Anthropology in Dangerous Times

In Athens, Greece, on December 31, 1967, eight months after the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy by the military junta on April 21, 1967, armed and uniformed men entered the building that housed the Social Sciences Centre, Athens and carted out boxes full of papers and books. What was contained in these boxes? Where did they end up? We do not know for certain, but they contained an archive of the foundation and early history of professional anthropology in Greece, which is subsequently missing.

A missing archive: a paradoxical notion. What had been collected and curated with an eye to establishing an authoritative repository, by scholars familiar with archives and the principles of selection and categorization of materials of various sorts, vanishes and with it the vision of the world embedded deeply in the archive. We know, from the work of Ann Stoler, Jacques Derrida and others, that archives are a reflection of particular regimes. The principles of curation and organization reflect the broader ideological and cultural structures of the time. So, the colonial archive reflects the various distinctions, such as race, class, and ethnicity, relevant to it.

Photograph presented by Prince Peter to Michael Papamichael for his seminal work, The Hellenic Pan-African Directory, from Cape to Cairo, 1950-1951, for which Prince Peter wrote the preface. The inscription says, “To my friend, Mr. Michael Papamichael, with all my wishes for success in his project,” signed: Peter, 1947. Elly-Maria Papamichael

What structures defined the archive of the Athens Centre for Social Research? Here, we have some clues. A certain vision of anthropology as the science of modernity—of a democratic, multicultural society—had been put forth in the late 1950s and ’60s by the first generation of professional Greek anthropologists. One of these, Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark, has been the subject of research I have conducted with my colleague Elly Maria Papamichael, whose father was a close friend and business partner with Peter for over 40 years until Peter’s sudden death on October 15, 1980. Peter attended the Lycée Janson de Sailly, where he was a classmate of Lévi-Strauss. Like Lévi-Strauss, he abandoned his studies for anthropology.

Peter studied under Malinowski and Firth at the London School of Economics, in 1935–36. He would eventually receive his PhD in 1959. His main interest, the rare practice of polyandry, was a topic shaped by his childhood. His mother, Marie Bonaparte, was a disciple of Freud’s, who later helped rescue him from the Nazis. Peter was himself a Freudian, and Malinowski, despite his argument with the Freudians in The Sexual Lives of Savages, offered a seminar in Freudian theory. Clearly, the question of how Freudian psychodynamics, and especially the Oedipus complex, would play out under very different social structures, was of mutual interest to Peter and Malinowski alike.

Peter conducted fieldwork in Tibet, as well as India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere in the region. The result of this work was a massive comparative tome, A Study of Polyandry, published in a prestigious Mouton series. Although not pathbreaking in a theoretical way, it provided a rich data set from various societies, some of which he had done fieldwork in, others culled from ethnographic literature. This was part of a larger project, of liberation from traditional sexual mores, begun literally in childhood when he underwent analysis with Freud to deal with Oedipal issues. His own sexual life was unconventional, at least for someone in his position. A romance or possibly an arranged marriage with Princess Frederica of Hanover was cut off by Peter. This has remained a mystery to his biographers, as it led to later political and even professional problems. Frederica later married Paul, the son of King Constantine I of Greece and thus ascended to the throne. The story Peter told my research partner’s father, Michael Papamichael is dramatic: Riding horses together through the Black Forest, they stop for a picnic. Frederica pulls out a knife and proceeds to carve their names together on a tree bark. Superimposed was a swastika—of the Nazi, not Indo-Tibetan variety. Peter called off the engagement on the spot. He later began a relationship with an Irina Aleksandrovna Ovtchinnikova, an older woman and Russian theologian, yet, commoner and divorcee, whom he later married, much to the royal family’s chagrin.

Peter was an ardent anti-Nazi. He fought against them as a soldier in the Greek army. But it was through anthropology that he sought to fight fascism most directly. The ideas of blood and soil could be replaced by the scientific study of culture and race. In his book The Science of Anthropology, based on lectures delivered in Athens in 1961–62, he sets forth a vision of a four-field anthropology as the scientific underpinning of a modern liberal democracy. Based in part in a nostalgia for the imagined Hellenic diaspora (it is noteworthy that he and Peristiany made an expedition to retrace the footsteps of Alexander the Great), a tolerant multi-ethnic world epitomized by cities such as Smyrna and Alexandria. Faced with the rising tide of Arab and Turkish nationalism, and fascism in Greece itself, this vision was defeated in his own lifetime.

Again, we face dangerous times, and are the targets of those for whom the message of anthropology is profoundly threatening. We too must take sides and be brave. We too must strive to leave an archive for the future in which is embedded the values of tolerance, liberation, and free inquiry.

Michael E. Harkin is a professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming.

Elly-Maria Papamichael is an International Baccalaureate tutor in social anthropology and a distance-learning proctor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln High School. She is currently a post-graduate student at the Language Education for Refugees and Migrants Programme, Hellenic Open University. With Michael E. Harkin she is researching anthropologist Prince Peter’s life.

Cite as: Harkin, Michael, and Elly Maria Papamichael. 2018. “Anthropology in Dangerous Times.” Anthropology News website, February 19, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.770

Comments

Thank you, Jason Antrosio, for your interest! We are, indeed, hoping to publish more in the immediate future and we are also hoping to eventually, gather enough material for a book.

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