WORLD ANTHROPOLOGICAL UNION

CONGRESS 2024​

SELECTED PANEL

( pn41 )

What are Anthropological Values? Comparisons Across the World

Organizers

    Gordon Clark Mathews

    United States of America

    Dept. of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Thomas Hylland Eriksen

    Norway

    Dept. of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

WCAA Affiliation: Anthropological Values Task Force

IUAES Affiliation: Study of Difference, Discrimination and Marginalization

Keywords:

Anthropological values, scientific knowledge, social justice, universalism, North-South divide

Abstract:

This panel invites papers exploring which values anthropologists share, how they are formulated and articulated in different societies, and how anthropologists in different societies seek to convey these values to policy-makers and to ordinary citizens. Early anthropologists prioritized empirical depictions of people they studied—ostensibly for objective scientific knowledge. Moreover, they studied people their societies of origin had subjugated. As epitomized by the World Anthropological Union, anthropology has expanded globally, and anthropologists no longer comprise only the powerful studying the disempowered. This has produced shifts in anthropological values which this panel seeks to explore. Should anthropologists primarily pursue ‘objective scholarly depictions’ of those they study, or should they primarily seek social justice for them? Many anthropologists agree that both are essential. Yet which takes priority? Does one need to support certain political values to be an anthropologist, or can anthropologists subscribe to an array of political values? Can an anthropologist be a religious fundamentalist? Can anthropologists support xenophobic, racist or extreme nationalist causes? Put differently, does a particular world-view emanate from the nature of the anthropological enterprise? Departing from such general questions, the panel will ask whether the values formulated by anthropologists in different societies and at different historical times can be generalized into a common global anthropological viewpoint, or whether this is an impossible universalist goal. Anthropologists in different parts of the world tend to have developed diverse orientations regarding the purpose of anthropology. To many in Latin America, the pursuit of social justice is essential, an orientation that many anthropologists in places such as Japan may find foreign. Does the subject-position of anthropologists based in high-income regions and/or involved in global, regional or national power networks, generate different values from those of anthropologists in less affluent societies and/or in disempowered communities? Does doing fieldwork ‘at home’, particularly if that means amongst members of a disempowered population of which one is a member, generate different values from doing fieldwork abroad? Are there nonetheless shared values underpinning all anthropological research and distinguishing anthropology from other academic pursuits? We invite contributions raising these questions, comparatively or from single societies. Possible substantive themes to develop include: • Does the ethnographic method, entailing moral contracts with interlocutors, imply particular values? What are they? • Does economic anthropology, based on gift exchange, create a different understanding of the person to economic science’s ‘rational individual’? What is the implication for anthropological values? • Can comparison enable anthropological values that counter bigotry and racism? • To what extent can qualitative, interpretive methods, emphasizing holist interconnectedness, engender values that contrast with those associated with globalized neoliberalism and state power? Also very welcome are contributions reflecting on how anthropological values and insights can reach beyond academia and make an impact both upwards towards power controllers and downwards for enabling people to make sense of and to act on changing their lives and worlds. Put differently, how can we become better at making our message acccessible? And ultimately, what is that message?