Anthropology and empire

Authored by: Fenneke Sysling

The Routledge Handbook of Science and Empire

Print publication date:  July  2021
Online publication date:  July  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367221256
eBook ISBN: 9780429273360
Adobe ISBN:


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Criticism from both within and outside the anthropological profession has highlighted the extent to which anthropology and empire were mutually constitutive. This criticism showed several things about the relation: anthropologists needed empire practically, and they produced knowledge that was then applied by administrators, thus providing fuel for colonial governance. If the knowledge anthropologists produced was not directly useful, and it often was not, it still served the empire as an ideology and shared project. And finally, anthropologists did not do justice to the people they described, and failed to see the impact of colonialism on their daily lives. More recently, historians have begun to pay more attention to the ambiguities in anthropological ideas and positions, and have widened their studies to include different kinds of anthropologists and different locations. This continuing discussion on the role of imperialism in the history of anthropology and on how to rid today’s discipline of colonial categories has made anthropology one of the most self-reflexive disciplines in academia, from which other disciplines once involved in colonial projects have much to learn.

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