discipline,
and the
prospects
for
employment
of the
growing
reserve
army
of
underemployed
PhDs in the
subject.
One
participant
was
quoted
in a
contemporary report
on the events: "This isn't a
conference,
it's
a
psychodrama" (Grillo 1983:10).
For
once,
the most
significant developments
occurred not in the
set-piece pre-
sentations
by
luminaries.
(The "younger generation"
this time
might
have been too
much of an embarrassment to act as an intellectual
focus.)
The most
important-
and
heated-exchanges
seem to have taken
place
in the business
meeting,
as
the members of the Association
argued
about the best solution to the current
employment
crisis in the
discipline.
Edmund Leach in
particular objected strongly
10"[In 1973
a]
women's session met
amicably
outside the official
programme.
Some radical
leaflets were circulated. The third world now
figured
as a
political
as well as an academic
subject.
The historical
period
at least (it
may
well be
thought
in
1983)
was unmistakable"
(Ardener 1975:ix).
13
14 SPENCER
to
attempts
to train
anthropology graduates
for nonacademic
employment.
He
followed this with a heartfelt letter to the committee set
up by
the ASA to
report
on
employment
in
applied anthropology:
"The ASA was started as a
'professional
trade union' in the sense that it
sought
to ensure that when social
anthropology
was
taught
in universities and elsewhere the
people
who were
employed
to do the teach-
ing
were
properly qualified
in the
subject....
As a
professional body
we need to tell
Heads of
Departments
that
they
should
discourage
students from
embarking
on a
course of studies
leading
to a PhD in social
anthropology.
It must be
emphasised
to
such
potential
students that the
prospects
of ever
being employed
as a
professional
social
anthropologists [sic]
are
extremely
small.... I would
personally
be horrified
if it became
apparent
that the
'syllabus design'
of what is
taught
in a
University
Department
of Social
Anthropology
was slanted towards
'applied anthropology.'
This would indeed be ironical! ... the
original
role of the ASA was to
prevent
the
Universities from
employing unqualified refugees
from the
disappearing
Colonial
service to teach
'applied anthropology'
!"
(see
Grillo
1994:309-10).
Leach's
anger
at the threatened dilution of
"pure" anthropology
in British uni-
versities has
deep disciplinary
roots. In the late colonial
period,
academic control
of the relevant committees of the Colonial Social Science Research Council meant
that British
anthropologists enjoyed enough
scientific
autonomy
to
ignore
demands
for more relevant
research,
and
Kuklick,
for
example,
documents the disdain ex-
pressed by many leading anthropologists
in the 1940s
(not
least Edmund Leach
himself)
for
practical, policy-oriented
work in the colonies
(Kuklick 1991:190-93).
Yet-despite
considerable resistance from some
quarters-what happened
in
the
early
1980s
may
well have transformed the
discipline.
From the first cuts in the
then SSRC
budget
in the summer of
1979,
some
anthropologists
started to
organize
for the bleak times ahead. A succession of
workshops
and
working-groups
on em-
ployment
for
anthropology graduates gave
birth to a cluster of
organizations
with
ever-changing acronyms (GAPP, BASAPP, SASCW)
and culminated in a
report
to
the ASA
(Grillo 1984).
Much of this
activity
emanated from the new
departments
of the
1960s,
which
by
now had fallen on hard
times-Kent,
for
example,
but
especially
Sussex. With
hindsight,
the activists' efforts have
proven remarkably
successful.
Throughout
the 1980s the
only significant growth
area in academic
anthropology
was in more-or-less vocational
taught
masters
degrees.
This was
paralleled by
a
growth
in demand for
anthropologists
to work in nonacademic set-
tings, especially-but
not
exclusively-in
the field of social
development.
In the
1990s,
the better
resourced,
but often more
conservative,
departments
in
London,
Oxford,
and
Cambridge
hurried to establish similar
programs
in such areas as de-
velopment anthropology-a
clear case of innovation at the
disciplinary periphery
being appropriated
and
reincorporated
at the core.
Symptomatically,
however,
this
particular
transformation in
disciplinary trajec-
tory
was not
especially apparent
in the most recent celebration of British social
anthropology,
the 1993 Decennial. In contrast to the 1983
event,
the mood was
upbeat
and
expansionist.
The universities had started to
grow again-in
student
numbers at least-and
enough
new
posts
had been advertised in recent
years
to
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
absorb almost all the
underemployed
leftovers from the 1980s. Social
anthropol-
ogy
was in
especially good shape
because it was
experiencing
its own boom within
the
bigger
boom;
it found itself in
unexpected
demand from a
generation
of new
students. It was still a
very
small
discipline
with a
relatively
low
public profile,
but it was
beginning
to show
signs
of imminent transition to
being
a mass
subject
taught
in an under-funded mass
university system (Gledhill,
in
press).
The overall theme for the conference
promised
to address some of the
changes
that had overtaken the
discipline
in the
previous
decade-"The Uses of
Knowledge:
Global and Local Relations." Yet neither
pedagogy
nor the dilemmas of
practi-
cally engaged anthropology
were much discussed in the main sessions.11 These
instead focused on a mixture of classic themes
(religious certainties)
and areas of
recent intellectual excitement
(consumption
and
modernity).
Outside observers
noted the
upbeat
mood
(Stolcke 1993),
and the
"continuing rapprochement
with
American cultural
anthropology,"
evinced
by
the number of
presentations
from an-
thropologists institutionally
based in North America
(Stocking 1995:438).
Some
of the most
exciting
discussion at the conference itself took
place
in
fringe
ses-
sions on
art,
on new
reproductive technologies,
and on ethnic
violence,
and these
sessions were also more
representative
of the
new,
post-1989 generation
of an-
thropologists (underrepresented
on the
platform
in the main conference
sessions).
The conference
organizer's
"traditional" foreword to the eventual
publications-
expansive
and
commanding
for the 1963
volumes,
reduced but still
reasonably
full
in 1973-was
effectively
shrunk to a short but
challenging paragraph
in
1993,
as
if the kind of
expansive
overview offered with such confidence
by
Gluckman and
Eggan
30
years
earlier were
simply
no
longer
feasible
(Strathern 1995a).
We can look at the conferences of
1963, 1973, 1983,
and 1993 as moments of
collective
self-presentation.
And we can look back at what has and has not survived
intellectually
from the earlier ones. But we can also look at these as occasions to
take
stock,
in
particular,
as occasions to
renegotiate
the
discipline's
boundaries:
in 1963 with the other social
sciences;
in 1973 with sources of new ideas from
outside Britain and/or outside the
discipline;
in 1983 with the economic chill of the
so-called "real
world";
and in 1993 with the forces of the
global
(in
anthropology,
as well as in the
world).
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND CULTURAL PERFORMANCE
At this
point
let's look at two
important
themes from recent work in the social his-
tory
of science.
Reviewing
the exteralism/intemalism debate in science
studies,
and the linked issue of boundaries around cultural
practices
like
science,
Shapin
(1992) points
out that for historians of
science,
"boundary
talk"
helps
us see the
nonnecessity
of actors' accounts of scientific
practice, especially
when we have
1The most notable
exception
was the session on the uses of social
knowledge
convened
by
Henrietta Moore
(cf
Moore
1996).
15
16 SPENCER
the cultural distance of the historian
looking
at
past practice.
In his book, We
Have Never Been
Modem,
Bruno Latour
(1993) goes
further and stresses the fic-
tive nature of all
attempts
to bound off "science" from
"society"
or
"politics,"
or
"nature" as a discrete realm from "culture," the
place
of those who
study
it. In
practice,
networks of actors
transgress
these
boundaries,
and our world is full of
hybrids-part
nature,
part
culture. To deal with this a
great
effort is
put
into what
Latour calls the "work of
purification."
In a
close,
but
slightly
different,
neck of
the
historiographic
woods,
attention has been drawn to the
ways
in which scientific
"facts" are made (in laboratories and other
highly
structured
settings),
not
given
(in
nature).
And if "facts" are
made,
so are the
specialists
who observe
them,
the
community
of scientists-to invoke the
language
of
Shapin
& Schaffer's
(1985)
study
of Hobbes and
Boyle,
a bounded
group
with
special powers
of "witness."
These historical
arguments
offer a new
perspective
on the
shifting
concerns
revealed in the four ASA Decennial conferences.
Each,
in different
ways, might
be
thought
of as a return to the
questions
I
opened
with: Is it still British? Is it
still social? Is it still
anthropology?
There is a
long history
here. In the
early
1950s,
in a
carefully staged
and still celebrated
exchange
in the
pages
of American
Anthropologist, George
Murdock and
Raymond
Firth debated these
very
issues.
Concentrating
on the then
recently published African Systems of Kinship
and
Marriage,
Murdock leveled a number of accusations at his British
colleagues.
Sure
they're good
at what
they
do,
but their
geographical
and theoretical
interests,
their
reading,
their ideas are so narrow.
Crucially, they shy away
from all talk
of "culture," a fact which reveals them in their true colors-they're not anthropo-
logists
at
all,
they're actually sociologists (Murdock 1951:471).12
Here we face an
apparent paradox,
for
virtually
all of Murdock's marks of
British distinction in the 1950s
appear
to have melted into air in the 1970s and
1980s.
By
the
1960s,
the
early
concentration on
Africa,
which taxed
Murdock,
was
already giving way
to work in Asia and
Europe (SSRC 1968,
Kappers 1983).
The
apparent
obsession with
kinship
at the
expense
of all other areas of life
(Murdock
1951:467)
seems also to have declined: the
topic
was
barely
mentioned in the
main sessions of the 1993
Decennial,
and its recent revival in Britain owes more
to the influence of that arch
culturalist,
David
Schneider,
than to the
ghost
of
Radcliffe-Brown
(cf
Carsten
2000,
Franklin
1997,
Strathern
1992).
"Culture"
has
probably
been as much discussed in Britain as in the United States in the
1990s,
whereas a whole host of
topics-until recently rigorously policed by
the
anthropological boundary patrol,
for
example psychological (Bloch 1998)
and
psychoanalytic (Heald
& Deluz
1994)
work-have been
quietly
admitted
to the mainstream. These
days
more attention is
probably paid
to the work
of American
anthropologists
in Britain than to the work of British
(or
French
or
Norwegian
or
German) anthropologists
in the United States. Even
applied,
or
practical, anthropology-anathema
to
professional anthropologists
of Leach's
12Firth's
(1951) response
to Murdock is
characteristically
fair and
diplomatic,
and in the
following
decade he was
especially
active in
building bridges
with such American
colleagues
as David Schneider.
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
generation-has,
for
many
British
anthropologists,
become the
discipline's
bread-
and-butter since the 1980s.
Yet as
anyone
who has
spent
time around British
anthropology departments
would
admit,
boundary
talk remains a
vigorous
idiom in
everyday practice.
In
an
unjustly neglected paper
from the
early
1980s,
Watson
(1984) provided
a rich
vein of
examples
of the social/cultural
boundary patrol,
from both sides of the
Atlantic. It is
probably
true that
explicit boundary
talk is
slightly
less
likely
to be
found in
print
than in the
past,
but the
question
"Is this
anthropology?"
is still the
stuff of some PhD examinations in Britain and "She didn't seem to
really
know that
much
anthropology"
is not unknown as an
explanation
of the failure to
appoint
some brilliant outsider to a new
position.13
How are these
judgments
formed
when,
as we have
just
seen,
the formal criteria seem so
shifting
and evanescent?
From whence do new British
anthropologists gain
their
truly anthropological
dis-
positions?
One clue can be found in a recent
essay by Kuper (1992).
In the context of a
complaint
about the corrosive effects of alien American
"culturalism,"
he
provides
a
brilliantly
vivid evocation of
Cambridge
in the mid-1960s: "A
university
like
Cambridge
is an efficient
engine
of acculturation. The
department
itself
impressed
a
very specific
academic
identity
on the new recruit. Within a
couple
of terms it
would turn out a
fledgling
Fortesian Africanist or structuralist South
Asianist,
armed with some ideas but above all with
strong loyalties.
It is
interesting
that
these ideas were inculcated with a minimum of direct instruction. One had to
pick up
a
great
deal on one's own. That also made one less
likely, perhaps,
to
rebel. There was little
explicit
control,
though
it is
significant
that when we tried
to establish a small seminar of our own, Fortes did his best to
nip
it in the bud"
(Kuper 1992:60).
This, remember,
was the
department
that
produced
a
disproportionate
num-
ber of
today's
academic
anthropologists
in Britain. It did
so,
apparently,
with a
"minimum of direct instruction."
(The
oral archive
suggests
that
Kuper's
account
is at least as true of
Oxford,
where the
ability
to leave students to
"pick up
a
great
deal on one's own" was elevated to an art
form.)
We are in the
realm,
I
suggest,
of "tacit
knowledge,"
whose
importance
in scientific
practice
has been
well documented since
Polanyi's
Personal
Knowledge (1958).
How is this kind of
knowledge imparted,
if not
through
"direct instruction"? The conventional answer
is
through
what Lave &
Wenger (1991)
call
"legitimate peripheral participation,"
the
acquisition
of
membership
in a
"community
of
practice."
And where is it
imparted? Kuper's
last sentence
gives
one clue: in the semi-
nar. Seminars loom
large
in British
anthropological
reminiscence. Gell starts his
posthumously published, autobiographical
account of his own
anthropological
formation with several
pages
of reflection on "seminar culture" in British anthro-
pology: "[A]n anthropology department
without a
weekly
seminar series is like a
13Unfortunately,
the most
imaginative
recent work on
anthropology's boundary
talk
(Gupta
&
Ferguson 1997)
chooses to
ignore
the Atlantic division and instead talks of a
unitary
"Anglo-American anthropology."
17
18 SPENCER
body
without a
heart,"
and "seminar culture is what
really
defines
my
academic
metier,
rather than
membership
of a rather nebulous
'profession"' (Gell 1999:2,3).
Gell
provides
an account of his own
anthropological self-making
in terms of suc-
cessive seminars he
presented
to,
and
participated
in: as an
undergraduate
with
Meyer
Fortes in
Cambridge;
as a
fledgling
researcher to the
postgraduate
seminar
at the
LSE;
and
then,
to his
amazement,
to the full
departmental
seminar
presided
over
by Raymond
Firth. Gell concentrates on the
pleasures
of
performance
but
also remarks on the skills of the
listener,
as
acquired
in the audience of Firth's
seminar at the LSE:
"[A]ll
those in attendance were assumed to be able to com-
ment
intelligently,
and would be asked to do so if the chairman saw fit. Since
I never knew when
Raymond might
ask
'Well,
what do
you think,
Mr Gell?' it
was
absolutely necessary
to
pay
attention both to the
paper
and to the
subsequent
discussion,
on
pain
of
possible public
humiliation. I still retain the
ability
to listen
to an hour's
paper
and 50 minutes of
discussion,
without
lapses
of
concentration,
as a result of this
early,
invaluable,
training" (Gell 1999:5).
In his own
memoir,
David Schneider describes the
impact
of
Raymond
Firth's
seminar at the LSE in
very
similar terms
[and
contrasts it to the
ghastly experi-
ence of
trying
to tell Gluckman's seminar about Zulus in Manchester
(Schneider
1995:125-29)]. Goody, reminiscing
of the ASA in the
1950s,
draws some further
links: "Attendance ... was
virtually obligatory
in the fifties. However the
general
atmosphere
was one of
camaraderie,
of
solidarity,
of
communitas,
rather than au-
thority;
the seminars and the
drinking
were done
together....
Life was in some
ways
like an
on-going
seminar,
with
continuing
discussions of this or that
theme,
what X
thought,
what new
empirical
work had to
say
on the
subject.
The closeness
of the
fraternity
was one
way
in which the
highly amorphous subject
of
anthropol-
ogy (which
can be all
things
to all
men)
was
given
some
manageable
bounds,
and
some
continuing focus
was
providedfor
current
investigations" (Goody
1995:83,
my emphasis).
And
Leach,
like
many
others,
describes the ultimate source for the
whole tradition: Malinowski's seminar at the LSE in the 1920s and 1930s
(Leach
1986:376;
cf Firth
1975:2-3,
Stocking 1995:294-5).14
Here the
importance
of the
continuing
domination of the
discipline by
a hand-
ful of core
departments
becomes obvious. With over half of the members of the
discipline coming
out of
three,
relatively
small,
departments-even
now,
the com-
bined
membership
of the
departments
concerned is no more than 30 or 40-and
others
passing through
to
give papers
on a
reasonably regular
basis,
just
a few
14Historians of science have traced the
importance
of the seminar as the locus of scientific
bildung,
or
self-creation,
to the scientific seminars of
eighteenth-
and
nineteenth-century
Germany (Clark 1989,
Olesko
1991).
This would seem to
provide
a
strong
link to the
world of Malinowski
(and
of course
Boas).
Schaffer's wonderful
essay,
"From
Physics
to
Anthropology-and
Back
Again" (1994),
contains the most
imaginative
treatment
of the
place
of scientific
self-making
in the
early history
of British
anthropology,
but it
concentrates more on the
laboratory
and its
practices
and has
relatively
little to
say
about
seminars and seminar culture. Here is a
topic
for future historians.
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
weekly
seminars can continue to act as a
testing ground
for what is or is not an-
thropologically
correct or
theoretically interesting. They
can, moreover,
do so in
a flexible
way:
The seminar does not
necessarily
care if the boundaries shift over
the
years.
It
may appear
to have some sort of collective
memory,
but it is not a
court,
susceptible
to formal
appeals
to
precedent.
It is rather the
setting
for certain
stylized
kinds of
performance,
and for the
passing
of,
often
tacit, judgments.
Inso-
far as the
performance
becomes second
nature,
the
judgments
themselves
may
be
allowed to differ.
Cambridge
in the 1960s
was,
after
all,
a
department
in which the
dominant
figures-Leach
and
Fortes,
Tambiah and
Goody-were, intellectually
at
least,
perceived
to be at war with each other
(Gell 1999:4,
Kuper 1992:60).
And
British
anthropology,
in what
may
have been its real
golden
era-the 1950s and
1960s rather than the 1930s-was the scene of endless
set-piece public
contro-
versies. Besides those of Fortes and
Leach,
there were battles between Leach and
Gluckman,
Needham and
Gellner,
Needham and Beattie.
My point
is that these
were the
products
of a close-knit seminar culture
that,
rather than
inculcating
a
simple
and narrow
orthodoxy,
set the terms for what was deemed
worthy
of ar-
gument.
The decline of such bitter academic
argument
since the 1980s
may
be
a
symptom
of
many things-the changing politics
of academic
employment,
the
shifting gender
balance of the
discipline-but
it
may
above all herald the decline
of the kinds of
multiplex
social relations celebrated
by Goody
in his
description
of the 1950s.
In
itself,
the
demographic growth
of the
discipline
has threatened the kinds of
tacit structure I have
just
been
describing-the
annual ASA
conferences,
for exam-
ple,
have for
years
been too
big
to
reproduce
the intellectual communitas invoked
by Goody, yet
too small to act as
all-purpose
occasions of
professional
efferves-
cence like the AAA
meetings (cf
Ardener
1983).
And it is debatable whether the
kind of
tight disciplinarity Goody
celebrates can survive
beyond
a certain
point
of
demographic expansion,
whatever the institutional environment. But the institu-
tional environment in British education is now
especially
hostile to the endurance
of the
implicit
and the unstated. In her
Cambridge inaugural
in
1994,
Marilyn
Strather concluded with a meditation on the recent mania in
higher
education
for
rendering explicit
what often works best
by being
left
implicit:
To
put
it more
crudely
than she ever
would,
the translation of
Kuper's
"education without instruc-
tion" into a set of aims and
objectives
at the head of a
reading list,
with
appropriate
cross references to the institutional mission statement
(Strathern 1995b).
A clas-
sic
example
would be fieldwork
itself, which,
in Evans-Pritchard's
Oxford,
simply
could not be
taught,
it could
only
be learned
by doing-"methods
and
methodology
were American terms"
(Gilsenan 1990:225). Now, however,
the ESRC demands
explicit
methods
training
from all
departments
that would receive its
funding,
and
anthropology
has
yielded
to this demand like the other social sciences.
Yet it is worth
ending
with one characteristic
anthropological response
to the
demands of the new educational command
economy
in Britain. If we look at the
disciplinary guidelines
for research
training
in different
subjects
drawn
up
for
the
ESRC,
anthropology's entry
looks odd
(ESRC 1996).
Where
sociologists,
for
19
20 SPENCER
example,
are
given
a
crisp one-page
list of
things every
new
sociologist
should
know
("the principles
of
descriptive
and inferential statistics and bi- and multi-
variable
analysis;
the
systematic analysis
of textual and other
qualitative
data ...
"),
social
anthropology's entry
is
long
and
highly discursive,
yet
somehow it
manages
to omit
any
list of
required techniques, except
for broad
gestures
toward fieldwork
and
language learning.
What is described in the social
anthropology guidelines
is a set of desired
relationships (primarily
with the
supervisor),
a
long process
(fieldwork)
of an otherwise
open-ended
kind,
and a certain kind of central social
event: the research seminar. Described with
care,
this crucible of
anthropological
training
could be one of the
Cambridge
seminars of the
1960s,
or it could be at
the Institute in
Oxford,
or in Gluckman's
Manchester,
or at the LSE with
Bloch,
Parry,
and Gell
taking
on some
puzzled foreign
star in the 1980s.
Although
it
misses out on a certain amount of
telling
local detail-there is no
requirement
that
the seminar be chaired
by
an
apparent megalomaniac
and no allusion to the
high
levels of
dysfunctional
behavior exhibited in the classic seminars of British social
anthropology-it
links the
anthropology
of the 1990s back to the
primal
scene that
still haunted the
anthropologists
who consolidated British social
anthropology
in
the
1950s,
Malinowski's seminar at the LSE. It seems to me at the
very
least
arguable
that here-rather than the rite of
fieldwork,
which is after
all,
hard to
control from a distance-is one
key
site of
continuity,
a
place
where we do "the
work involved in
making interdisciplinary
boundaries
appear
sui
generis" (Watson
1984:352).
Finally,
a note of caution. The kind of
demographic picture
I
presented
earlier
should rule out
anything
as final as a conclusion. British social
anthropology
has
just passed through
a decade of
growth
and
expansion,
in which its
teaching
and research interests have been transformed.
Although
I
suspect
its institutional
oddities will ensure its survival as a distinctive strand of an
increasingly global
discipline,
it is nevertheless
possible
that future historians will instead see the 1990s
as the end of British social
anthropology
as we have known it. In the end I have told
the
story
as it makes most sense to
me,
concentrating
on institutional facts rather
than more conventional intellectual
history.
Even within
my picture
of center-
periphery dynamics,
I can see how some of
my interpretive
choices have
shaped
the
story
I have told. For reasons of
space
I have
not,
for
example, attempted
to
develop
an
argument
about British
anthropology's presence (or absence)
in
the
public sphere-from
Leach's Reith lectures in the
1960s,
through
his role
in
rejuvenating
the RAI in the
1970s,
and
taking
on board the
important
role of
British
public
service
broadcasting
as a
sponsor
for the
discipline
in the
years
that followed
(Leach 1968, 1974).
One of the most vital
products
of that
story
is the RAI's
"popular" publications,
RAIN and later
Anthropology Today,
which
between the two
provide
as
good
a sense of the
changing
concerns of the
discipline
in Britain as
any
source
(Benthall 1996).
I have
concentrated,
I now
see,
most
heavily
on the
years
since I sat in
my
first
anthropology
lecture in the
early
1970s.
Had I sat in the lecture 10
years
earlier,
I
suspect
I would have had more to
say
about the earlier alternative strands
opened up by
Gluckman and his
proteges
at
BRITISH SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
Manchester.
Writing
from one
particular perspective, especially
one so close to
the
object being
described,
has its limitations.
But,
if I have one
point
to
make,
it is
one
anticipated by
Leach
(1984:3)
in his memoir from the 1980s: "The
sociology
of the environment of social
anthropologists
has a
bearing
on the
history
of social
anthropology."
That,
it seems to
me,
is a
very
social
anthropological way
of
approaching
one's own
history.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I have been
especially
fortunate in the advice and
help
I have received from
many
colleagues.
Pat
Caplan
and
Ralph
Grillo
generously
shared their memories of
the difficult decades of the 1970s and 1980s. Both
helped
me locate
important
documents from the
1980s,
as did Alan Barnard and
Nigel Rapport.
Seminar
audiences in Saint Andrews and in the
Department
of
Sociology
at
Edinburgh
raised
important questions
and
supplied
further
insights.
In this
respect
I must
especially
thank Jonathan
Hearn,
John
Holmwood,
Steve
Sturdy,
and Neil Thin. Jonathan
Parry
directed
my
attention to Gell's crucial
commentary
on seminar culture after
I had
completed
a first draft of the
argument.
Given his own mercurial brilliance
as a seminar
performer,
it is
only fitting
that the
paper
itself be dedicated to the
most
original
and
sorely
missed
anthropologist
of his
generation,
Alfred Gell.
Visit the Annual Reviews home
page
at
www.AnnualReviews.org
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