Central Sites, Peripheral Visions: Cultural and Institutional Crossings in the History of Anthropology

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Richard Handler
Univ of Wisconsin Press, Nov 8, 2006 - Social Science - 448 pages

The terms "center" and "periphery" are particularly relevant to anthropologists, since traditionally they look outward from institutional "centers"-universities, museums, government bureaus-to learn about people on the "peripheries." Yet anthropology itself, as compared with economics, politics, or history, occupies a space somewhat on the margins of academe. Still, anthropologists, who control esoteric knowledge about the vast range of human variation, often find themselves in a theoretically central position, able to critique the "universal" truths promoted by other disciplines.

Central Sites, Peripheral Visions
presents five case studies that explore the dilemmas, moral as well as political, that emerge out of this unique position. From David Koester's analysis of how ethnographic descriptions of Iceland marginalized that country's population, to Kath Weston's account of an offshore penal colony where officials mixed prison work with ethnographic pursuits; from Brad Evans's reflections on the "bohemianism" of both the Harlem vogue and American anthropology, to Arthur J. Ray's study of anthropologists who serve as expert witnesses in legal cases, the essays in the eleventh volume of the History of Anthropology Series reflect on anthropology's always problematic status as centrally peripheral, or peripherally central.

Finally, George W. Stocking, Jr., in a contribution that is almost a book in its own right, traces the professional trajectory of American anthropologist Robert Gelston Armstrong, who was unceremoniously expelled from his place of privilege because of his communist sympathies in the 1950s. By taking up Armstrong's unfinished business decades later, Stocking engages in an extended meditation on the relationship between center and periphery and offers "a kind of posthumous reparation," a page in the history of the discipline for a distant colleague who might otherwise have remained in the footnotes.


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About the author (2006)

Richard Handler is professor of anthropology at the University of Virginia. He is author of Critics Against Culture and Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec, and coauthor of Jane Austen and the Fiction of Culture and The New History in an Old Museum.

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