Anthropology: A student’s guide to theory and practice (2009)

I enjoy reading books from the Toronto Public Library.

Some writers, I’ve learned, as a reader of library books, speak with the voice of authority. It’s evident in each paragraph that they write.

Stanley R. Barrett is such an author. The book by Barrett that I’ve been reading is a basic text, Anthropology: A student’s guide to theory and method, 2nd ed.

Barrett is a professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Guelph.

He notes that in the course of various projects he’s had to struggle with theory and practice, and to prepare students for fieldwork. The book seeks to make these tasks easier for others.

Here are some points that I found of interest:

1. Anthropologists were ‘unleashed’ (that’s Barrett’s term) at a stage in history when Europeans began to encounter ‘the primitive.’

2. There are many kinds of archaeology, including prehistoric archaeology dealing with societies without written records – and historic archaeology dealing with societies that have left written records. Some archaeologists focus on the immediate past, “wading through the debris of demolished buildings in order to put together a picture of the development fo industrial society.’ (pp. 6-7)

3.  “All definitions are either useful or not, rather than right or wrong, and it seems to me that there is little reason not to regard world view and belief system as crude synonyms.” (p. 14)

4. Barrett notes that as Bruce M. Knauft (2006) has remarked, the grand projects of the past aspiring to universal truths are out of favour, as are “the data-drenched, meticulous ethnographies of local areas once regarded as the pride of the discipline.” (p. 206) “What is in vogue today,” he adds, “is the project that straddles the universal and particular by focusing on institutions and patterns of action in the middle.”

 

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