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Postill07+Review of Evens and Handelman (eds.) 2006. The Manchester School

Postill07+Review of Evens and Handelman (eds.) 2006. The Manchester School

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T. M. S. Evens and Don Handelman
(eds.) 2006.
The Manchester School: Practiceand Ethnographic Praxis in Anthropology
. Oxford/New York: Berghahn. x + 334 pp.Draft review by John Postill for journal
 Ethnos,
submitted April 2007This volume revisits the extended-case method, an ethnographic research strategydeveloped in the 1940s to 1960s by members of the so-called Manchester School of anthropology led by Max Gluckman. The book opens with an introductory section,followed by sections on the theorisation, history and practice of the extended-casemethod, and concluding with a coda by Bruce Kapferer. The introduction featuresreprints of classic texts by Gluckman (1961) and Mitchell (1983); the followingsection engages critically with the method’s enduring strengths and weaknesses,exploring new theoretical possibilities by way of Heidegger, Goffman, Deleuze andGuattari; the historical section traces the method’s mixed ancestry, including itshitherto little known Chicago connections; finally, the practical section assesses themethod’s relevance to contemporary anthropological analysis.The book accomplishes admirably its stated aim, namely ‘to highlight and criticallyexamine the fundamental features of the extended-case method, in order to advanceits substantial, continuing merits’ (back cover). Its editors and chapter contributorsdemonstrate that the extended-case method is more than a ‘method’, it is asophisticated mode of research and analysis arising from the long-standing political,institutional and epistemological concerns of Gluckman and his students. It ischaracterised by a painstaking ethnographic attention to socio-political processes asthey unfold across varied contexts over time, with a focus on situations of conflict, or ‘trouble cases’ as Gluckman called them. Generalisation emerges from the data, notfrom a prior theoretical agenda. While Gluckman’s ‘The Bridge’ (1958 [1940]) wasthe inspiration, the method’s masterpieces are Mitchell’s (1956) monograph
The YaoVillage,
in which he followed witchcraft accusations in a single village over a periodof six years, and Turner’s (1957) Ndembu study where he first developed the conceptof social drama. The innovation lay in bringing under a unified analysis a long seriesof events that were separated in time and micro-setting. This stood in stark contrast tothe existing (and still common today) monographic practice of ‘apt illustration’, i.e.using unrelated ethnographic materials to support an overarching argument.Countering criticisms from Leach and others that the Manchester approach entailedthe obsessive collection of masses of data for their own sake, the Mancuniansdefended – and still defend – the method for its openness to the messy actualities of social life and capacity to yield unexpected insights. As Kapferer argues in the book’scoda, Gluckman and his associates were ahead of their time not only in theorisingsocial process; their very ethnographic practice was reflexively attuned to thedialectical process of data description and analysis. Their use of situated analysis andextended cases helped to weaken static notions of bounded collectivity such asvillage, community or society and created a new anthropological lexicon aimed atcapturing the flux and uncertainty of political life with notions such as social drama,social field, arena and action-set (see chapter by Kempny). The implications of thisshift are, of course, still being worked out today (see Amit and Rapport 2002).This book is a timely addition to the ongoing rethinking of practice theory after Bourdieu. As pointed out by the editors, American anthropology has long been besotted with aspects of Bourdieu’s theory of practice but has ignored the Manchester 
 
tradition. With its ethnographic grounding, attention to situated process, and stress onthe latent potentialities of social interaction for the structuring of social life (cf.Giddens 1984), the renewal of this social anthropological tradition signalled by the present study has much to offer cultural anthropologists in the United States andelsewhere. Undergraduate and MA anthropology students will benefit from the book’sseamless integration of historiography, theory and methodology – three domains thatare usually kept separate. For PhD students it should be required pre-fieldwork reading alongside one or two of the classic 1950s Manchester monographs where themethod and its theoretical import are best developed (e.g. Mitchell 1956, Turner 1957,Epstein 1958). In addition, those interested in placing the book within its direct lineof descent should read the edited volumes that followed the 1950s monographs(Swartz et al 1966, Epstein 1967, Mitchell 1969) as well as Turner’s (1974)magisterial
 Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors. John Postill 
Sheffield Hallam University, UK 
References
Amit, Vered and Nigel Rapport. 2002.
The Trouble with Community: Anthropological Reflections on Movement, Identity and Collectivity
. London: Pluto.Epstein, A.L. 1958.
 Politics in an Urban African Community
. Manchester:Manchester University Press.Epstein, A.L. (ed). 1967.
The Craft of Social Anthropology.
London: Social SciencePaperbacks in association with Tavistock Publications.Giddens, Anthony. 1984.
The Constitution of Society
. Cambridge: Polity Press.Gluckman, Max. 1958 [1940].
The Analysis of a Social Situation in Modern Zululand,
Rhodes-Livingstone Paper no. 28, Manchester: Manchester University Press for theRhodes-Livingstone Institute. Extract reprinted in Joan Vincent (ed) 2002
The Anthropology of Politics,
Oxford: Blackwell, 53-58.Gluckman, Max. 1961. Ethnographic data in British Social Anthropology.
Sociological Review
9 (1): 5-17.Mitchell, J. Clyde. 1956.
The Yao Village.
Manchester: Manchester University Pressfor the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute.Mitchell, J. Clyde (ed). 1969.
Social Networks in Urban Situations
. Manchester:Manchester University Press.Mitchell, J. Clyde. 1983. Case and situational analysis.
Sociological Review
31: 187-211.Swartz, Marc J., Victor W. Turner and Arthur Tuden. 1966.
 Political Anthropology.
Chicago: Aldine.

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