Review the anthropological mandate

Reception: February 3, 2017

Acceptance: March 5, 2017

RIt is quite easy to share the displeasure of our colleague Gustavo Lins Ribeiro. I say "ours" referring to the anthropologist colleague from the "anthropologies of the world", the Latin American colleague, the Brazilian trained in the academies of Brazil and the United States and, above all, the colleague who came to Argentina to do his work of doctoral field on the Yacyretá Binational Dam and its technical staff, known as “work bugs”. From relatively early in his academic career, Gustavo participated in various debates, published in the nascent Argentine anthropological journals and vividly supported the rebirth and institutional consolidation of social anthropology in the democratic period, hand in hand with the social anthropologists who remained in Argentina. during the last military dictatorship and that they managed to maintain, with variations, a useful and present anthropology connected with the main North Atlantic anthropological currents, what at that time was called, following Eric Wolf, Gustavo's great teacher in cuny, “ the anthropology of complex societies ”.

From this common story, I can be sure that Gustavo's call is genuine. And because of his interest in trends on globalization and his performances in national and international organizations of Anthropology, I trust that his panorama results from a vast knowledge of how anthropologists from different backgrounds understand and practice what they call "anthropology." So with this in mind, I would like to make some reflections from my humble experience as one of your many colleagues.

Anthropologists in our countries, that is, those of us outside the North Atlantic, a qualification that seems more appropriate than that of "the West", we conceive ourselves as a theoretical, methodological and thematic sounding board of what happens in the countries " central ". Exactly as Gustavo warned, the local crises of these countries, and their anthropologies, immediately take on a global character that involves the countries of "other anthropologies" (Boscovich), "peripheral" (Cardoso de Oliveira), "second anthropologies" or "From the South" (Krotz). However, and despite the fact that we are all in the same world whose dynamics strongly responds to the dictates of its economic powers and also of its governments, anthropology has taught us that what a resident of Miami experiences is as important as what he experiences. a citizen of Kinshasha, Santiago de Chile or Sofia. It has also taught us that even a town, peripheral if there is one, as in its time the Melanesian archipelago of the Trobriand Islands was, had much to teach the Europeans who were massacred in the Great War of 14. Not only about variability of the human species; not just over the broad cultural spectrum, all of which deserve dignity and respect. The Trobrianders together with Malinowski (not a Briton but a Pole) taught Europe about European society. Anthropologists never lost contact with their respective natives and that was the touchstone of their place in the social sciences and humanities.

Undoubtedly today there are issues that claim us as agents of globalized and globalizing knowledge. Many of them are difficult and urgent questions that demand the humanitarian and professional position of anthropologists. However, these two positions are not identical or necessarily go in the same direction.

Lins Ribeiro describes the position of anthropologists in today's world as one of (intellectual) relevance lost both in national and global debates in the face of a “turn to the right” that is expressed in growing racism and expansive discrimination anti-immigration. Reasons? Endogenous and exogenous. Of the former, Lins attributes our lost relevance to our entanglement in "internal discussions and in our specialties as a way of showing scholarship and pursuing a career." It does not clarify which internal discussions it refers to or the ways of making a career, where and "against who / is". Are you saying that our ways of making a career and developing scholarship are more like basic science than applied and visible science? Does he refer by "internal discussions" to languages and theoretical issues typical of our academic developments, or does he suppose that this "internality" is, in addition to being internal, irrelevant? When he refers to exogenous reasons, he speaks of global currents and phenomena, such as "anti-intellectualism", the "empire of screens" and the fragmented and apparently immediate knowledge that the Internet provides, and also the advance of neoliberalism in academia and the closure of numerous anthropology programs. He also speaks of the competitive entry of other disciplines - cultural studies, I suppose - when they seek to pronounce on the concept of "culture", so expensive and apparently so proper and inherent to the anthropological trajectory, but which anthropologists would have abandoned along with evolutionism. So Lins Ribeiro demands us, via the October 2016 declaration of Polish anthropologists, that we take clearer and more public political positions in the face of North Atlantic and European xenophobia and racism. Even though we have placed ourselves on the "right side" of history, Lins also demands more accurate pronouncements from us in the "crisis of civilization that we are living and the directions of hyper-flexible capitalism", which exceed the "pastoral and community meta-narratives" in which we usually " comfort us ”. Not only Polish anthropologists serve to inspire this movement; also the formidable example of Franz Boas.

Now, this claim seems more appropriate if it is applied to the anthropological academy of the great northern country, that of the postmodern turn, that of the white man's burden, that of the results of the last presidential election, that of the academy where he and I studied our doctorates, that of other countries, such as mine and perhaps that of Lins himself. In hyper-politicized Argentina, academic or not, anthropologists carry a missional discipline. Not only because of the topics that we study, the authors that we read, the rhetoric that we use, but also and in a very outstanding way (in its visibility and quality) because of the political nature of social anthropology, established as the dominant anthropological subdiscipline in university institutions. Argentina since 1984, and by the judicial and compensatory nature of forensic anthropology since a few years later. Argentine anthropologists believe that social anthropology is an eminently progressive discipline, committed to the subaltern classes and ethnic minorities, and although racism has not been a constant or recurring theme in our production, Argentine social anthropologists consider that our discipline serves primarily, as requested by Lins, to denounce injustice, procrastination and plunder. It will be for this reason that the preferred topics are preferably around issues related to discrimination, social inequality, ethnocide and crimes against humanity committed by the State during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983). Migrants, especially the bordering ones, although also and lately those of African and Asian origin, are part of this mission.

It goes without saying that the relationship of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team should not make its commitment explicit, given its birth as a group of young anthropology students —sociocultural, archaeological, and biological— who were trained to identify unnamed human remains (“nn ”) Found in graves dug by those same beings when they still had a first and last name and were about to be shot, or when they were already pieces of dead meat in horrendous interrogations whose purpose was to obtain numerous reports to disarm cells and networks of sympathizers, militants and leaders of armed leftist organizations that had opted for the focus tactic, to dismantle union and social organizations labeled "subversive", and to discourage the whole of society by the exemplary nature of such punishments. The present century has also seen archaeologists in search of a public archeology closer to the populations residing in the areas of the sites.

In sum, a long time ago, let's say that since the mid-eighties, that the Argentine anthropologies that are practiced, thought and discussed today in this corner of the world publicly assumed various missions against injustice, genocide, inequality and discrimination. . So Lins' claim would not hold here (would it hold in Brazil?). And yet this bias does not eliminate the relevance of certain questions, such as, for example, are these committed and progressive anthropologies influential in the design of fair, democratic and pluralistic public policies? Or is it that we should ask ourselves: do these anthropologies influence and affect the climates of political and social opinion in the country? In what sectors and in what social classes? Or perhaps we should ask ourselves, more simply: are these committed, public, pluralistic and supposedly useful anthropologies "good anthropology"? Each of these questions admits different answers depending, of course, on how we define terms such as “influential”, “good”, “fair, democratic and pluralistic”, and so on.

Of the many issues these questions raise, I would just like to note that occupying the public arena does not mean being credible, and "being credible" does not mean being credible as an anthropologist. Probably one is as a citizen, or militant, or civil servant, but not necessarily as an academic in this discipline (which I believe is the closest to the people who study in all the social sciences). The situation of social anthropologists differs from that of forensic anthropologists, whose procedures are typified according to the resolution of an erased identity or the establishment of the cause of death. Certainly someone may or may not agree with the decision to exhume human remains and to identify them, as is currently the case with the "nn" killed in the 1982 South Atlantic conflict in the Falklands and who lie in the Darwin Cemetery, west of the city. Soledad Island of said archipelago. But the final ruling will be accredited by supporters and critics of the operation. The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team has earned a recognition that, through techno-scientific expertise, gives us back to Argentines (and other citizens of the world when the team operated in Yugoslavia, Bolivia, Rwanda and Mexico, among many other destinations) a knowledge that it was denied to us under the label of "disappeared".

But the situation of social anthropologists seems less clear and linear to me, in part because the professional and intellectual agenda of addressing “relevant” questions that Argentine anthropologists have carved out for ourselves seems to have won out over the complexity of the sociocultural reality, the plurality of approaches and issues that are also worthy of attention. What I mean by this? That if everything that passes through my field records must be read in terms of discrimination, genocide or ethnocide, and that and only that is the message that my readers will receive, it is very likely that my production is not entirely credible. Why? Because that, my interpretation given as an anthropologist, would not be linked to the experience of my readers and because my interpretation (politically correct, just and denouncing) would paint a one-sided and probably caricatural image of the study subjects. Perhaps this image is endorsed by my interlocutors (whom we usually call "informants"), even to clean up its bad public image. But this does not imply that they themselves and that the readers (civil servants, academics of other disciplines or laymen) believe in my interpretation. "Believe" should be understood as being genuinely reflected in this production or finding my painting as socioculturally plausible.

The spirit of denunciation that many Latin American anthropologists have adopted can produce several effects. The first is that the philosophy of human and social rights as pan-humanitarian prevails over the recognition of realities and value systems and norms that contradict or reconfigure those precepts. The investigator goes on to act as a supervisor of the breach of rights formulated by international law. In the same movement, a second effect is produced: that the interlocutors in our writings appear as pure objects of exploitation, discrimination and injustice, losing the dimension of their own agency, their ability to maneuver and react, and the explanations that these provoke. . The third effect is the absolute priority of certain topics to the detriment of others, which are put aside because their protagonists do not enjoy the political or sociocultural sympathy of the world to which the researcher belongs (world that I restrict to the university-academic) , or because they would be responsible for the reduction of rights of subordinates and / or persecuted. From these avoidance results a body of research that sanitizes the poor and ethnic minorities, ignoring their dark, cruel and even immoral sides.

It is precisely this point that challenges us anthropologists before the slaughter and attacks produced by different organizational plots that, far from following and claiming to affirm the "foundations" of divine writings, generate an exacerbated, recalcitrant and absolutely postmodern preaching, such as has masterfully shown Talal Asad in On Suicide Bombing (2007). That the country with the highest production and concentration of anthropologists in the world runs the risk of becoming Trumpistan; that the emerging republics of the promising liberation wars of the 50-60s have become absolutist reigns, far removed from the preaching of the first revolutionary ideologues; that the Russian Revolution, which is a century old, has resulted in a warmongering republic with a formidable concentration of power; that some million inhabitants of this world live ruled by cliques of leftist preaching, some of them with extraordinary nuclear power; or that a town founded on the memory of one of the greatest genocides of the 20th century applies the same measures towards its neighbors that its executioners applied to it in the 20th century; All this and much more forces us to ask ourselves, too seriously, what is the line that divides the correct from the incorrect side of humanity and of history, and which would be the most properly anthropological place to make contributions that make our production useful, visible. , plausible and understandable.

Certainly, and if we accompany Lins Ribeiro in his over-limited definition of the evolutionary anthropological period according to the predominantly optimistic spirit of its cultivators, I consider that the evolutionary faith was based on a point that is often overlooked and that is brutally manifested in the world. current. In our histories of anthropology we tend to forget that the great interlocutor of evolutionists was not the "primitive world", nor "the savages." It was that other powerhouse of thought and knowledge that competed with secular science, to the point of denying its findings and outlawing its criteria, in defense of the faith and its doctrines. I am referring to the Church, and particularly to the different Christian confessions. What would those evolutionists think today (I include Karl Marx and Frederick Engels here) of the meaning of history and culture? How would you explain the destruction of the Mesopotamian monuments? What similarities could be established with the 16th and 17th centuries, and surely before, when hominid remains were hidden or denied for study?

To conclude, I am far from arguing that Lins Ribeiro and Polish anthropologists, and also most of us, his colleagues, should not occupy the rostrum in defense of different causes that we believe are just and to whose knowledge and dissemination we have contributed so much. But if Claudio Lomnitz is right (as I think he is) when he says that we lack categories to characterize what is happening today, it is because something different is needed. Reinforcing what we have already been doing and the way we do it will only make us more recalcitrant and impervious to what realities scream in our faces. As citizens we will continue to speak out in the public arena. As anthropologists we need to rethink, study hard and invent new paths. And for this we need to do more and better research.

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