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Die Zeit über moderne Ethnologie

September 17, 2008


Während einer Reise zu den Nambikwara in Brasilien denkt ZEIT-Autor Bartholomäus Grill über das Wesen unseres Fachs nach. Warum benutzen Ethnologen weiterhin Begriffe wie Volk, indigene Völker und Ethnie, obwohl sie so schwammig sind? Gibt es den edlen Wilden? Was ist moderne Ethnologie?

Grill stellt gute Fragen, schreibt jedoch undifferenziert über Indianer als Verlierer. Und er irrt sich, wenn er schreibt, dass der “Gegenstand der modernen Ethnologie” “die Ethnie” sei. Das war einmal.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2008 11:44 am

    thanks john for posting that article. i came across it reading the paper version and i found it utterly retro somehow. privileging ethnic aspects, elaborating on people/peoples, their mistakable nature, “missverständliche Termini”, and elading his argument towards the goal of cultural / social self-reflection by means of anthropology.
    then i stopped all the *trans* and *globals* rising in my mind, thoughts on *practice* etc and wondered about the gap between what he wrote and people, actively involved with academic thinking might consider “Ethnology” to be. Firstly, relying to the German expression “Ethnology” what he did was simply re-iterating its semantics with a pretty humanistic background. Secondly, he is not only writing for a well-known newspaper but as well he focuses on the newspapers audience. And honestly looking around here, much of the global transmission hasnt reached our daily lives yet. here in Germany. One could find many reasons why our views are still bound to nation frames (not nationalistic!, just territorial, including citizenship, issues of being “Ausländer” even after having lived here for more than 30years etc…). A lot of this has to do with certain semantics, forms of language that carry certain contents and embed certain naturalized notions on how to intellectually comprehend social / cultural groups; processes and drop back to using the standard, i.e. categories.

    And there goes my guess – the question to be considered might not be if *we* anthropologists should re-consider “ethnical aspects” as a category or if we should talk the issue of modernity over again (grill does do so in his article); maybe we should just be sensible for the majority of people outside academia, those cruel masses, and pay some attention to their views in order to re-locate some bit of our thinking and not lose track but give back some little bit of what we do.

  2. September 19, 2008 9:59 pm

    Thanks Angela, very thoughtful response. I would say we anthropologists (and indeed other scholars) as a field of specialist practice need to do both, i.e. (a) continue to interrogate critically our own conceptual tools among ourselves – but we seldom do so, it seems to me, across languages – and (b) engage with non-academic publics like TH Eriksen and a few others have tried to do over the years; here I would be cautious with the word ‘masses’, though, as I think media audiences are too differentiated for this notion to be useful in this context.

    The trouble for a lot of us caught up in the knowledge industry is how to find the time to do the latter (the work of divulgation) when we hardly have time to do our own research, let alone discuss it with colleagues.


  1. Why we should still study peoples « media/anthropology

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