Rethinking Anthropology - E. R. Leach

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RETHINKING ANTHROPOLOGY

LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS MONOGRAPHS ON SOCL\L ANTHROPOLOGY Managing Editor: Anthony For^e

The

Monographs
in

on

Social

Anthropology

were

established

modem
The
by

1940 and aim to publish results of anthropological research of primary interest

to specialists.

continuation of the series was made possible from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and more recently by a further grant from the Governors of the London a grant in aid

School of Economics and Political Science.
are under the direction of an Board associated with the Department of Anthropology of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Editorial

The Monographs

LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS MONOGRAPHS ON SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY No. 22

Rethinking

Anthropology
by
E. R.

LEACH

UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

THE ATHLONE PRESS
NEW YORK: HUMANITIES PRESS INC

Published by

THE ATHLONE PRESS UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
at 2 Gotcer Street,

Distributed by Tiptree

London wci Book Services Ltd

Tiptree, Essex

First edition, 1961

First paperback edition with corrections, 1966

Reprinted, 1968, 1971

®

E. R. Leach, 1961, 1971

U.K.
U.K.

sB

N

o 485 19522 4 cloth

sB

N
B

o 485 19622 o paperback

U.S.A.

s

N

391 00146 9 paperback

First printed in 1961 by

ROBERT CUNNINGHAM AND SONS LTD ALVA
Reprinted by photo-litho by

JOHN DICKENS & CO LTD

NORTHAMPTON

4-

M75'

Preface
The
title

of this collection properly belongs only to the

first essay.

On

3 December 1959 1 had the honour to deliver the first Malinovvski Memorial Lecture at the London School of Economics. The Editorial Board of the London School of Economics Monographs in Social Anthropology

generously offered to publish the text of my lecture but added the flattering suggestion that I should reprint a number of my other essays at the same time. I have accordingly appropriated the title of my Malinowski lecture for the

whole

collection.
I do not pretend wholly consistent with that

The

essays extend over a period of fifteen years and
is

that the viewpoint of the latest (Chapter i)

of the earliest (Chapter 2) but there is, I think, a certain continuity of theme and method in all of them. When they were first written all these essays were attempts to 'rethink anthropology'. All are concerned with

problems of
others,
I

'theory'

and are based on ethnographic

facts recorded

by

my own

contribution being primarily that of analyst. In each case

have tried to reassess the known facts in the light of unorthodox assumpSuch heresy seems to me to have merit for its own sake. Unconventional arguments often turn out to be wrong but provided they provoke discussion they may still have lasting value. By that criterion each of the essays in this book is a possible candidate for attention. tions.

Among

social anthropologists the
is

game

of building

new

theories

on

the ruins of old ones

almost an occupational disease. Contemporary arguments in social anthropology are built out of formulae concocted by Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown and Levi-Strauss who in turn were only 'rethinking' Rivers,

Durkheim and Mauss, who borrowed from Morgan,

McLennan and Robertson- Smith
the total outcome of
all

— and

so on. Sceptics

may

think that
despite

all

this ratiocination

adds up to very

little;

our pedagogical subtleties, the diversities of human custom remain as bewildering as ever. But that we admit. The contemporary social anthropologist is all too well aware that he knows much less than Frazer imagined that he knew for certain. But that perhaps is the point. The contributions to anthropological pedantry collected in this book add little to the sum of human knowledge but if they provoke some readers to doubt their sense of certainty then they will have served their...
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