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5 - Anthropology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Aedín Ní Loingsigh
Affiliation:
University of Stirling.
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Summary

As suggested by its Greek roots (anthropos meaning humankind; logia meaning ‘study’ or ‘science’ of), ‘anthropology’ refers to the broad disciplinary study of peoples and cultures. Anthropology as a subject of intellectual curiosity coincides with the earliest encounters of European travellers and explorers with cultural difference (see, e.g., The Histories of Herodotus). As anthropological inquiry developed, its purview remained overwhelmingly non-Western peoples, with the explanation of ‘other’ cultures serving as its primary intellectual motor. In Europe, the amateur beginnings of ‘anthropology’ were formalized during the second half of the nineteenth century with the formation of learned societies such as the Société d'Anthropologie de Paris (1859), the Anthropological Society of London (1863) and the Berliner Anthropologische Gesellschaft (1869). By the beginning of the twentieth century, anthropology had achieved status as a distinguished field of scientific inquiry. Since then anthropology's varied institutional histories have seen it branch in directions rooted in both the sciences and the humanities. It is often used interchangeably with ethnography, although the latter term describes more precisely the modes of writing used to describe cultural difference.

Anthropology is significant to travel writing for a number of reasons. First, from the late 1960s critical examination of the discipline's historical development began to signal anthropology's complicity with the imperial project and its contribution to the construction of a colonial and frequently racist ‘knowledge’ of elsewhere (see Asad 1973; and colonialism). In his seminal Orientalism (1978), Edward Said subsequently lays bare convergences between the representational practices of anthropology and the ‘othering’ of nineteenth-century travel writing. Said demonstrates how ‘scientific’ and ‘aesthetic’ engagement with cultural difference resolved into a single authoritative discourse that dominated as it reified the ‘Oriental’ other (see orientalism). The mutually self-serving relationship between the aesthetics of travel writing and the ‘scientific’ practices of anthropology is further explored by Mary Louise Pratt (1992, 63), for whom the ‘ethnographic gesture’ is one of the ‘standard apparatuses’ travel writing deploys to produce authoritative knowledge about the other. This relationship is also highlighted by Johannes Fabian (2000, 7) who shows how, during the colonial exploration of Africa, ‘travel began to serve ethnography more directly to the extent that the latter became methodologized and professionalized’.

More recent methodological and conceptual developments in anthropology are also helpful for understanding certain critical approaches to travel and travel writing.

Type
Chapter
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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 13 - 15
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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