Brief Encounters, Dangerous Liaisons and Never-endingStories: The Politics of Serbian Ethnology and Anthro-pology in the Interesting Times of Yugoslav Socialism
I want to argue, however, that what limited our success among the powers constitutes anthropology’s strong point, and distinguishes itfrom its more prominent sister disciplines.(Eric Wolf 1999: 132)
In what was intended to become the last in a series of ‘apologetical retro-spections’, the late Clifford Geertz took to the task of relating the develop-ment of anthropology as a field of study to the ‘broader movements of contemporary history’.
Sketching his ‘broad-stroke’ approach to writingabout ‘the anthropological life’ in ‘interesting times’, Geertz shared with hisreaders an old wisdom of the trade according to which ‘there is very little inanthropology that is genuinely autonomous’ (Geertz 2002: 2).
In a wider ranging and less-personal, but equally broad-stroke effort to situate ‘anthro- pology among the powers’, Eric Wolf, the other towering figure of twenti-eth-century anthropology who left us recently, proposed to understand ‘thehistory of our endeavour, especially social anthropology, not only as an
As always, Geertz could not but suspend his readers in tightly knit webs of significance, thistime spun around Eric Hobsbawm’s reflections on how ‘interesting times’ shaped his ownexperiences of a ‘twentieth-century life’ (Hobsbawm 2002).
At a critical moment in the history of the discipline, the late Eric Wolf phrased the samewisdom in a more pronouncedly deterministic fashion: ‘Yet in no case could Americananthropology escape the dominant issue of the time, and its intellectual responses could notand cannot help but direct themselves to answering it, or to escaping from it. To that extent, atleast, the problems of the day enter into how we construct the picture of reality around whichwe organize our common understandings. As the reality shifts and changes, so our responsesto it must shift and change’ (Wolf 1974: 253). With age, his determinism seems to haveshifted and changed into a mellower and more nuanced outlook.