Anthropology as a Western Discipline
Ambrose Bierce, the esteemed American satirist of the early 1900’s, defined in his Devil’s Dictionary the word “Aboriginies” as “n. Persons of little worth found cumbering the soil of a newly discovered country. They soon cease to cumber; they fertilize” (1). The overtly “western” view aptly captured by Bierce in his description exemplifies the field of anthropology and the methods it employed for quite some time—starting from the period of Antiquity until very recently. Until the 1950’s, the study of “other people” was predominately initiated by European and later American anthropologists and focused primarily on educating westerners about the natives’ ways of life. Since the study of humans originated in western philosophies, a number of political and economic factors helped confine this discipline mainly to the West. In his almost off-handed description, Ambrose Bierce seems to have summed up the ideology of a whole field of study rather accurately, albeit bitingly. Most anthropological studies of non-western communities have been carried out for and by European and American anthropologists. Anthropology has mostly been seen as a western discipline because the west has dominated in coming up with ideas, rules, generalizations that seek to explain human interactions. From Plato and Aristotle of the Antiquities, who sought to explain the relationships between humans, nature, and deities—to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a proto-anthropologist who delved into the origins of mankind and coined the term “noble savage” to describe the early human—to the post-WWII anthropologists Boas, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, who opposed the concept that one culture is better than another—this field had only been exposed to and exposed by one geographic entity. Hence, its western philosophical origins kept it mired in the same mindset (for lack of a better word). Anthropology fairly reeks of domination. The study started out by being very...
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