Reflections on anthropology studies

Louis, your post [a long citation from Stanley Diamond's defense of primitive communism] brings back so many memories for me. On Boas, of course, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Alfred Kroeber, Zora Neale Hurston, and William Willis were among his better known students. Mead is the popular anthropologist. Prof. Willis was my cousin, his area was Southeast Indians. Willis is also in a Public Television show on Boas criticizing his racism, but overall Boas played an important role in scientific anti-racism, especially in the period of the Nazis. Boas was originally a physicist. He was influenced by the neo-Hegelian, neo-Kantian Wilhelm Dilthey. Boas' famous group was the Kwakiutl of the Northwest Coast.

As you say, anthropology has sort of bounced between the polls of materialism(Morgan, Tylor) and idealism (Boas), reflecting the struggle in philosophy.

On Morgan's racism, of course, Darwin was a racist too, anti-African. We have to try to extract the rational kernel from both. Most biological anthropologists refute and reject thoroughly racism , but they use Darwin's main theory. We can do something similar with Morgan, especially with Engels mediating. Leslie A. White of the University of Michigan is the founder of the main neo-Morganian (sans racism and imperialism) school of thought, cultural evolutionism. Eric Wolf, Sahlins and Service are three of White's most famous students. And in fact, the Columbia dept. , has had a lot of materialists since the Boas era, although I have heard some disturbing critiques of Marvin Harris' direction recently. You might be interested that the school of cultural ecology has grown out of the Whitean branch (e.g. Yehudi Cohen)

I urge you to read the first chapters of Marshall Sahlins" _Culture and Practical Reason_ to get a quick but concentrated analysis of relating the different schools you discuss below. You have to get in the British too: Radcliffe-Brown , Malinowski and the gang.

When I had classes with Sahlins , he was in the middle of switching from being one of the main figures in the materialist-evolutionist school (He coauthored _Evolution and Culture_ with Elman Service; we discussed that book months ago on this list) to a Levi-Straussian. So, I was a Levi-Straussian structuralist ,before I was a Marxist ( though I was a neo-Morganian before that). You are correct that the Boas-Levi-Strauss line lacks historical analysis. I finally figured to ask Sahlins, how does the structure change itself ? That is the question Marxists should ask all structuralists. This critique of structuralism comes right out of some of _The German Ideology_ too.

However, Levi-Strauss does make a big contribution to anti-racism against primary cultures in a book with the unlikely name of _Les Pensees Sauvage_ (_The Primitive Mind_) where he demonstrates that societies without writing nonetheless have very complex logical thinking and a type of premodern scientific thinking, a logic of the concrete, totemic logic, etc. The effect is to demonstrate the intelligence of non-Western , gardening or gathering modes of production. Sahlins carried out a similar effort with _Stone Age Economics:The Original Affluent Society_ demonstrating that primary cultural life is not nasty, brutish and short as Hobbes had claimed.

Yes, university departments have a lot of counter revolutionary plots in them.

Charles Brown

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee