Global shift to the right and the relevance of anthropology1

Reception: December 1, 2017

Acceptance: February 3, 2017


The decrease in the importance of the participation of anthropologists in public debates is the result of various factors, some internal to the discipline, others external. Triviality, high specialization, and neglect of issues of broad public interest are issues that need to be debated. Likewise, the current resurgence of discourses of intolerance and racism points to the possible arrival of a postmulticultural era where anthropological knowledge must be repositioned. The internet is another important variable in understanding contemporary anti-intellectualism, as it generates a renewed illusion of transparency that makes the social sciences seem useless. Ethnography, with its ability to bring us closer to agents, is a basis for anthropologists to take up a political / public role.

Keywords: Anthropology, public debates, anti-intellectualism, political right, multiculturalism.

Anthropology's relevance at a global right turn

A decrease in the importance of anthropologists' participation in public debates can be traced to a number of factors, some inherent to the discipline, others not. Triviality, high specialization levels and neglecting issues of broad public interest are problems that must be debated. Additionally, the current resurgence of racist and intolerant discourses points to the possible opening of a “post-multicultural” era in which anthropological knowledge must be re-posited. The internet is another important variable for understanding contemporary anti-intellectualism in that it gives rise to a renewed illusion of transparency that seemingly renders social science useless. Ethnography — with its ability to bring us closer to cultural agents — is a base for anthropologists' new engagement with their political and public roles.

Keywords: Anthropology, public debates, anti-intellectualism, right-wing politics, multiculturalism

Forgetting to do an exercise in reinterpreting the history of anthropology to talk about its present and future is only explained by the programmatic perspectives that each of us has. I want to make it clear from the beginning that I see an international crisis of the relevance of anthropology as an academic discipline, a crisis of greater or lesser intensity according to the country in which we look. In the name of practicality or the importance of various types of knowledge for “development”, in some places they remove it from the curricula, in others they try to close courses or they drastically reduce funding. I am thinking, but not exclusively, of recent cases in the UK, Australia, Japan and Colombia. There is a need to rethink our place vis-à-vis the other disciplines and society.

This conference is also part of a long tradition that anthropologists have of reflecting on our discipline. I think anthropologists like to talk about our discipline for two main reasons. The first would be a pedagogical motive, let's put it like this. Until today, anthropology is not a very well known discipline. Even in a country like Mexico, where there is, for example, a magnificent Museum of Anthropology and an institution of national scope like the National Institute of Anthropology and History, what we anthropologists do is not clear to the majority of the population. In fact, everyone has some notion of what a doctor or an engineer does, but the opposite is not true when it comes to anthropological practice. In reality, we anthropologists are not many in the world compared to more popular professions, such as the lawyer.

The second reason we like to talk about anthropology is much more important to us academically. The fact is that anthropology is a reflective discipline. That characteristic of his always leads us to think about the relationships between anthropology and his time; It also leads us, of course, to know that we practice a discipline that changes according to social, political, cultural and economic changes. Thinking about this relationship between disciplinary changes and broader historical changes forces us not to be naïve when we ourselves are the object, and to be vigilant about the relationship between our theories and our changing political role in society. This also allows us to see that if there are historical relationships between anthropological practice and various conjunctures, of course there are in the present political, economic, cultural and social relationships between the discipline and the zeitgeist contemporary, which also need to be thought and known.

Understanding that our discipline changes according to time and that its questions at certain times carry epistemological and heuristic characteristics penetrated by the sociological dynamics of certain conjunctures is what makes the study of the history of anthropology important, as Ángel Palerm well stated in his text “On the role of the history of ethnology in the formation of ethnologists” (2006 [1974]). We see then that anthropological knowledge, in the singular, is the bearer of many anthropological knowledge that derives from multiple contexts and times.

Here I am not interested, as Palerm was in his text, in the history of anthropological knowledge prior to the formation of anthropology. I have no doubts about the importance of the Palermian procedure, something that I sought to expand by looking at our discipline as a cosmopolitical one, as a type of anthropological knowledge that crystallized and consolidated internally in Western academia in the 19th century (Ribeiro, 2014). To think of anthropology as a cosmopolitics that is dedicated to understanding the structures of otherness (Krotz 2002), I start from the principle that all human populations have always had an interest in explaining otherness, that is, the existence of different ones, of other different ways of being in the world. This desire to understand and explain why we are alike and different is what I call, following in the footsteps of the Indian anthropologist Ajit Danda (1995), “anthropological knowledge”. I see this anthropological knowledge as something truly universal, as cosmopolitical; that is, as discourses that claim to have a comprehensive, global reach, discourses that go beyond circumscribed particularisms. In this sense, anthropology is anthropological knowledge, that is, the cosmopolitics of the West about the structures of otherness that was formalized as an academic discipline and internally consolidated in formal structures of knowledge production in the 19th century. In sum: “while the search for anthropological knowledge is universal, anthropology is not. She is the result of academic knowledge in the West that would later be globalized ”(Ribeiro, 2014: 485). Therefore, in search of understanding the relevance of anthropology, I am going to start with the 19th century.

Anthropologies of yesterday

Revisiting the classics is never a harmless process. Italo Calvino, in his beautiful essay "Why read the classics", argues that the classics are always read from a certain present. Calvino says (1994: 18):

Nowadays can be trivial and mortifying, but nevertheless it is always the point where we have to place ourselves to look forward or backward. In order to read classic books, you have to establish where you read them from. Otherwise, both the book and the reader are lost in a timeless cloud. Thus, the maximum performance of the reading of the classics is obtained by those who know how to alternate it with a wise dosage of the current reading.

This is exactly what I want to do in this text. I go to the evolutionary classics of the 19th century to look back and forth and to offer an interpretation of what is happening today.

In its beginning as an academic discipline, when established, it was an optimistic anthropology that wanted to be more of a natural science, to prove that the mental, the social, the historical and the cultural could also be thought through laws, just like the natural world. Evolutionists represent the beginnings of what I want to call the Golden Age of anthropology, which lasted for me from roughly 1870 to 1990. As founders of the discipline, evolutionists had a keen interest in explaining it. Ambitious in their goals, their broad questions spoke about humanity's understanding of how it was organized, where it came from (from the savages and barbarians), and where it was going (towards civilization). In addition, they also raised some of the main dilemmas of the specificity of anthropology in relation to other "sciences." It was not an easy task. To carry it out, they relied on natural sciences, which legitimized all claims of truth in the scientific milieu of their time. Edward Tylor says in 1878:

For many enlightened understandings, the conception that the history of the human species is an integral part of the history of nature seems to be somewhat presumptuous and repulsive; that our thoughts, our will and our actions conform to such concrete laws as those that determine the movement of the waves, the combination of acids and bases and the growth of plants and animals (p. 30).

Despite persisting in the scientific community of his time a resistance to "admit that the problems of anthropology are capable of being treated scientifically" (p. 245), undoubtedly the breadth of anthropological approaches, in tune with evolutionism that dominated science and society in a Victorian England well aware of its own centrality in the world, makes it possible for Tylor to write eleven years later:

The world has not been unjust to the growing science, far from it. Wherever anthropologists have been able to show definite evidence and inference… not only specialists but the educated world generally are ready to receive the results and assimilate them into public opinion (Tylor, 1889: 245).

The world has not been far from unfair to incipient science. Where anthropologists have been able to show clear evidence and inferences ... not only specialists, but all educated people are generally willing to receive the results and assimilate them into public opinion.

James Frazer, in the inaugural lecture of his professorship at the University of Liverpool, "The Scope of Social Anthropology," in 1908, is equally optimistic about the "science of man ... who has just been born" (p. 20). Says:

was reserved for the present generation ... to attempt the thorough study of man as a whole, to inquire not only into the physical and mental structure of the individual, but to compare the various human races, to trace their affinities, and, by means of a wide collection of facts , to follow as far as possible the evolution of human thought and institutions from the most remote of times ... Anthropology seeks ... to discover the general laws that in the past have regulated human history, and, if nature is really uniform, you can expect to be regulated in the future (Frazer, 1908: 20).

For my later arguments, interest me how they related to the great questions of their time and particularly to the "structures of otherness." Anachronism must be avoided here, since many of the evolutionists' assumptions of superiority sound strange and irritate our anthropological sensibilities of the present. Evolutionists did a seemingly contradictory double operation. On the one hand, ethnocentrically they placed “savage” men in another time, seeing them as a kind of laboratory of humanity in its pristine moment and denying, as Johannes Fabian (2002) put it, their contemporaneousness. On the other hand, they affirmed, in a kind of proto-relativist and anti-racist perspective, the humanity of savages, both by admitting the psychic unity of humanity (“the well-confirmed similarity of the functioning of the human mind in all races”, Frazer would say , p. 31) as if believing that civilization had developed from the barbarians. In the same direction, they affirmed that the laws and religions of civilized countries were derived from the normative and supernatural experiences (magic, for example) of the primitives. Tylor clearly dismisses “body configuration” and skin and hair color as explanatory factors: “it seems both possible and desirable to eliminate considerations of hereditary variants of human races and treat humanity as homogeneous in nature, albeit situated in different degrees of civilization ”(Taylor, 1889: 33).

However, it is clear that the explanation of the direction of evolution fitted perfectly with the celebration of the present (then), the celebration of the power of the western white man, of Eurocentrism that posited the North Atlantic as the apex of the trajectory. of civilization. At the same time, that celebration calmed mauvaise conscience colonizing, since it legitimized the supposed European superiority in front of the distant other barbarians and savages and allowed to place the other exotic internal, the peasants, as part of the same grammar, since their superstitions were "survivals" within the national states Europeans –many in training– representative of pre-civilized stages.

Perhaps it would be possible to say that evolutionism was one of the first attempts by the social sciences to think about what we now call globalization, to put order in an increasingly integrated world. The awareness that humanity was increasingly an interconnected entity demanded explanations that echoed to the present. The intimate relationship between the ideology of progress (Harris, 1996 [1968]), a central ideology in the West that gains great space with the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, and evolutionism is perhaps the basis of what could be called a diffuse evolutionism that continues with us. With its terminology of superiors and inferiors, of peoples with complex ways of life and other simpler ones, evolutionism was never abandoned by “public opinion”, to use the same term previously used by Tylor, nor by experts from different disciplines. . Proof of what I have just said is its transmutations since the end of the Second World War in various theories and ideologies of development (Ribeiro, 1991, 2007).

In the time that I have here, it would be impossible to detail, as I did, albeit rapidly with evolutionism, the characteristics of other subsequent classical moments in the history of the discipline. I went back to the beginning of our history of anthropology because I think it left good and bad lessons. Here I am more interested in the good lessons, especially the role that anthropologists have played, consciously or unconsciously, in the construction of discourses or in the struggles against racism. I chose this organizing axis of my reasoning because racism is the most pernicious ideology that the structures of otherness can generate internally in different inter-ethnic systems, especially within those inter-ethnic systems that are part of nation-building processes under the direction of certain ethnic segment with discriminatory racial ideologies and exclusion (Williams, 1989).

I am not unaware of the cases of Germany (Kohl, 2017) and South Africa (Spiegel, 2017), where some influential anthropologists supported openly racist regimes with their practices. Nor am I unaware of the employment of American anthropologists as spies in World War I and later, as administrators of concentration camps for American citizens of Japanese origin, or their participation in the present in the war machine and in the espionage of States. United.

But I think it is possible, with good reason, to say that the vast majority of anthropologists, by and large, are on the right side in the fight against racism and oppression. Just to return to a memorable classic historical example, I mention the text of the father of American anthropology, the German Franz Boas (1964), on "The Racial Problem in Modern Society," first published in 1943, at a time when racism grew and became the cause of unspeakable human tragedies. If we turn our gaze to Latin America, there would be many names that we would have to mention, but from a more contemporary generation it is impossible not to remember Darcy Ribeiro and Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira, my compatriots, or the Mexicans Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, Ángel Palerm and Rodolfo Stavenhagen, to name a few extraordinary anthropologists. I also think it is possible to affirm that in the history of anthropology the arsenal of anti-racist concepts, theories and visions has increased with the passage of time. Discussions about cultural relativism or those about multiculturalism and interculturality come to mind.

The anthropologies of today

I am not interested here in the debate on the theoretical differences in contemporary anthropology that, in general, have been dramatized under the heading of turns: the culturalist turn, the interpretive turn, the linguistic turn, the postmodern turn, for example, and now , What dernier cri, the ontological turn. Nor will I repeat an exercise I did when I discussed the importance of looking at the anthropologies of the world in the present (Ribeiro, 2006). My goal is to understand the place of anthropology in today's world, and it has changed a lot.

Since evolutionists refused to explain the differences between men in racial terms and defined as a central part of their interests to study "the habits and capacities acquired by man as a member of a society" (Tylor 1878: 29) to found the The science of culture, as Edward Tylor called anthropology, the notion of culture has been central to the development of modern anti-racist ideologies. In fact, a fundamental contribution of anthropology to public life was the dissemination, directly or indirectly, of the anthropological notion of culture. In this sociological and historical journey, "culture" became politicized and came to participate in important formulations for democratic and republican life, shaping public policies aimed at managing the inter-ethnic conflicts inherent in the structures of internal alterities in the nation states.

I believe that the international spread of multiculturalism is the best example of what I have just said and coincides, for me, with the rise of the relevance of anthropology in contemporary socio-political life and with the beginning of the decline of this relevance. The 1990s would be, as I said, the end of the Golden Age of anthropology. The impact of multiculturalism can very well be illustrated by the publication in the United States, in 1997, of the book We are all multiculturalists now, written by Nathan Glazer, a long-time opponent of this policy and, in Latin America, with the new constitutions of Colombia (1991) and Argentina (1994), clearly influenced by this ideology. The academic world was widely impacted by the creation of multiculturalist graduate programs and by the use of this notion in different types of sociological and anthropological interpretations. The awareness that multiculturalism is an Anglo-Saxon ideology for the management of inter-ethnic conflicts led many of us in Latin America to an approach with “interculturality”, another perspective that also reveals the centrality of the notion of culture at this time (Ribeiro, 2003; García Canclini, 2011).

If it is correct to say that the evolutionary founders of anthropology had an optimistic rhetoric, it is equally correct to say that a certain pessimism about their own fate seems to have affected anthropology at that very moment. For a discipline many times hostage to what Michel-Rolph Trouillot (2003) called "the locker of the savage", the prospect of the disappearance of the "native" has always been a problem. See, for example, Frazer's laments in 1908 (1908: 33-34) for "extinction," "dying," or the inevitable change of savages and their significance for obtaining anthropological data. In 1966, almost 60 years later, Claude Lévi-Strauss (1966: 124), in Current Anthropology, had to deal with fashion "in certain circles to say that anthropology is a science in decline due to the rapid disappearance of its traditional subject: the so-called primitives." One hundred and one years after Frazer, in 2009, the congress of the American Anthropological Association had as its theme "End / s of Anthropology." The recognition that the end of the savage shook the classical foundations of anthropology can be synthesized in the famous phrase that Clifford Geertz (1983: 151) would have said in the 1980s: “now we are all natives”. For Arturo Escobar (1999), in a text symptomatically called “The end of the wild”, what underlay the possibility of the disappearance of anthropology were the new forms of relationship between nature and culture, the result of the new reproductive technologies and the virtual , for example, that they would be generating an era post-natural, in the expression of the British anthropologist Marilyn Strathern (1992). In fact, the relationship between the discipline, its crisis and the possibility of its disappearance is so present and recurrent that I compared anthropology to the phoenix, the mythical Greek bird that is reborn from its own ashes (Ribeiro, 2004).

With the wide public diffusion of the anthropological notion of culture, anthropology, already in the 1990s, began to pay for its own victories. On the one hand, competition within the academy increased with the emergence or consolidation of fields of debate transformed into (trans) disciplines, such as cultural studies, postcolonial studies, gender studies, science and technology studies. . One cannot fail to also mention, in the 1990s, the postmodernism that fills the void left by the loss of influence of Marxism in the years after the Cold War. With its critique of metanarratives and its glorification of the fragmentary, postmodernism came to marry a tendency towards hyperspecialization that had already been developing due to the great growth of the academic world after World War II. As Eric Wolf stated in 1998 (2008: 33-34), in his presentation of the second edition of the book Anthropology and Marxism by Ángel Palerm, the postmodernists' rejection of the use of “general concepts” led to the deprivation of “the use of adequate methods to characterize the matrix of relationships where the facts and narratives they record take place” and to “trivial results, since they are not any relationship can be established with issues other than their own, on their own terms ”.

Competition with other disciplines many times more open to politicized positions and debates, hyperspecialization and triviality lead to a panorama of growing public irrelevance of American anthropology, the most powerful in the world. In fact, American anthropology manages, in a way, to export its own crisis as if it were a universal crisis of the discipline. In fact, the triviality and irrelevance of the anthropology of the United States had already been pointed out as a serious problem by Eric Wolf in his text "American Anthropologists and American Society" (2001 [1969]): 21). American colleagues have reacted in the last 15-20 years by trying to remedy the problem through what they called "public anthropology" (Borofsky, 2004) and "engaged anthropology" (Low & Merry, 2011). But unfortunately the recovery of the public relevance of anthropology is not a movement that can occur independently of sociological dynamics.

Before going directly to the question, I want to say that the loss of relative relevance of anthropology does not occur evenly in all countries. It is true that some of the sociological reasons that I will present below affect almost all of them, but the history of the discipline, its institutional and political relationships in different contexts, result in different characteristics. The central question is how to explain that an increasingly powerful discipline, which has grown significantly in various parts of the world, has lost its “prestige” in participating in public debates and is often seen as a problem or something Irrelevant.

Changes in the culture / nature relationship are certainly important to explain not only a necessary emphasis in anthropological studies on science and technology, but also to understand conceptions that travel easily in today's academic world, such as those posited by agency. of things, which I called hyperanimism or, ironically, animism of the moderns, a movement that is related to a project to re-enchant the world. The force of hyperfetishism, of the commodification of everything, even the unconscious, as Fredric Jameson already stated in a visionary essay from 1984, is the other side of hyperanimism in a flat and hyper-saturated world of human technologies and manipulations. The thought of the social sciences is today located in the space generated by the tension of these two extremes, a world animated by other forces that are opposed to a world animated by the invasion of capital in all spaces.

It is not by chance that today there is talk of the Anthropocene, a geological notion that leads us to think about the human capacity to destroy its own planet. Actually, the term capitalocene (Moore, 2016) better describes what it is all about. Here's another one that anthropologists are late for. Curious: if we are talking about the Anthropocene, why were not anthropologists who started this discussion? I ask this not because of some kind of anthropological chauvinism, but to illustrate the absence of anthropologists in cutting-edge global debates, with the usual few exceptions. Anthropologists disappeared not only from the great national debates, as Claudio Lomnitz (2014) affirms when speaking of current Mexican anthropology, but also from the great global debates. If not, how to explain the boutade, the joke, of the Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen in his lecture at the last Brazilian anthropology congress in August this year? According to Eriksen, the best known anthropologist in the world today is the biologist Jared Diamond, for his book Guns, Germs and Steel (Guns, germs and steel, 1997), which deals with the history of humanity from a point of view quite criticized by anthropologists. It seems that by abandoning the big questions that were so important to the evolutionists and diffusionists of the 19th and 20th centuries, we left the door open for others to come in and we left that place of speech.

To put it in the simplest and most direct way: will we, the anthropologists, be to blame? Partially perhaps, as we became entangled in our internal discussions and in our specialties, as a way of showing erudition and making a career. But there are many other sociological reasons that are beyond our own agency capacities, although, in general, they have been received with a certain passivity not only by us but by the academic field in general. First, it is necessary to speak clearly of an increasingly intense anti-intellectualism in the world. It seems that ignorance has climbed many steps in its battle against wisdom. The political role of anti-intellectualism is known and is expressed in the speeches of professional politicians very clearly. It is not by chance that authoritarian or populist regimes are anti-intellectual. But even academics themselves often adopt, as a naive way of criticizing the snobbery of academic life or as a way of including other knowledge in the circulation of knowledge, anti-intellectual attitudes, with which we are inadvertently contributing to the criticism that it accuses of irrelevance what we do.

Anti-intellectualism especially affects the humanities and social sciences. I emphasize anthropology for what I consider to be its eminently subversive nature of the naturalization of the order of things. By showing that other worlds are not only possible but actually exist, anthropology constantly denounces the order of capitalism and its associated power systems. In conservative times, such as the current ones, they seek to stifle critical thought and anthropology could not escape from this movement.

Anti-intellectualism can also be the result of the empire of screens, especially screens that are access doors to the Internet. We are witnessing the coming of age of the first native generation of the digital age. Changes in the ability and ways of reading are a cutting-edge issue that interests all of us who work with the production, transmission and dissemination of knowledge. There is still no consensus and positions vary from those showing a decrease in the ability to read in depth to those that believe in the emergence of a new type of fragmented reading that is not fully understood because researchers still have a focused view of the problem. in the book. See for example Hacia una antropología de los lectores, 2015, the result of an investigation by the uam-i that included the participation of anthropologists such as Néstor García Canclini, Eduardo Nivón Bolán and Rosalía Winocur Iparraguirre (García Canclini et al., 2015). The internet also represents another type of challenge for the social sciences in general. Umberto Eco's extreme statement according to which "social networks give legions of idiots the right to speak" and have generated an "invasion of idiots" are for me a symptom of something broader, of the hyperdemocratization of what I called the virtual public space, in which everyone apparently has the same weight and value. The effects of this hyperdemocratization can be positive, as I believed in 1998 when I spoke of the virtual-imagined transnational community and its power of witness and political activism at a distance (Ribeiro, 1998), or as Manuel Castells (2012) believed when analyzing the networks of outrage and hope behind movements like the Arab Spring or occupy wall street. But its effects can also be negative. First, because of the ease with which surveillance can be done today on citizens around the world who use the network. In reality, we are witnessing the end of the validity of bourgeois notions of privacy. Then, because of what it has meant concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few and gigantic companies, such as Googgle and Facebook. Furthermore, I suspect that much of the political polarization seen in countries like mine, Brazil, is related to this expansion of the capacity for intervention in virtual public space. Finally, returning to the vituperation of Eco and with much stronger impacts on what interests us in this conference, the internet creates a panoptic and omniscient illusion in its users. Ultimately, I can see and know everything using the network. The world appears to be transparent to the subjects. If I can see and know everything, why would I need someone to explain the world to me? What are social scientists for?

In reality, the internet is the realm of what I call informal electronic capitalism, the most dynamic face of hyper-flexible capitalism that represents other dynamics of capital often subsumed under the mega-label of neoliberalism. Of course, the university and the structures of (re) production of knowledge could not be immune. The hegemonic centers of the world system of academic production were visibly affected by neoliberal ideologies and their administrative mandates. In the United Kingdom and the United States the presidents of many universities became business managers that must produce increasing profits. It is sad, but it seems that there is a process of demolition of a heritage of human intelligence that took centuries to be built in those countries. Some of the structural processes of this movement in academia are the so-called audit culture and productivism, that is, the control of the production of academic products by quantity and not by quality, measures implemented internationally. Anthropology, with the long times involved in ethnographic practice and in the maturation of reflection, was particularly affected. But anthropologists have also devoted their attention to neoliberalism within the university. The works of Cris Shore and Sue Wright are an example of this. In the introduction to a collection of texts dedicated to the anthropological analysis of the subject, Tracey Heatherington and Filippo M. Zerilli (2016: 43) say:

Based on years of systematic research in different university contexts, Shore and Wright make it clear that the neoliberal model is not only transforming the role of the university in society, but is also creating new types of subjects whose practices and ethos they are structured by an emerging corporate culture that is taking root at the heart of academia. Dimitris Dalákoglou considers how neoliberal changes promote entrepreneurial strategies and selfish behavior in academics. Exploiting the etymology of idiocy, he insists that it is crucial to acknowledge and challenge the actions of the many "idiots" now circulating in academia, that is, those who simply act according to selfish interests.

Likewise, the principle of "publish or perish" was exacerbated as a guide to productivity and led to an increase in the irrelevance of academic texts. In a newspaper article entitled “Profe, no one is reading it”, Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr (2015) lament the growth of “the absence of teachers”, especially of social scientists, “in shaping public debates and public policies ", and note that" in the 1930s, 1940s, 20 percent of the articles in the prestigious The American Political Science Review they focused on public policy recommendations. At the last count, this number had dropped to a mere 0.3 percent. " In addition, they show that "82 percent of articles published in the humanities are not cited even once", and add that "if an article is cited, it does not mean that it was actually read ... according to one estimate, only 20 percent of the articles cited were actually read ”. They "calculate that an average article in a journal with peer opinions is not read in full by more than ten people." Everything leads to believe that publish or perishPublish or perish increasingly says more about the interests of the international oligopolies of scientific publishing than it does about the interests of researchers or a particular scientific field.

Faced with all these structural changes in universities and in scientific macro policies, the reactions of academics have been timid. When much is said to do slow science, an application, generally unknown to the majority.

I want to end this session with one of the factors of the problematic place that anthropology occupies today, considering something fundamental to the fate that we have to face in the present and in the future. To do this, I have to go back to the structure of otherness and its ideologies. In most countries we are identified as defenders of multiculturalism, that is, with the defense of difference and of cultural and behavioral diversity. As I said, the moment when the public importance of contemporary anthropology begins to wane coincides with the rise of multiculturalism as public policy and discourse in the 1990s. But how do we start the 2000s? With the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, perpetrated by Muslim fundamentalists. Fundamentalism became a global political problem, increasingly racialized, as other attacks were committed in Europe and an entity such as the Islamic State replaced the already much feared Al Qaeda. The massive migrations of Arabs to Europe intensified ethnocentrism and racism in a context where there is an automatic identification between terror and Islamism. Racial intolerance and racism returned with intensity, but with new objects and scenarios very different from those whose center was the black populations of the United States, organized in social movements, fighting for their civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. social movements responsible for the transformation of multiculturalist premises into public policies.

But the nature of the most visible contemporary racism has changed. It is no longer exclusively related to the demands for recognition and dignity made by historically discriminated citizens in different nation states. Contemporary racism is also confused with the global geopolitics of imperialist forces where discrimination is directed at Muslims and migrants. Racism has made a strong comeback, as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump in the United States or the rise of intolerance in the United Kingdom and Germany. All of this leads me to wonder if we are not, in fact, already in a post-multicultural era. If this is true, why do we need anthropologists with their lessons in tolerance? In fact, the election of Trump in the United States has not only generated a wave of racial intolerance against Mexican immigrants and Muslims, for example, but also a debate about the end of the effectiveness of liberal identity politics with the resurgence of an uninhibited white supremacism.

Aware as few of the dangers lurking today, Polish anthropologists mobilized against discrimination and published a manifesto in October 2016, which I reproduce in part as an index of what I have just said and a legitimate effort to reposition anthropology. facing the serious current problems:

As representatives of the disciplines of Anthropology and Ethnology, we feel particularly responsible for the way in which culture and society are understood and represented. We are seriously concerned about the proliferation and manipulation of ignorance in public debate, in the media, education and politics in Poland today. We refer in particular to misleading claims about migration, refugees and multiculturalism, as well as about national, ethnic and religious identities. For all these reasons, we believe it is important and necessary ... to position ourselves on these issues. For more than a hundred years, culture and society have been the main focus of theoretical reflection and empirical studies of our discipline. Thus, we feel compelled and authorized to speak out when this knowledge is used to mislead the public. Our sense of obligation is rooted in the ethos of anthropology, a discipline that serves society and humanistic values. We are also motivated by a sense of responsibility and civic duty. By embracing these ideals, we resolutely oppose discrimination, exclusion, and hate speech motivated by cultural, religious, ethnic, gender, or worldview differences. We protest against the conscious manipulation of facts, the ideologization of beliefs, xenophobia, racism and violence directed at people who represent different cultures, identities, political positions, confessions and values. These acts of hatred that have become more frequent in Polish society today undermine the foundations of social order and often lead to real tragedies. We support reliable knowledge about culture and society, we cry out for mutual respect and we demand respect for humanistic values. Our goal and our dream is a diverse and open society built on the ideals of democracy and human rights (Polish Anthropologists, 2016).

Anthropologies of the future

Faced with the new face of racism that is consolidating, anthropologists need to organize and join the social movements that fight for human rights and against all forms of discrimination, as our Polish colleagues are doing. Our interpretative, theoretical and political imagination needs to understand the current intersection of racism and imperialist global geopolitics in order to provide interpretations that reveal contemporary forms of racist, sexist and environmental violence. Our task is not to comfort ourselves with pastoral and community metanarratives, which may be important and necessary in specific and delimited contexts, but they are insufficient to deal with the crisis of civilization that we are experiencing and the directions of hyper-flexible capitalism. Our main task is, through research and reflection efforts, to help envision and build possible solutions for this crisis that Immanuel Wallerstein called the “global turn to the right” (Wallerstein, 2016). In the immediate term, given our tradition of fighting racism, we are called to participate clearly in the difficult times that the postmulticultural era will represent. I agree with Claudio Lomnitz (2014), who puts ethnography once again at the center of our efforts to demonstrate the social and political relevance of our work. Lomnitz says:

Too often, today, we find ourselves with the feeling that the categories of analysis fail to even describe reality - let alone explain it. In fact, you cannot explain well what you cannot describe first. In other words, the crisis of the economy and political science, and even of the current fondness for the survey and the aggregation of opinions as if they transparently describe the practices and beliefs of the respondents, is leaving an enormous space for ethnography and, therefore, for a rebirth of the role of anthropology in public debate and the construction of the future.

The crisis we are experiencing will force us to resume our political role in the present and in the future. The conflicts that will be unleashed will lead to a new social recognition of the virtues of anthropology (see for example Leader, 2016) whose meta-narrative is based on understanding and peace.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.