Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-758b78586c-pp4sz Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-11-28T14:48:47.510Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

16 - Anthropology and the Turn to History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 December 2022

Richard Bourke
University of Cambridge
Quentin Skinner
Queen Mary University of London
Get access


Among the social sciences, the discipline of anthropology displays perhaps the greatest affinity for the methods and assumptions of historical enquiry. Anthropology’s turn to history began as early as the 1950s, but the relationship between the two fields was cemented a generation later. Yet because it is now disciplinary folklore, the precise character of anthropology’s turn to history is less well understood than it should be. In this chapter, I seek to explain why the methods of historical enquiry became so attractive to a generation of anthropologists. I make two major claims: first, that it was the problem of the origins and persistence of institutions that drew social and cultural anthropologists toward history; second, that this concern with institutional reproduction was part of anthropology’s long struggle to offer an alternative to a post-Hobbesian state-centred politics. In defending these claims, I examine in particular the writings of Émile Durkheim, Bronislaw Malinowski, and Clifford Geertz.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Agnew, Jean Christophe. 1990. ‘History and Anthropology: Scenes from a Marriage’, Yale Journal of Criticism, 3: 2, pp. 2950.Google Scholar
Burrow, John. 1966. Evolution and Society: A Study in Victorian Social Theory. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Descombes, Vincent. 2001. The Mind’s Provisions: A Critique of Cognitivism, trans. Stephen Adam Schwartz. Cambridge, MA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Descombes, Vincent. 2016. Puzzling Identities, trans. Stephen Adam Schwartz. Cambridge, MA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dumont, Louis. 1986. Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective. Chicago.Google Scholar
Durkheim, Émile. 1960. Montesquieu and Rousseau: Forerunners of Sociology, trans. Ralph Manheim. Ann Arbor.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Durkheim, Émile. 2013. The Rules of Sociological Method, and Selected Texts on Sociology and its Method, ed. Lukes, Steven, trans. W. D. Halls. New York.Google Scholar
Durkheim, Émile and Mauss, Marcel. 1963. Primitive Classification, trans. Rodney Needham. Chicago.Google Scholar
Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1950. ‘Social Anthropology: Past and Present’, Man, 198, pp. 118–24.Google Scholar
Firth, Raymond, ed. 1957. Man and Culture: An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski. London.Google Scholar
Fortes, Meyer and Evans-Pritchard, E. E.. 1940. African Political Systems. London.Google Scholar
Frank, Stephanie. 2016. ‘The “Force in the Thing”: Nonauthoritarian Sociality in The Gift’, Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 6: 2, pp. 255–77.Google Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 1956. ‘Religious Belief and Economic Behavior in a Central Javanese Town: Some Preliminary Considerations’, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 4: 2, pp. 134–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 1957. ‘Ethos, World View, and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols’, Antioch Review, 17: 4, pp. 421–37.Google Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 1960. The Religion of Java. New York.Google Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 1963. Peddlers and Princes: Social Change and Economic Modernization in Two Indonesian Towns. Chicago.Google Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York.Google Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 1980. Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali. Princeton.Google Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 1995. After the Fact: Two Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist. Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 2000. Available Light: Anthropological Perspectives on Philosophical Topics. Princeton.Google Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 2004. ‘What is a State if not a Sovereign? Reflections on Politics in Complicated Places’, Current Anthropology, 45: 5, pp. 577–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 2010. Life among the Anthros, ed. Inglis, Fred. Princeton.Google Scholar
Herberg, Will. 1955. Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology. New York.Google Scholar
Hont, Istvan. 2015. Politics in a Commercial Society: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith. Cambridge, MA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Isaac, Joel. 2018. ‘The Intensification of Social Forms: Economy and Culture in the Thought of Clifford Geertz’, Critical Historical Studies, pp. 237–66.Google Scholar
Isaac, Joel. 2020. ‘Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key (1942)’, Public Culture, 32: 2, pp. 355–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kuper, Adam. 2003. ‘Anthropology’ in The Cambridge History of Science, vol. VII: The Modern Social Sciences, ed. Porter, Theodore and Ross, Dorothy. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Kuper, Adam. 2005. The Reinvention of Primitive Society: Transformations of a Myth, 2nd ed. London and New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kuper, Adam. 2015. Anthropology and Anthropologists: The British School in the Twentieth Century, 4th ed. New York and London.Google Scholar
Langer, Susanne K. 1942. Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art. Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1945. ‘French Sociology’ in Twentieth Century Sociology, ed. Gurvitch, Georges and Moore, Wilbert E.. New York.Google Scholar
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1969 [1949]. The Elementary Structures of Kinship, rev. ed., ed. Needham, Rodney, trans. James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer. Boston.Google Scholar
Lowie, Robert. 1937. The History of Ethnological Theory. New York.Google Scholar
Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1926. Crime and Custom in Savage Society. London.Google Scholar
Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1937. ‘Culture’ in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. IV, ed. Seligman, Edwin R. A. and Johnson, Alvin. New York.Google Scholar
Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1967. A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, trans. Norbert Guterman. New York.Google Scholar
Malinowski, Bronislaw. 2014 [1922]. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London and New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mauss, Marcel. 2016. The Gift, expanded ed., ed. and trans. Guyer, Jane. Chicago.Google Scholar
Mintz, Sidney. 1985. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York.Google Scholar
Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1922. The Andaman Islanders: A Study in Social Anthropology. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1935. ‘On the Concept of Function in Social Science’, American Anthropologist, 37: 3, pp. 394402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1957. A Natural Science of Society. Glencoe, IL.Google Scholar
Redfield, Robert. 1941. The Folk Culture of the Yucatan. Chicago.Google Scholar
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1979. Emile; or Education, ed. and trans. Bloom, Allan. New York.Google Scholar
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1997. The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings, ed. Gourevitch, Victor. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Sahlins, Marshall. 1976. The Use and Abuse of Biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology. Ann Arbor.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sahlins, Marshall. 1985. Islands of History. Chicago.Google Scholar
Schmaus, Warren. 2004. Rethinking Durkheim and his Tradition. Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scott, James C. 1976. The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. New Haven.Google Scholar
Scott, James C. 1990. Domination and the Arts of Resistance. New Haven.Google Scholar
Shils, Edward. 1957. ‘Primordial, Personal, Sacred and Civil Ties: Some Particular Observations on the Relationship of Sociological Research and Theory’, British Journal of Sociology, 8: 2, pp. 130–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shils, Edward. 1960. ‘Political Development in the New States’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2: 3, pp. 265–92.Google Scholar
Skinner, Quentin. 2002. Visions of Politics, vol. I: Regarding Method. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Stocking, George W., Jr. 1968. Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology. New York.Google Scholar
Stocking, George W., Jr. 1987. Victorian Anthropology. New York.Google Scholar
Stocking, George W., Jr. 1995. After Tylor: British Social Anthropology, 1888–1951. Madison.Google Scholar
Stocking, George W., Jr., ed. 1996. Volksgeist as Method and Ethic: Essays on Boasian Ethnography and the German Anthropological Tradition. Madison.Google Scholar
Wolf, Eric. 1982. Europe and the People without History. Berkeley.Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats