Between the twists, the conceptual platitudes, and the critical nature of anthropology

Reception: February 22, 2017

Acceptance: February 23, 2017

The work by Gustavo Lins Ribeiro analyzes with realism and conceptual precision the state of anthropology as a discipline on the international scene and in the reality of some Euro-American metropolitan countries, as well as in others on the peripheries of Europe and Latin America, basically. Recalling Emmanuel Wallerstein's idea about the global turn to the right, which today precisely finds the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin axis as one of its expressions as discouraging as it is conspicuous, in addition to the Association's own recent situation (February 2017) Brasileira de Antropología (ABA) under attack from conservative and racist politicians, the work is a wake-up call for anthropologists and the social sciences in general, to retake the essentially critical, reflective role with social and political impact that characterized our discipline for years back, when he led philosophical, conceptual and political vanguards against ideologies of racist and evolutionist elites.

The problems mentioned in the work come from changes in the discipline itself compared to other modes of analysis such as cultural, postcolonial, gender, and science and technology studies that seem to have appropriated concepts such as culture and an apparently application sui generis ethnographic methodology, which, as regards public knowledge and intellectual fashions, seem to be in a moment of growth in the face of the apparent decline of anthropology as a discipline. At another level, he also observes movements that go through these processes and that can be identified with the expansion of globalized flexible capitalism and its postmodern cultural logic,1 along with national or regional situations that shape academies in an idiosyncratic way. The general logic is described in detail by the author, which is synthesized in the incredible demand, typical of the market, of the corporations and of a fierce utilitarian rationality, of rapid publications, included in international indexing catalogs usually Anglo-American, and in the reduction of academic quality to the cold and stark number - without content or soul - of the production, regardless of what is said, the contribution to the particular and general knowledge of social and political processes, or whatever it is that is studied. What the author calls "culture of auditing and productivism" is one of the evils that affect our anthropological way of being and doing, inserting, as he continues referring, the ethos business in our academic heart. They are processes that must be identified and denounced for their eradication and replacement by more humane and committed forms of intellectual work.

On the other hand, within national situations, that of American anthropology, although it exercises a very important symbolic dominance in the rest of the world, I consider that the intellectual and socio-political sources of the social sciences in general in Latin America have different anchors from those of Latin America. of its northern counterpart. I identify a critical Latin American conception of the relations between academia and society that does not exist in the American genealogy, where the politicization of knowledge or university life is almost non-existent. And only recently, in the face of the reactionary policies of President Trump, universities and the American Anthropological Association itself cry out for an intervention of anthropology in public policy debates.2 The Latin American public university in this sense has played a very active role in the generation of intellectuals committed to society, beyond what the social and political elites have accepted as plausible. Thus, the unam of Mexico, the National University of Colombia, the Argentine uba, or the University of San Marcos in Lima are important examples, among many others in the region, where cultural and political criticism are an inescapable part of the curriculum, but also of habitus academic.3 Despite this, the global forces of neoliberalism incessantly attack academic logics and its principles of promotion and organization of undergraduate and graduate degrees and research agendas. And there you can see a crack through which these conceptions well indicated by Lins Ribeiro slide.

It is also necessary to mention that these public university systems do not exist in the United States, which is why they have great cognitive difficulties in understanding other logics of university organization and political commitment to society. It is strange, in this sense, that even renowned anthropologists from that country have difficulties in understanding how the public university is organized in Latin America, in addition to ignoring, except for the few specialists in the region, Spanish and Portuguese as academic languages, and the production developed in these languages.4 In many ways, the American academic system is internationally naturalized in such a way that it appears as the only possible organization of knowledge, and its modes of academic production drag the others with an immense gravitational force. This generates at the same time criteria of legitimacy of the academic discourse where other modes of rhetoric, of organization of ideas, of theoretical-conceptual generation are relegated or directly not accepted. This force of gravity5 it is specified, in turn, in that tension clearly and magnificently portrayed by the author in relation to thought in the social sciences today. Thus, in what we can imagine as a field of forces with two poles, in one of them are the "other forces" of hyperanimism, where there is an almost viralized fetishization of concepts that acquire an excessive ubiquity, while in the other one dominates the invasion of capital in all spaces. This "commodification of everything", as he tells us, can be observed, from our point of view, in a collection of terms that, more than clear and distinct concepts, now seem to function as libidinal marks of the forces of the academic world penetrated by speed. of "the new", which acquires critical mass as an intellectual fashion. In this way, we consider that it becomes almost a categorical imperative of academic morals and ethics to work on what integrates the so-called “turns” or “turns” such as the literary, the post-human, the post-political, the post-truth, the anthropocene, the actor-network theory, ontology, materiality, secularization, disenchantment / re-enchantment, among the most widespread tropes.6 The same happens with authors who propose ideas associated with these terms that, rather than as flesh and blood colleagues, are constructed in the academic imagination as fetishes that transfer the magic of their charisma. This collection of terms-people-fetishes establishes its power in the lines of force of academic geopolitics and its hegemonic languages of diffusion, and they do not always add better analytical or thematic perspectives that imply critical knowledge of social realities. We are witnesses then of what we could call conceptual platitudes that it is necessary to detect and analyze with a critical spirit and geopolitical awareness. It is necessary to avoid that all this movement of imposition of thematic and conceptual agendas de-hierarchical the complexity of social relations, politics, economy and culture, flattening everything under labels that annul history, inequality and oppression, not to mention the racism that currently prevails in this global turn to the right, which takes us back to discussions originating in anthropology, especially from the hand of Franz Boas and his contributions against the notion of race and racism. This seems like a manual case of the classic cultural relations between purity and danger of these decades of the 21st century, where the anomalous and contaminated are Muslims and immigrants and there is a common sense as a cultural system, nurtured by the ideology of essentializing nationalism, that shelters him in the safe and closed grounds of identity.7

Faced with the anti-intellectualism typical of contemporary politics mentioned by the author, where populism and digital technology (the omnipresent "screen") are two expressions that misplace the value of research and critical thinking, it is imperative, as he adds, to overcome that “Panoptic and omniscient illusion” of the internet, which rather represents the “informal electronic capitalism” that runs through but also shapes our contemporary lives. Thus, we can suggest that, almost faithful to the pioneering spirit of the heterodox philosopher Jean Baudrillard and his sociological-philosophical analyzes at the beginning of the internet and the increasing digitization of human life,8 Lins Ribeiro warns us of the current state of academic hyperspecialization typical of postmodernity, which denies in direct or subtle ways the use of general concepts or, we would say, the notion of totality. All this leads us to the danger of the small gaze of trivial research that suffers from intrinsic depoliticization, or from decontextualized mimesis of problems that dialectically arise (and are significant) in other latitudes, and that are forcibly applied to other social realities.

In order to recover the critical dimension of anthropology and its reinsertion into the discussion of public problems, of agendas that recover the great problems that affect contemporary society, it is necessary, the author concludes, following Claudio Lomnitz, to place ethnography again " at the center of our efforts to demonstrate the social and political relevance of our work ”. And since, we add, anthropology enables this powerful operation of make the philosophical ethnographic,9 it generates a perspective of social, historical and cultural analysis whose richness and scope makes it possible to reintegrate ourselves into the broader public debates, if we trust in the strength of our work. In addition, the intercultural perspective, which contributes to questioning the illusory securities of the Western autonomous subject and of modern instrumental rationality. 10 it implies a key epistemological and political tool for the debates that await us.

In this context, therefore, we consider that Lins Ribeiro's proposals represent an encouraging impulse to retake the course of anthropology in general, and of its multiple national-regional vicissitudes. This will lead us to think and carry out a more autonomous and responsible ethnographic connection with the social worlds with which we undertake the fascinating inter-knowledge journeys that synthesize the spirit and objectives of the anthropological enterprise.


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