Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category.

Interview by Alan Macfarlane

Alan Macfarlane interviewed me in April 2006 and January 2009 as part of his ‘Ancestors’ series (no comment).

The full interview, in two parts of an hour each divided by the year 1983, can be found here. Other interviews of anthropologists by Alan can be found here.

Money and anthropology: object, theory and method

This essay started out as an attempt to study the euro from an anthropological point of view; but it has ended up being more about anthropological method and money in general. Even so, a focus on the new European currency leads me to ask how we might study transnational or even global phenomena like this and still call ourselves anthropologists. For when ethnographers are not restricting their research to fieldwork in a particular place, they still tend to be limited in scope to working in one country. Social anthropology was once remarkable for the unity of its object, theory and method; but this disappeared along with “primitive” societies. Anthropologists still cling to “fieldwork-based ethnography” as their professional calling, but the study of money needs more than this. I propose as anthropology’s new object the making of world society, adopting provisionally an eclectic approach to theory and method. Anthropologists must appropriate both common knowledge and that of other specialists, if we are to identify the “historicity” (Foucault, 1973) of our own intellectual practices.

I approach the anthropology of money through four themes:

Money as memory, a meaningful link between persons and communities
Money as idea and object, the rise of virtual economy
Money as ‘heads & tails’, the impersonal expression of states and markets
Money as what people use it for, the potential for economic democracy

Following Marx, I conceive of ‘commoditization’ as a historical dialectic of social abstraction that is closely linked to the rise of money as a universal social principle. If we do things for each other in society, these services have to be separated from what we do for ourselves. This process draws us into ever-widening circles of interdependence based on calculated exchange. The money circuit is becoming detached from production, trade and politics. I ask if the euro is something new or a throwback to older forms. In future people everywhere will issue their own money instruments. Meanwhile, the euro’s movement in history offers a glimpse of where world society is heading. Money is a suitable strategic focus for anthropological study of that society. Continue reading ‘Money and anthropology: object, theory and method’ »

Toward a new human universal

Published as Toward a new human universal: rethinking anthropology for our times in Radical Anthropology Journal No. 2, 2008-9, 4-10.

Magellan’s crew completed the first circumnavigation of the planet some thirty years after Columbus crossed the Atlantic. At much the same time, Bartolomé de las Casas opposed the racial inequality of Spain’s American empire in the name of human unity. We are living through another ‘Magellan moment’. In the second half of the twentieth century, humanity formed a world society – a single interactive social network – for the first time. This was symbolized by several moments, such as when the space race of the 60s allowed us to see the earth from the outside or when the internet went public in the 90s, announcing the convergence of telephones, television and computers in a digital revolution of communications. Our world too is massively unequal and the voices for human unity are often drowned. But if the twenty-first century is run on the same lines as the twentieth century, there will be no twenty-second. Emergent world society is the new human universal – not an idea, but the fact of our shared occupation of the planet crying out for new principles of association. I will explore here the possible contribution of anthropology to such a project. If the academic discipline as presently constituted would find it hard to address this task, perhaps we need to look elsewhere for a suitable intellectual strategy.  Continue reading ‘Toward a new human universal’ »

An engaged anthropology for the 21st century

What would an engaged anthropology for the twenty-first century look like? A lecture in six parts given to an undergraduate course, Politics, Economics and Social Change, at Goldsmiths College, London on 26th March 2009. It was introduced as ‘The anthropology of politics’, but my intention was to speak about how we might engage with our times through an anthropology whose object is defined as ‘the making of world society’. What do we need to know about humanity as a whole that would help us to build a better world? Such an anthropology might be both an aspect of the academic discipline of the same name and an interdisciplinary project undertaken by historians, ethnographers, philosophers, political economists, geographers, students of literature and many others, perhaps you.

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Cambridge lecture on international development

I revisited my old college, St. John’s, Cambridge on 24th February 2009 to give a lecture on “International development: a historical perspective from Cambridge” for Cambridge University International Development on the occasion of the University’s 800th anniversary year. What follows consists of a short Introduction, the lecture in 5 parts and audience discussion in 4 parts, the whole lasting about an hour and a half.

In 1996 I gave a not dissimilar lecture in the same place: Clarkson, Cambridge and the international movement for human rights.

See also Between slavery and emancipation in West Africa.

Lecture:              Part 1,     Part 2,     Part 3,     Part 4,     Part 5.

Discussion:         Part 6,    Part 7,     Part 8,     Part 9

Mike Wesch: A portal to media literacy

Mike Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, won a U.S. Professor of the Year award.

I have been trying and failing to teach world history to anthropology students for 40 years. Here is a Wesch experiment to get students to condense world history into less than 5 minutes using Twitter. Let’s not be critical of the end-product. The point is to scale down the world and scale up the self so that the two can enter into a meaningful relationship.

Mike Wesch: An anthropological introduction to YouTube

The anticolonial revolution

This is the first of three lectures, the culmination of an undergraduate course given at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2005-6, that consider the question of how anthropologists might approach the formation of world society in the coming century. The other two were posted earlier. The set is: 1. the anticolonial revolution 2. development and 3. globalisation. All three were filmed and edited by Ricardo Leizaola.

Part 1

Part 2

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Part 6

On development

An undergraduate anthropology lecture in six parts given at Goldsmiths College in 2006 (filmed and edited by Ricardo Leizaola). Part 1.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Inaugural lecture: Money in the making of world society

Machines, money and people in the formation of a global society. A lecture in five parts given at Goldsmiths, University of London on 23rd October 2007. Filmed and edited by Ricardo Leizaola.

Part 1

The rest of the lecture can be found here: