Dismantling Anthropology’s Domestic and International Peripheries

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If, as Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2008) and others have argued, another knowledge or other knowledges are possible beyond the imperial gatekeeping of northern epistemologies, then anthro-pology as we know it must be decolonized and transformed (Harrison 2010 [1991]). A fuller understanding of these processes can be informed by taking theoretical trajectories within the southern hemisphere into serious consideration (e.g., Connell 2007, Nyamnjoh 2011). Social analysis and especially "theory from the south" (Comaroff & Comaroff 2012) have historically been relegated to the margins of established canons—whether in anthropology or any other field in the social sciences and humanities. However, there now appears to be growing interest in imagining an alternative status quo. This trend is reflected in recent conversations framed by the concerns of world social sciences (ISSR 2010) and, in the specific case of our discipline, world anthropologies (Ribeiro and Escobar 2006). Granted, anthropology has come a long way since calls were issued to reinvent, recapture, and decolonize it, beginning at least four decades ago (e.g., Hymes 1972, Fox 1991, Harrison 2010[1991]). Nonetheless, Francis Nyamnjoh does us a timely service when he reminds us that even the most liberal anthro-pology, the beneficiary of some degree of reinvention, is still perceived negatively and "denounced … for its radical alterity and for talking without listening" (2011:702) to what subaltern, parti-cularly African knowledge producers have to say. Even African intellectuals who appreciate the value of ethnography as a research methodology tend to distance themselves from anthropology. They prefer to identify with sociology, social history, and even fiction as more congenial "modes of self-writing" (Mbembe 2002, quoted in Nyamnjoh 2011:702). An embedded ethnographic and ethno-historical sensibility within creative writing is also found in some expressions of African-diasporic intellectualism, such as that among women who practice varieties of "writing culture" 88 Faye V. Harrison (Harrison 1993, 2008:109-133; Behar & Gordan 1995). This arena of cultural production is often generative of compelling counter-narratives against the dominant regime of truth. In this essay I wish to make a claim for an alternative space for critical anthropological praxis. The alternative space I envision would be neither a margin nor a periphery vis à vis disciplinary core knowledge. Although peripheries are often dynamic sites of significant insight and innovation, their existence implicates disparities of discursive and institutional power that engender subjugation. I imagine an alternative space as a post core-periphery setting, a democratized and decolonized environment in which a diversity of anthropologists and kindred thinkers, whether academic or not, come together, productively engaging each other at the "crossroads of knowledge" (di Leonardo 1991). As I have written elsewhere, Within this radically reconfigured intercultural and cross-fertilizing context, the anthropology laden with the stark gender, racial and national hierar-chies that, within the context of the United States, marginalized, will no longer hold sway. The hierarchical ordering of knowledges, depriving some of canonical status, occurs within national anthropologies as well as among them. The history and politics of canon formation and disciplinary boundaries have been important concerns among feminist, racialized ethnic minority, indigenous and world anthropologies (Harrison 2011:100l; also see Harrison 2008:4).
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-109
JournalWorld Anthropologies Network (WAN) E-Journal
StatePublished - 2012


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