Central Sites, Peripheral Visions: Cultural and Institutional Crossings in the History of Anthropology
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The terms "center" and "periphery" are particularly relevant to anthropologists, since traditionally they look outward from institutional "centers"-universities, museums, government bureaus-to learn about people on the "peripheries." Yet anthropology itself, as compared with economics, politics, or history, occupies a space somewhat on the margins of academe. Still, anthropologists, who control esoteric knowledge about the vast range of human variation, often find themselves in a theoretically central position, able to critique the "universal" truths promoted by other disciplines.
Central Sites, Peripheral Visions presents five case studies that explore the dilemmas, moral as well as political, that emerge out of this unique position. From David Koester's analysis of how ethnographic descriptions of Iceland marginalized that country's population, to Kath Weston's account of an offshore penal colony where officials mixed prison work with ethnographic pursuits; from Brad Evans's reflections on the "bohemianism" of both the Harlem vogue and American anthropology, to Arthur J. Ray's study of anthropologists who serve as expert witnesses in legal cases, the essays in the eleventh volume of the History of Anthropology Series reflect on anthropology's always problematic status as centrally peripheral, or peripherally central.
Finally, George W. Stocking, Jr., in a contribution that is almost a book in its own right, traces the professional trajectory of American anthropologist Robert Gelston Armstrong, who was unceremoniously expelled from his place of privilege because of his communist sympathies in the 1950s. By taking up Armstrong's unfinished business decades later, Stocking engages in an extended meditation on the relationship between center and periphery and offers "a kind of posthumous reparation," a page in the history of the discipline for a distant colleague who might otherwise have remained in the footnotes.
Armstrong volunteered these texts, with the caution that they “must not be published in a place where the Idoma are apt to see them soon,” and it would be better “if the translation were into German, since not even the missionaries in Idoma read German these days” (JMP:5/22/58). To the best of my knowledge, these texts (like those of several essays previously mentioned as in process in this period) have not been preserved. Unfinished Business 173 need to “decide what big thing we really want
this strategy, suggesting that the situation of “Jews of Europe . . . illustrates the conditions that characterize your own position” (1906:315). Just as forced separation and lingering racism had debilitated the Jewish “people” in Europe, so too had forced migration and slavery debilitated the Negro race in the United States. The solution, Boas suggested, was to come to the “arduous work” of “improvement” and “adaptation” with an optimistic belief in the race’s capability of doing so, an
concluded that Browder (who was removed from party leadership) had “unfortunately . . . strayed much further from a Marxist position than we realized” (JMP:RA/JM 6/3, 9/3/45). Although he later recalled that he had “become practically inactive [in the Communist Party] for professional reasons after June 1941” and that after his induction the following year his connection was “automatically severed” (Armstrong 1953), it seems clear that his identity as a Communist was still intact and that his
great and when his appointment as a research fellow of the British Colonial Social Science Research Council finally “came through,” Armstrong decided to withdraw from the Steward project (JSP:RA/JS 6/25/54). As a result, Armstrong’s “partial study of Caguas” is mentioned only once in the collective volume The People of Puerto Rico (Steward et al. 1956:vii), and the only piece he himself published from his Puerto Rican experience was a brief article in the Atlanta University publication Phylon in
Nigerian colonial government as “ignorant, selfish, and cruel,” and, since arriving, Armstrong had heard the “same story over and over again and in different ways from all kinds of people.” The new University College, a part of the postwar Colonial Development program initiated in London (Mellanby 1958), was in various ways being sabotaged by the local colonial government under the influence of Lever Brothers through its subsidiary, the United Africa Company, which maintained “an absolute