Anthropological Invigoration

How do you balance a commitment to the discipline of anthropology with recognizing and valuing insights that are relevant and challenging but come from outside anthropology? How might we reinvigorate anthropological discussions of “decolonization” by paying attention to analyses of colonialism in ethnic studies and postcolonial studies? 

[AnthroVice lights a cigar. “Take a seat on the couch, please.”]

Dear Vigor-less,

It would seem from your question that you find our discussions about decolonization rather boring.

Is it anthropology that needs to be invigorated, or anthropologists? Anthropology is a discipline that has been socially constructed for intellectualism’s sake, and it is not a unitary entity. No amount of smelling salts or Frankensteinian electrocution will bring anthropology to a state of vitality.

Anthropologists, however, are another story. We might benefit from a sharp kick in the behind. To help you sort out your problem, I’d like to share with you a brief fieldwork anecdote.

A long time ago, late at night, I yawned over a cookfire in a postcolonial field somewhere. My friend, a mother of four, asked me, “Do you feel angry, scared, or hungry?” In response to my puzzled look, she explained that yawning always means anger, fear, or hunger. Her list did not include “tired,” which was apparently also a symptom of anger, fear, or hunger. In short, yawning is a sign of repression.

I now turn the question over to you. In your question, I detect the seed of a critical analysis, disguised as an emotion that you are doubtless repressing about your experience discussing decolonization. You suggest that anthropological discussions of decolonization need to be invigorated. Do you find that anthropologists struggle to accept challenges to anthropology from outside the field? Do you feel bored? Or angry? Or hungry? Or scared? Are we becoming dull, obstinate, closed-off, and repressive? Trace your sentiments to a critique, and share your critique with the world.

Anthropologist—analyze thyself, and help us be better.

Yours truly,
AnthroVice

Cite as: AnthroVice. 2018. “Anthropological Invigoration.” Anthropology News website, May 23, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.875

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