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Every year, leading European social anthropologists meet to debate a motion at the heart of current theoretical developments in their subject.

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Key Debates in Anthropology presents the first six of these debates, from to The debates address the disciplinary character of social anthropology; the concept of society; the concept of culture; the place of language in the formation of culture; how we view the past in relation to the present; and the cross-cultural applicability of aesthetics.

Peel, Marilyn Strathern. With its unique debate format, Key Debates in Anthropology addresses issues that are currently at the top of the theoretical agenda -- issues which register the pulse of contemporary thinking in social anthropology. Sicher bezahlen. Whilst these debates draw on broader social theoretical literatures, the aim is to examine how they are mobilised within current empirical anthropological inquiry, and how this can shape wider debates in the social sciences, arts and humanities. Topics will vary but may include:.


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This emphasis has been visible, for example, in anthropological contributions to gender studies. Yet culture has also been a contested concept in anthropology, not least in recent times. It is true that it was never equally central to anthropological thought in all varieties of anthropology. While some anthropologists have gone as far as to argue for the abolition of the culture concept, others would be inclined to accept many of the criticisms yet take a more reformist line.

Whichever view is taken, it seems that debates over the understanding of culture offer the discipline one of its lively intellectual foci Hannerz, ; Brumann, ; Kuper, The notion of cultural translation has also had a part in defining anthropological work, and inevitably it is drawn into the arguments about the culture concept generally. In a somewhat related manner, it has gone with the interest in human diversity to describe anthropology as a discipline centrally involved with comparison Gingrich and Fox, In a general way, this is clearly valid.

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Much of anthropology is at least implicitly comparative, in its inclination to emphasize what is somehow notably different about the ideas, habits, and relationships of some particular population. To the extent that the origins of the discipline have been European and North American, the baseline of such comparisons and contrasts has no doubt been in a general way Western.

If culture in the singular and plural forms, fieldwork, translation, and comparison may count as ideas and practices that hold anthropology together, not in consensus but often rather more through engagement in debate, it is often suggested that the discipline also tends to be systematically segmented along various lines — not only in terms of what is understood to make up the discipline, as noted in this article, but also with regard to what draws communities of specialists closer together.

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One of the three major dimensions here is area knowledge. Anthropologists tend to be Africanists, Europeanists, Melanesianists, or members of other region-based categories. Rather few of them ever commit themselves to acquiring specialized knowledge of more than one major region to the extent of doing field research there. It is true that if fieldwork is often highly localized, it does not necessarily lead to a wider regional knowledge either, but as a matter of convention perhaps at least to fit into normal job descriptions in the discipline , the tendency has been to achieve specialist status by reaching toward an overview of the accumulated anthropological knowledge of some such unit, and perhaps seeking opportunities to familiarize oneself with more of it through travel.

The second major dimension of specialization can be described as topical. Frequently, such specializations have tended to follow the dominant dividing lines between other academic disciplines — there has been political anthropology, economic anthropology, psychological anthropology, anthropology of law, anthropology of art, and ecological anthropology, for example.

Drawing on knowledge of social and cultural diversity, one aspect of such specialization has been to scrutinize and criticize concepts and assumptions of the counterpart disciplines with respect to their tendencies toward Western-based intellectual ethnocentrism; but obviously there is also a continuous absorption of ideas from these other disciplines.

Here, then, are other interdisciplinary connections. It may be added that such subdisciplines often have their own histories of growth in some periods, and stagnation in others Collier, Thirdly, anthropologists sometimes specialize in the study of broad societal types, based on dominant means of livelihood — hunter-gatherers, peasants, pastoralists, fishermen, and so forth.

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In some ways, urban anthropology may be seen as a similar kind of specialty. In fields like these, too, intensities of collective engagement and intellectual progress have tended to vary in time.


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  6. It has occasionally been argued that anthropology is less engaged with practical application than many other academic disciplines, and more concerned with achieving a somewhat lofty overview of the human condition, in all its variations. One factor underlying such a tendency may be a sort of basic cultural relativism — it may go with the acceptance, and even celebration, of human diversity to be somewhat skeptical of any attempt to impose particular arrangements of life on other people.

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    This stance may well be supported by the fact that anthropologists have often been outsiders, working in other societies or groups than their own, and feeling that they have no mandate for meddling, or for that matter any actual realistic opportunity. Particularly toward the end of the colonial period, anthropologists also often saw such involvements as morally and politically questionable. In recent times, particularly in the United States, there has also been considerable debate over the uses of anthropological expertise in contexts of war and other international conflict Kelly et al.

    Some number of anthropologists in Europe and North America now also make use of their disciplinary perspectives as specialists on organizational culture, and as marketing analysts, in a growing field of business anthropology Moeran, In all its varying shapes, in space and over time, anthropology has tended to straddle conventional academic classifications of disciplines. In its scope of subject matter — for example, family and kinship, politics, and market and exchange, on the one side, and art, music, and dance, on the other — it extends across the social sciences and the humanities.

    Insofar as it has to take into account the biological givens of human thought and action, and inquires into the interactions of humankind with its natural environment, it reaches into the natural sciences as well. But its multiple affiliations are not only a consequence of its varied subject matter. They are also implied in the variety of intellectual approaches: in field research, in theoretical work, and in styles of presentation. In what ways, or to what extent, anthropology is an art or a science continues to be a matter of lively internal debate.

    In many ways the enduring characteristics of anthropology, throughout this range of forms, continue to be expressions of the concern with diversity — with the highly varied manners of being human. To the global public stock of ideas, it brings such notions as taboo, witchcraft, cargo cults, totemism, or the potlatch exchange feasts of Northwest Coast American Indians. There is a rich intellectual universe here, to be drawn on within the discipline and from outside it.

    And anthropology has its classic preoccupations, such as ritual or kinship, concerning which new materials about yet more variations are continuously gathered worldwide, and around which theoretical debates never seem to cease.