Synopses & Reviews
The terms andquot;centerandquot; and andquot;peripheryandquot; are particularly relevant to anthropologists, since traditionally they look outward from institutional andquot;centersandquot;-universities, museums, government bureaus-to learn about people on the andquot;peripheries.andquot; Yet anthropology itself, as compared with economics, politics, or history, occupies a space somewhat on the margins of academe.and#160; 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 andquot;universalandquot; 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 andquot;bohemianismandquot; 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.and#160;
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 andquot;a kind of posthumous reparation,andquot; a page in the history of the discipline for a distant colleague who might otherwise have remained in the footnotes.
“An absorbing human story in itself that gradually takes on an air of well-deserved inevitability.”—Robert McCormick Adams, Secretary emeritus, Smithsonian Institution
"Four substantive, edgy essays are matched with George Stocking's tour de force depiction of an 'ordinary' mid-century anthropologist persecuted as a Communist by the FBI. The multiple avenues of exploration opened in this work will be traveled for some time to come."and#8212;Michael Lambek, University of Toronto
“George Stocking’s scholarship, by rooting anthropological ideas in complex historical conjunctures, has had a major impact across the humanities and social sciences. His new book takes us behind the scenes of erudition to reveal a process of ceaseless, unsparing personal inquiry. A rigorous, deeply felt, courageous performance.”—James Clifford, University of California, Santa Cruz
"A deeply considered reflection on a set of core dynamics in anthropology. Through the prism of seemingly peripheral figures like Robert Gelston Armstrong and ostensibly marginal sites like Iceland and the Andaman Islands, anthropology's center appears in a wholly new light."and#8212;Matti Bunzl, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
George W. Stocking, Jr., has spent a professional lifetime exploring the history of anthropology, and his findings have shaped anthropologists’ understanding of their field for two generations. Through his meticulous research, Stocking has shown how such forces as politics, race, institutional affiliations, and personal relationships have influenced the discipline from its beginnings. In this autobiography, he turns his attention to a subject closer to home but no less challenging. Looking into his own “black box,” he dissects his upbringing, his politics, even his motivations in writing about himself. The result is a book systematically, at times brutally, self-questioning.
An interesting question, Stocking says, is one that arouses just the right amount of anxiety. But that very anxiety may be the ultimate source of Stocking’s remarkable intellectual energy and output. In the first two sections of the book, he traces the intersecting vectors of his professional and personal lives. The book concludes with a coda, “Octogenarian Afterthoughts,” that offers glimpses of his life after retirement, when advancing age, cancer, and depression changed the tenor of his reflections about both his life and his work.
This book is the twelfth and final volume of the influential History of Anthropology series.
About the Author
George W. Stocking, Jr., is the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of many books, including Victorian Anthropology; After Tylor: British Social Anthropology, 1888–1951; Delimiting Anthropology, and The Ethnographer's Magic. He founded the History of Anthropology series published by the University of Wisconsin Press and edited its first eight volumes.