Suomen Antropologi Volume 37, 4/2012
Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society Volume 37 (4) 2012: 3-4
This issue of Suomen Antropologi starts with the inaugural lecture of Professor Sarah Green, delivered on the 5th December 2012 at the University of Helsinki. The lecture, titled ‘On the Relative Location of Anthropology: Rethinking the borders’, ponders on the current state and future direction of anthropology. Professor Green noted that the comparative perspective distinctive to anthropology is still very much needed in order to critically examine our own paradigmatic notions about the world. In addition, the discipline is gaining new importance in a changing global situation where the standing of Western ideas and institutions is not what it was. To understand the significance of these developments requires new forms of cooperation across both disciplinary and national borders. Professor Green was appointed to the chair of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Helsinki in August 2012. She has held many prominent positions in a number of distinguished university departments and research institutions. Most notably, she was the head of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester from 2007 until 2010. We are proud to welcome her as a new member of the Finnish anthropological community and share her vision of the future of anthropology with our readers.
Professor Green’s lecture is followed by a special section of articles titled ‘Thinking with Lévi-Strauss’ Concept of Implicit Mythology’. The authors, Professor Seth D. Kunin and Jonathan Miles-Watson (both from the University of Durham), take up an often neglected concept in Lévi-Strauss’ corpus of research into mythologies. As is frequently pointed out, Lévi-Strauss focused on theorizing myths and had relatively little to say about ritual. Although he understood myths primarily as structured narratives, he also spoke of ‘implicit myths’ that could be detected in ritual actions and symbols. In the two articles in this issue, the authors explore the possibilities offered by this concept but are also critical of its simple separation from so-called ‘explicit mythology’. In his theoretically-oriented article Professor Kunin challenges assumptions about the primacy of narratives in communicating structure and meaning and highlights the importance of rituals in the same field. He is known for his interest in redeveloping structuralist theory in anthropology and has published extensively on the topic. Miles-Watson’s article tackles similar issues by discussing the implicit mythology of the architecture of a colonial era Christian cathedral in India. The treatment is based on long-standing ethnographic fieldwork in the Indian Himalayas. The two articles have been developed from panel presentations initially given at the Biannual Meeting of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in April 2011.
The forum section of this issue deals with anthropology outside academia as four professionals who hold a university degree in anthropology reflect on the value and importance of their training for their careers. Anne Alitolppa-Niitamo, who works as a Manager of Multicultural Affairs in a major Finnish NGO, writes about her experiences in conducting applied research among Somali refugees in Finland in the 1990s. The reception of refugees was a very heated topic at the time and the results of the research were also covered closely by the media. In a thought-provoking piece, Terry Roopnaraine explains how collaboration between anthropologists and quantitative scientists in developmental research projects is a two-way street: in order to contribute meaningfully, anthropologists need to understand the presuppositions, methods and concepts of their co-workers. Yet this should not lead to undermining the strengths provided by their own disciplinary backgrounds. Jo-Anne Bichard’s situation differs from the rest of the contributors in the sense that she is still employed in academia. Working as a research fellow in an art college she has positively incorporated the anthropological angle into the study of design. In the final piece, journalist Johanna Pohjola discusses the importance of an ‘anthropological attitude’ in her profession. In practice this means challenging oneself by questioning easy explanations that appear commonsensical, and delving beneath the surface in search of more profound explanations. A forum on this topic has been on the wish list of some of our readers and we are happy finally to be able to publish it.
On the Relative Location of Anthropology: Rethinking the borders
Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society Volume 37 (4) 2012: 5-10
Anthropology is currently at a crossroads. In one direction, the discipline continues to study difference and diversity around the world, and uses the comparative knowledge gained from that effort to critique our own unexamined assumptions. Indeed at a time when an increasing proliferation of information about others seems to obscure, rather than to clarify, there is an ever greater need to carry out such work. Anthropology’s slow and careful attention to detail, and its aim of deeply understanding the particularities of peoples, locations and situations through comparison rather than attempting to reduce the details into a simple, generalisable truth, is proving to be an increasingly important epistemological project in the current period. At the same time, in another direction, anthropology’s disciplinary location is shifting. This is partly in response to the changing circumstances in which peoples around the world studied by anthropologists are living; it is also a response to the changing relations between different parts of the world, which includes a changing climate in which academic research and pedagogy are being carried out. Some have suggested that we live in ‘interesting times’, a period that is edgy and uncertain, not only in wider political, economic and social terms, but also in epistemological terms. And while the danger of this edginess is the focus of considerable attention, the same conditions are also generating new conceptual locations from which to pursue anthropology’s task of comparatively understanding the details of social and cultural diversity. This includes the possibility of forging fresh alliances and collaborations, both intellectually and trans-nationally. The lecture will outline anthropology’s shifting relative location in this context.
Structuralism and Implicit Myth
Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society Volume 37 (4) 2012: 11-29
Structuralist analysis has often privileged narrative mythological material over other forms of cultural activity. This distinction, often taken for granted, requires both discussion and challenge. Given that all forms of cultural activity are structured, there seems to be no reason for distinguishing between these different forms of structure—giving one the name myth and the remainder implicit myth. The evidence suggests that the nature of the structuring is similar, and that the only significant distinction appears to be the apparent meaningfulness of myth, through its use of language, and the meaninglessness of other cultural practices. Once we move beyond the linguistic barrier, recognizing that structure is not inherent in the meaning of narrative, then the two categories are seen to be structurally identical. Ironically, the fact, however, of the embodied nature of much of implicit myth argues for a perhaps more significant role for implicit myth in the instantiation and communication of structure that that of explicit myth.
The Cathedral on the Ridge and the Implicit Mythology of the Shimla Hills
Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society Volume 37 (4) 2012: 30-46
This paper engages Lévi-Strauss’ notion of implicit myth with data drawn from extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Shimla. Shimla is located in the Indian Himalayas and today exists in an obvious relationship with its past, when it was known as Simla, the summer capital of British India. Christ Church Cathedral stands at the heart of both colonial Simla and postcolonial Shimla (both literarily and metaphorically). The implicit mythology of this sacred place forms the centre of this paper through acting as a sort of key myth around which the rest of the discussion spirals. The paper explores the way that places in Shimla become sacred and why it is that these places are often associated with stability and peace, despite bearing traces of violent change. I will argue that central to uncovering this mystery is the concept of implicit mythology, which is of evermore value for contemporary anthropologists of religion.
Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society Volume 37 (4) 2012: 59-65
FORUM: STILL TRADING IN ANTHROPOLOGY? FORMER STUDENTS REFLECT ON THEIR OLD DISCIPLINE
Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society Volume 37 (4) 2012: 47-58
Anne Alitolppa-Niitamo: From an Alien in New York to a Practically-Oriented Anthropologist (47)
Terry Roopnaraine: Positivism Rules - Doing scientific anthropology in development research (50)
Jo-Anne Bichard: Leaving the Anthropology Department Behind (53)
Johanna Pohjola: Anthropology Is an Attitude (56)