Article ID: CBB371835573

Constructing the Field in Interwar Social Anthropology: Power, Personae, and Paper Technology (2020)


This essay draws on ideas from the history of the natural sciences—on “personae” and “paper technology”—to explain how the subculture of social anthropology emerged at the London School of Economics in the 1930s. It argues that the figure of the social anthropologist coalesced around a number of practices and symbols that Bronislaw Malinowski had done much to imbue with charisma and that his students attempted to reproduce in their own research. Historians have proposed that part of social anthropology’s success lay in its practitioners’ ability to foster a fictive individualism in their writing, cultivating an inward attitude of experience founded on acts of the self upon the self. This essay shows that the kind of knowledge produced in Malinowski’s seminar was, in fact, a highly sociable, rather than an individualistic, affair. Social anthropologists in the 1930s constructed a mutually constitutive relationship of field and seminar. These were connected spaces, held together in the act of fieldwork—a practice that transcended and linked the geographical distance between the metropole and the periphery in the crucial years of the discipline’s development.

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Authors & Contributors
Cocks, Paul
Young, Michael W.
Kuklick, Henrika
Mills, David
Tilley, Helen
Frederiksen, Bodil Folke
History of the Human Sciences
British Journal for the History of Science
History Workshop Journal
Journal of Classical Sociology
Technology and Culture
Acta Historica Leopoldina
Yale University Press
Berghahn Books
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas
Springer Nature
Social anthropology
Science education and teaching
Natural science
Cultural anthropology
Malinowski, Bronislaw
Spencer, Baldwin
Frazer, James George
Gillen, Francis James
Evans-Pritchard, Edward Evan
Bonaparte, Marie
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
20th century
17th century
18th century
21st century
Great Britain
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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