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A Different Kind of Knowledge?

Learning Anthropology in the Greek University System
Bakalaki, Alexandra.
Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 24, Number 2, October 2006, pp. 257-283 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2006.0016

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A Different Kind of Knowledge? Learning Anthropology in the Greek University System
Alexandra Bakalaki

Students drawn to anthropology value it more as a discourse providing a critical perspective on nationalist, ethnocentric representations of Greek society than as a source of knowledge about “others.” They appreciate the highly-regarded theoretical discourse of modern anthropology that promises to enlighten them about their “own” society and enable them to assume a cosmopolitan perspective that validates their own modernity and objectifies their distance from underdevelopment and tradition. The teachers of anthropology need to transcend bureaucratic notions such as the cost-effectiveness and marketability of knowledge in order to reclaim teaching as a process that involves them and their students as ethical and political subjects. In addition to turning the attention of students to study other societies and to document diversity in Greece in an effort to redress the problematic conflation of anthropology in Greece with the anthropology of Greece, anthropologists should also combat a tendency among students to “essentialize” cultural differences, to “culturalize” social inequalities that result from exclusionary practices, and to assume that it is natural for anthropologists to seek “others” among the less powerful and privileged.

Discussions about the status and prospects of anthropology in Greece have mainly focused on the discipline’s profile and history in the Greek university system and on the drawbacks or challenges of fieldwork “at home” because “Greece” has been the specialty focus of most Greek anthropologists (Bakalaki 1997; Gefou-Madianou 1993a, 1993b, 1998, 2000; Panopoulos 2003; Papataxiarchis 1999; Tsaoussis 1985). This paper will contribute to these discussions by slightly shifting the focus onto another substantive issue of teaching and learning anthropology in Greece—namely, the notions about the nature, aims, and relevance of anthropological knowledge among university students. There are several university departments that offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in anthropology as well as elective courses
Journal of Modern Greek Studies 24 (2006) 257–283 © 2006 by The Johns Hopkins University Press


as disciplinary knowledge and its theories travel. but also over the question of adapting the course to the local mindset/traditions and student expectations (cf. When anthropologists design a course syllabus. In turn. But plan as one may. “operations […] inevitably entail effects that could never be anticipated in the planning” (Strathern 2002:xvii). class.1 However. and they evaluate its relevance according to criteria that may vary from those of their professors. despite these differences and the differences arising from gender. such as anthropology. My generalizations here are not based on empirical research. they face some hard choices over the selection of topics and texts. are being superseded by concerns about the self-representations and future prospects of anthropology itself. they are often transformed in ways that are unintended or unbeknown to their carriers (Yang 1996:96). What teachers plan to communicate in the classroom does not always get across. it is still possible to cautiously generalize about the anthropological knowledge made available to the students and their response to it. It has been increasingly taken for granted that these prospects are being undermined by a “crisis of relevance” from which the discipline is suffering. and other distinctions among students.258 Alexandra Bakalaki for students who do not major in anthropology. Students interpret the information that they receive in the context of their own concerns. They are based on my experience as an anthropology instructor and the experience of other colleagues in Greece. Misunderstandings that occur in the classroom can be as frustrating and instructive as any misunderstandings that occur in the field. subsumes a wide variety of theoretical perspectives and practices .” of course. but it may also contribute to rethinking teaching as a coordinate of anthropological praxis. Clifford’s 1998:191). However. The dissemination of disciplinary knowledge is essential for the growth and reproduction of academic disciplines. Papataxiarchis 1999:233–241).2 My initial premise is that teaching and studying anthropology is a challenging but productive process. These anthropology departments vary in terms of their curricula and overall theoretical and epistemological orientations (Gefou-Madianou 2000:264. Attending to the ways in which anthropology is disseminated and (re)produced in the Greek university system may revitalize teaching practices in higher education in Greece. the professors’ understanding of local conditions and student needs or expectations may differ from that of the students. Relevant irrelevances Concerns—which were prevalent in the 1980s—about the relation between anthropological representations and the people or processes represented. The “discipline. Panopoulos 2002:198–200.

I have also found that students are more likely to give anthropology a chance when they see it as a way of comprehending their “own” society rather than when they view it as knowledge about distant “other” peoples and places. if not life as a whole. they essentially remain terms of protest. Listening to these students. “Relevance” is a term that can be vague or confusing unless it is used to ask specifically: “Relevant for whom? And relevant for what? But also.) and kamía schési (καμία σχέση) are part of the everyday language.” or by appeals to the self-evident . However. I have grown interested in the processes by which student disillusionment is reproduced and I have become concerned about the ways in which it might be addressed. Idiomatic Greek has no equivalent synonym for “relevance. or qualities displayed by people and things which are meaningless—in the sense that they are trivial.” Over the years I have become increasingly empathetic with the students’ disillusionment. experiences. skill or social sensitivity. University students often use the word “irrelevant” (áscheto/ άσχετο) to characterize both the knowledge that they receive and the formal procedures they are subjected to at each level of the educational system. The term implies multiple disjunctures between the formal and substantive aspects of education on the one hand. aschetíla (ασχετίλα.” but it has an equivalent antonym. redundant. Papataxiarchis 1999:241–244) in the students’ appreciation of anthropology as a source of knowledge about their familiar social world is disquieting. unpredictable. I often get the sense that they view student life. they refer to disagreeable situations. boring.” and the last one as “no relation. and (b) situations resulting from the actions of such people. as a ritual procession of “irrelevancies. As empty or overflowing signifiers. strange. especially in positions of power. Although I share this understanding. In addition. useless. the understanding that the identification of anthropology in Greece with the anthropology of Greece constitutes an imbalance (Gefou-Madianou 2000:270–272. Panopoulos 2003:200–202. who are lacking in knowledge. from this perspective. they are also used to characterize (a) people. and the students’ own curiosities and perceptions of what counts as valuable knowledge in the “outside world” on the other. relevant in what sense?” (Melhuus 2002:73). Clearly.” All of them are colloquialisms. I do not believe that the imbalance may be addressed or redressed by rhetorical reiterations of the dangers of “introversion” and “parochialism. or hard to contextualize. The first two words could be translated as “irrelevance” or “unrelatedness.A Different Kind of Knowledge? 259 that are pursued by people from different social settings and institutions with different professional identities and goals (Moore 1996:1). they have a broad range of meanings and a wide field of application. Aschetosíni (ασχετοσύνη).

. GefouMadianou 1993a. and after the passing of the 1982 Reformatory Law for Higher Education Institutions (Gefou-Madianou 1993:163–166. From a local perspective. Despite current misgivings about “introversion. . the faculty who worked for its establishment in the Greek university system were mainly “natives” who had specialized in the study of their “own” society. Financial constraints. 2000:254). in Gefou-Madianou’s phrase (1993a) “mirror[ed] ourselves on western texts. Surely.260 Alexandra Bakalaki values of “extroversion” and “cosmopolitanism.” A new and modern discipline Historically speaking. and socio-cultural change which modernized the Greek university system began after the fall of the junta in 1974 and accelerated after Greece was integrated into the European Community in 1981. But this is hindsight. 2000:258). I find that it is important to think deeper on the implicit meanings and values of knowledge about the “self. and economic transformations of Greece in the 1970s. The political. serving the most advanced versions of . an ambiguous ‘Westernization’” (Papataxiarchis 1999:233). “modernities” sometimes change in unpredictable ways. Undertaking it enabled them (a) to position themselves both as witnesses of and as participants in the political.” The personal pronoun refers both to “our” fieldwork sites as parts of “our own” society inhabited by “fellow natives. As in other developing countries to which anthropology was introduced relatively recently.” and on the processes and conditions which reinforce its primacy over knowledge about “others. social. and some proponents of modernization may feel betrayed by the modernity to which they aspired. The Greek western-trained anthropologists who started returning to Greece in the 1980s had.” and to “our own” intellectual and professional profiles.” it must be acknowledged that.” Rather. Ong suggests that “the kinds of theories scholars deploy secure them membership in particular modernities” (1996:84). “home” research was a prospect to which they turned with enthusiasm. the introduction of anthropology to Greek universities was part of a broader shift toward the diffusion of the discipline in developing and third-world countries—which had previously been of interest only as objects of anthropological attention. and had returned “home” after having studied abroad at universities outside of Greece. the unavailability of job opportunities in Greece for . administrative. economic. and (b) to engage in the emergent anthropological discussion concerning the dichotomy between “self” and “other” (Bakalaki 1997:506–509. it has been a symbol of “modernity. for most Greek senior anthropologists trained in Western Europe and in the United States.

The anthropology we envisioned introducing to Greece was. a field shared by long-established “traditional” disciplines like folklore or history. like ourselves. as representatives of a “native” counter-perspective and as rebellious contesters of the conservative academic establishment. “young. who were quite eager to accept “home” research dissertation proposals from foreign students. deploying the relevance of the anthropological study of “our own” society enabled us to negotiate the skepticism of conservative academics about anthropology. involved in the study of “our own” society. Even when we began to age. Trained abroad.A Different Kind of Knowledge? 261 anthropologists specializing in areas outside the home state. or whose authority we challenged. delicate. had already been subject to the gaze of important “western” ethnographers. “our” commitment to what Visweswaran (1994:101–104) has aptly called “homework” was common among fellow students from the “developing world. and other practical considerations notwithstanding. Shahrani 1994). After all. innovative. and having undertaken the introduction of anthropology to the Greek university. we kept deploying practically every positive meaning these metaphors may have. we have cast ourselves as heirs to prestigious disciplinary traditions. however. that “we” became aware of the “otherness” of “our” society and of “our own” status as “natives” (Bakalaki 1997. Commenting on views of anthropology widely shared among Greek folklorists and historians. After all.” If not actively encouraged. concentrating on the study of “our own” society. Papataxiarchis (2002:71–72) has isolated three . and by “our” desire to “see” “our own” history and society in a “new” light and from a “modern” perspective. At the same time. and potentially subversive. These contextual identities have rested on our status as junior faculty vis-à-vis those in whose footsteps we followed. and a quite consistent tradition of debate and dissent (Lambropoulos 1989:16). exciting. but also to substantiate our own claims of access to the academic establishment as innovators. “our own” society was not “owned” by “our” teachers or anthropology. seemed an effective strategy by which we might challenge the hegemony of these disciplines. and in need of support from the academic establishment. νέα). anthropology can take well-deserved credit for a continuous line of reflection and reformulation. It was largely through the prism of anthropological conceptualizations of cultural difference. but also as vigorous. Finally. “more than any other discipline involved in Modern Greek studies. which. therefore. “our” decision to undertake “home” fieldwork was also motivated by “our” disillusionment over the ethnocentric discourses then dominant in Greece.” and “new” and “modern” (néa. We have imaged anthropology as emergent and. Far from unique. it was also at least tolerated by “our” teachers.

are traceable to their having been raised with the ideal of obtaining a university degree. it is still quite expensive. students need at least two years of private tutoring in order to prepare for the university entry examinations which are administered annually . or “harder” disciplines. it is common among older ones to bracket the memory of their own youth. liminal. but also as subversive.” more established. Papataxiarchis 1999:234). In addition. To a large extent they viewed anthropology as a discourse that promised a perspective from which they might question official hegemonic narratives on Greek culture and society. When addressing younger people. and a third one represents it as a “seductress” (xelogiástra/ξελογιάστρα). Discredited myths and failed expectations (from bracelets to toilet paper) Like any university student population. I think that their responses may be comparable to the responses of the former students who were attracted to anthropology several decades ago. However. Despite the years that have passed and the now different conditions under which Greek students get an education. the Greek one is not homogeneous. the seductress metaphor reduces anthropology to a variety of post-structuralism or to a “soft” antidote to “hard” positivistic paradigms (see also Gefou-Madianou 2000:264–266. apart from their age. For example. it is common among teachers to emphasize the differences between themselves and their students and to resist comparisons which may question such differences. Likewise. these images also invite us to think about the encounter with anthropology as a catalyst for departures or escapes from familiar environs and recommended straight but narrow paths. marginal. or even illegitimate in relation to “older. Tsibiridou (2003:14) likens anthropology to a “journey in the course of which one meets a witch of our times. The students’ sense that the educational system subjects them to a great variety of “irrelevances” makes some of them susceptible to the charms of anthropology as a “different” kind of knowledge and practice.262 Alexandra Bakalaki stereotypes: The first stereotype conflates anthropology with folklore. Introducing a French textbook translated into Greek. Although higher education is tuition-free in Greece.” These metaphors are richly ambiguous. the second construes it as complementary to folklore and other disciplines. They portray anthropology as attractive and tempting. and to their having been processed by the same rigid bureaucratic education system. especially history. students do share certain characteristics which. and to criticize the institutional practices by which these narratives were reproduced. As Papataxiarchis (2002:72) notes.

document the failed expectations of those who have invested money. As for the employment prospects of anthropology graduates. which is preferably a permanent white collar job (GefouMadianou 2000:274. aims at broadening both the scope and the base of Greek higher education. the departments in which students are finally placed are those in which they manage to meet the entry exams grade point average and for which they may have little or no interest. n. where competition is very high. an inalienable.A Different Kind of Knowledge? 263 by the Ministry of National Education and Religion. and the infrastructure necessary for their function is often limited. time. university is still considered a necessary interim step in the course of a long process that begins with elementary school and ideally leads to one’s employment or “accommodation” (taktopoíisi/ τακτοποίηση). In all Greek universities women are the majority of enrolled students in anthropology courses. reinforces the students’ sense that the university caters mainly to the “accommodation” of its gate-keepers. valuable possession which marks status and upward mobility. and effort to obtain them. with references to Tsoukalas 1986:119. The policy of the Greek government. the male students who include the humanities and the social sciences in the sliding scale of their preferred fields. the bureaucratic constraints imposed on university institutions remain hard and rigid. they view this as a compromise. The metaphor points out that these diplomas. 128 and 1996:31). and that for . they have been poor from the beginning. Those who pass the entry exams and are admitted to various university departments away from their home towns incur living and travel expenses to attend school. This policy has largely been promoted in the name of the need to establish closer links between higher learning institutions and the market. which is European-oriented and. The integration of new fields of study in the university system has also been accompanied by a liberal rhetoric which presents education as the road to self-fulfillment and personal growth. despite the cost and the high rates of unemployment among graduates. However. The sense of disjuncture between this “modern” rhetoric and the reality in most Greek universities. This metaphor also contrasts sharply with the now passé metaphor of the university degree as a “bracelet” (vrahióli/βραχιόλι). Not surprisingly. Commonly called hartiá (χαρτιά)—meaning “documents” or “papers”—university diplomas are also referred to as “toilet paper” (kolóharta/κωλόχαρτα). to a large extent.8.4 Nevertheless. Except for fields like medicine. instead of testifying to marketable knowledge or skill. the market value of university degrees in well-established fields has been steadily diminishing. However. funded by the European Union.3 Nevertheless. are fewer than the female students.

I don’t believe it’s true. but they believe that they would at least get them a passing grade. “more of the same” (miá ap’ ta ídhia/μιά απ’τα ίδια). students resort to clichés concerning the superiority of the Hellenic civilization and the continuities between Ancient and Modern Greek culture. and if saying it has made our life easier. nationalist clichés also reflects their experience-grounded understanding that academic knowledge is as “irrelevant” to them as their own responses are to what they were taught—from the perspective of the formal approach of school textbooks and the requirements of the exam-oriented education system (Kondogiannopoulou-Polydorides. Some students replace clichés with ideas that may seem equally “irrelevant” to them. given the persistent ethnocentrism of the Greek education system. biological or psychological determinism.264 Alexandra Bakalaki themselves. first year undergraduate students usually resort to the strategies by which they managed to meet the demands of high school and university entry exams. they cram before the finals trying to memorize as much as they can. the students’ recourse to ethnocentric. common sense.5 However. This is hardly surprising. When presented with questions that do not request factual data but some kind of interpretation. but up to now we assumed that’s what we were supposed to say. and grand theory Casting the university in terms of the experiences they have gone through. Between cultural critique. 2000:257–258. a longstanding orientation that played a significant role in obstructing the emergence of anthropology and social science in general (Gefou-Madianou 1993a:163–164. what’s the harm?” Another student who failed an exam said the following: “I personally disagree with the idea that tradition runs in our blood. However. inculcated during their primary and secondary education. Doing as little reading as possible during the semester. higher education is a transitional phase—comparable to military service—in which draftees are temporarily trapped. and assumptions about the nature of progress that increases with civilization. But I thought that in a formal exam that was what I was supposed to write. Kottoula and Dimopoulou 2000). we know we are not really the direct descendents of Pericles and Socrates. Along with various forms of geographic. apart from reflecting the education to which they have been exposed. Papartaxiarchis 1999:232–233). some of these students were shocked when their common sense notions were challenged and . A student said the following in a class: “Of course. they fall back on a wide range of taken-for-granted essentialisms.” Sooner or later students realize that ethnocentric clichés will not earn a passing grade for them.

In short.” they are content with reducing the relevance of the cross-cultural perspective to bare and abstract antiethnocentric principles—from the perspective of which they may criticize the ideological underpinnings of other disciplines also represented in the curriculum. archaeology. and culture. initial disbelief at being encouraged to question “truths” that were taken for granted was transformed into expectant curiosity. but both their meanings and the purposes to which they are used may be very different.” The fact that anthropology’s cross-cultural or comparative perspective is superfluous from the point of view of other disciplines. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that the terminological vocabulary of anthropology overlaps in part with the vocabulary of other disciplines. Moreover.e. “[e]ven in the classroom. the study of Greek history. at least initially. However. subversive discourse. are often doubtful about the value of cross-cultural study. which empowers them to question dominant representations of Greek society and history.” or “identity” are common in all three contexts. Bakalaki 1997:512–514). the offering of elective courses in anthropology reflects the conservative image of anthropology being tied to long-established and better-known disciplines—like history. For example. But these electives also appear legitimate from the perspective of contemporary epistemological and institutional developments toward interdisciplinarity or multidisciplinarity (Panopoulos 2003:196–197. Melanesian. society.” “individual. As Gefou-Madianou (2000:269) notes. and folklore.” “society. Students are attracted to anthropology because they perceive it as a radical. However. representatives of the disciplines with which anthropology coexists. and perhaps to understand the processes of their construction and their ideological functions.” “social relations. Assuming that such knowledge is auxiliary rather than essential to understanding “themselves. but also with that used in everyday language (see Strathern 1987. In part. Notions like “culture. they tend to conflate “culture” with “civilization”—both can be rendered as “politismós” . material concerning African. In that case. However. students tend to assume that these notions refer to social realities modeled after the “here” and “now” that they are familiar with. Papataxiarchis 1999:233–234).A Different Kind of Knowledge? 265 subjected to critique.. their interest in their “own” society is not necessarily accompanied by interest in learning about “other” societies. undermines the prospects of interdisciplinary exchanges. they appreciate anthropological thinking as a cultural critique. it misleads students to think that the relevance of anthropology lies in its potential to contribute to the self-evidently relevant prospect to which more established disciplines are committed—i. South American ethnography is criticized by many non-anthropologists as irrelevant.

if this knowledge does not lead to any definite conclusion. many professors resort to showing ethnographic films. and they concentrate mainly on geographical subdivisions within which Greece itself is situated—the Mediterranean. it is standard practice for most courses to integrate cross-cultural data in the context of topics like kinship. religion. such data serve the purpose of illustrating cultural variation. The most obvious way to subvert these assumptions is by offering courses of a comparative orientation. or the Balkans. However. gender. namely that it will provide them with answers to broader questions. Faced with what they take to be repetitive illustrations of cultural variation. for example. and “academic. but. film screenings are not always easy to fit in the course schedule and the facilities for showing films are often lacking. abstract. Disconnected from any actual context. but their presentation is usually fragmentary. like those concerning. In the context of thematic courses. the “causes” of social change and inequality. they also seem somewhat arbitrary. they cannot substitute for the reading of texts on ethnography (see Firth 1992:221). or politics. they grow impatient: “What is the point of learning that the X-group does this and the Y-group does that. the former being handmaiden to the latter. or of exemplifying theoretical points. However. Among the reasons for this are the specializations and interests of Greek anthropologists. In addition.266 Alexandra Bakalaki (πολιτισμός) in Greek—to assume that “cultures” are bounded entities co-extensive with “nations. Europe. and if two interpretations cancel each other out?”7 A student who enrolled in my course on Economic Anthropology said to me recently: No offense.” Under these conditions. because they are orally transmitted. the constitution of human nature. ethnographic courses on areas other than Greece are few. but Dimitris and I have decided not to attend your lectures. or the emergence and reproduction of cultural difference. For many students the prospect of being presented with “theoretical” generalizations is part of a positive expectation that they have from anthropology. “irrelevant. With the exception of Greek ethnography. they seem distant.” in other words. or lacking in objectivity.” or that “society” and “the individual” refer to two entities which are inherently oppositional.6 This shortage means that students have to make do with the ethnographic data presented in the classroom. more importantly. We will do the required reading. no matter how useful films may be. the shortage of ethnographic texts in Greek. The difficulties involved in effectively presenting ethnographic material reinforce the assumption that ethnography and theory are two different enterprises. and also read some additional texts on . Moreover.

Reiterating sophisticated theoretical terms gives some students pleasure and even a sense of power. and to appreciate the ways in which they build on older models and/or challenge.” I have often found that the impenetrability of the anthropological jargon inspires not only avoidance. For example. Students often explicitly state . The emergent impression is that the history of anthropology constitutes a linear trajectory. I am faced with the retort: “And you. the students’ lack of familiarity with “classical. What you give us in class is fine. “Theory” is often shorthand for causal explanations and patterns which students take to be politically relevant. this does not necessarily mean that they think these texts are “irrelevant” in the sense of “uninteresting” or “indifferent. where did you do fieldwork?” The fact that I have not practiced what I preach is only one of the reasons why it is difficult to subvert their notions about the value of anthropology as self-knowledge. because it is seen as emblematic of a highly specialized. transform. Those students who are closer to feminism are curious about universal accounts concerning the roots for the oppression of women. prestigious discourse. We are interested in theoretical perspectives. Unfortunately. or re-invoke them in different guises. We would rather concentrate on theory. Students generally complain that theoretical texts are difficult to read even in translation. who are few and usually above average in terms of aptitude. but also respect. when trying to impress on students that anthropology is a cross-cultural discipline. which question ethnographic authority and focus on the contexts and conventions of the production of anthropological representations. those students who are closer to the Communist Party are both curious and suspicious about the reason why anthropologists are generally hostile to uni-linear evolutionary schemes. students who perceive anthropology as a primarily theoretical discourse often develop an interest in contemporary perspectives. are often disappointed by the fragmentary nature of anthropological knowledge and the emphasis on the partiality and position of ethnographic accounts. However. whereby older ideas are being replaced by new more interesting ones. especially the theory of transformation [of modes of production]. However. Such students.” conventional approaches and realist ethnography interferes with their ability to put contemporary theoretical viewpoints in perspective. but there is too much detail.A Different Kind of Knowledge? 267 political economy. too much specific information on who does what. Studying “others” is a luxury “we” cannot afford Time and again. precisely because they feel that these theoretical terms are beyond their grasp (see Karim 1996:130).

when you mentioned things about rural or traditional ways. we have come a long way. but I make a fool of myself learning about primitives—as if our own village were Paris. During class. Interestingly. they both claim a modern perspective for themselves—a perspective from which they can discern the distance between their “own” society and the “modern” world. They can be interested in what is happening in Indonesia. Plus. 1997) and other ethnographers have noted (Bakalaki 1994. Another student who had taken three of my courses in at the University of Thessaloniki and was preparing for graduate study in history in Denmark said: Greece is not a large country. 1987.A. I think to myself. while the second student assumes the perspective of a subsequent developmental “stage” from which Greece lags behind. among Greeks reflexivity about . and money into a degree that is worthless from the point of view of the job market. However. they have to look after themselves first. or who are simply becoming extinct. Cowan 1992. but the people in places like Indonesia cannot afford to become interested in the lifestyles of other third world countries. nor is it modern and developed like the U. because they don’t even know the meaning of the word. We are still at that stage. The first student assumes an outsider’s position from which his village seems parochial. time. 1998). 1992. France or Germany. who was attending my introductory anthropology course at the University of the Aegean in Mytilini confided: When I go back to the village I am embarrassed to tell people that I study anthropology. marginal. parochial. but then I think there is still a long way more to go. peripheral to the “modern” world.S.268 Alexandra Bakalaki that they have little interest in learning about peoples who are backward. I remembered my grandmother. because so much here has changed. As Herzfeld (1982. this is not because they situate their “own” society at the center of the modern world. who are excluded from it. A first-year student from a farming family in central Macedonia. They have problems of their own. And he added in self-irony: Not only am I putting effort. I tell them that we learn about tribes and things and then I get even more embarrassed. England. The above students question the value of learning about “primitive” or “third world” peoples on the basis of the understanding that finding such knowledge interesting is the prerogative of those people who are securely situated in modernity. 1991. The people in these countries have easy access to the rest of the world. When they ask me what it is about. it is interesting to learn about Greece. I have heard a lot from her about what life in the village was like.

the reification . At the same time. it is also attractive because it is part of a modern.8 Hardly a local construct. Notwithstanding the unease this representation causes among anthropologists and the critiques of the anthropological concept of culture to which it has given rise (e. Herzfeld 2001:28. The idea that the study of “others” is relevant from the perspective of modern. It featured three artifacts from Greece. that we will have become alienated from our own culture? The question implies that commitment to the ways of one’s “own” culture and appreciation for the ways of “others” are mutually exclusive. society. and various aspects of everyday life has been predicated on comparisons between Greece and the modern “west. Interestingly. described himself as a “Marxist”: If we really manage to get used to what you call relativism. allows them to assume an outsider’s position by distancing themselves from “underdevelopment. bounded cultures. and we also get to see the world as they do—assuming such a thing is possible—won’t this mean that we will have forgotten who we are.” as well as on perceptions of the ways in which modern westerners perceive and evaluate Greeks and their ways. Stolcke 1995). the cultural “self” about whom students are eager to learn. However. the presentation of these tokens of cultural difference as objects of appreciation rested on the same assumption as the fear of cultural alienation voiced by my student. it is being increasingly popularized and vigorously politicized in Europe and the United States. Kuper 1999. “western” discourse which is still new to the Greek academia. under the slogan “Toward a civilization of civilizations” (Gia énan politismó ton politismón/ Για έναν πολιτισμό των πολιτισμών). and we get to see other people as they see themselves.A Different Kind of Knowledge? 269 the nation-state. the prospect of such distancing can be disquieting when it is interpreted as a sign of estrangement from one’s cultural roots. developed societies enables them to construe their own society as not having reached that stage. Namely. the representation of a culture as a person writ large is a longstanding metaphor. The student who posed the following question. This is exactly the contradiction which a giant poster issued by the Ministry of Culture celebrating the upcoming 2004 Olympics aimed to redress.” In other words. it deployed the idea that the world is made up of discreet. viewing their own society as an object of anthropological study. Apart from glossing international conflicts as cultural clashes.g. Asia. and Africa. While for students Greek ethnography is relevant because of its subject matter. The religiously minded and the politically conservative are not the only ones who express worry. is a self they would rather leave behind.

as research and teaching practices are increasingly oriented toward the production of useful. commitment to one’s cultural heritage is predicated on the understanding that this national estate is of value in the context of an international market. appear to subsume a major conflict of principle and interest with implications for practically every aspect of higher education. there is an emergent solidarity across disciplines among academics who feel that aligning the university with the job market poses a threat to the academic integrity and autonomy.9 Different relevances and relevant differences As I mentioned before. isolation. These two notions of relevance. In this sense the students’ eagerness to learn about their “own” culture has more to do with the fact that tourism is one of the few viable industries in Greece than with the traditional ethnocentrism of the educational system. Those who oppose the corporate mentality conceive relevance as the capacity of academic disciplines to generate knowledge. the aspirations of Greek anthropologists to establish an outwardly-oriented.270 Alexandra Bakalaki of cultural difference legitimates the commodification of products and performances as tokens of distinct cultural heritages. practical. it is not parochialism. Rather than an index of parochialism. which are both self-evidently benign (cf. there is an emergent disillusionment over the promotion of measures aiming at subjecting university institutions to international standards of productivity. . Strathern 2002:xv). but the subjection of the Greek university system to the policies of the European Union about higher education. Those who favor extending the corporate ethos to the university. cosmopolitan anthropological tradition are being disappointed. In this context. or distance from metropolitan academic centers that threatens the prospects of Greek anthropology. The debate concerning the applicability of a market approach to higher education centers on the concept of relevance. perhaps the relation between them is more complex. Greek anthropologists have looked up to the modernization of the university as a prospect that would encourage the growth of the discipline. define the relevance of academic knowledge in terms of marketability and cost-effectiveness. According to Gefou-Madianou (2000:259). However. cost-effective. In Europe and beyond. and marketable knowledge. But. Greek anthropologists are not the only ones worried about these policies. which may be used toward addressing contemporary issues in ways that are both critical and meaningful to the wider public (Melhuus 2002:73–74). although modernization is still valued as a process that undermines traditionalist ethnocentrism.

Moore 1996:13–14). including teaching (Amit 2001. at least unrelated. All too often. it seems that the prospect of (re)claiming the university as a place of learning requires that anthropology teachers also (re)claim themselves as ethical and political subjects. insofar as it enables teachers to be more effective in guiding students to distance themselves from .A Different Kind of Knowledge? 271 In the context of anthropological theorizing. However. From the perspective of these misgivings. it is dangerous to conflate the classroom with the field. However. although relevance is assessed by qualitative criteria. Like the tendency to see resistance everywhere. the fact that anthropology has an audience of non-specialists which mostly consists of students. Despite widely shared agreement among anthropologists that the audience of anthropology should be broadened. Awareness of the ways in which students contextualize and interpret the knowledge addressed to them is necessary. they must face up to the responsibility of influencing the criteria on the basis of which students assess relevance (Melhuus 2002:76. although anthropological knowledge is as social in character as any other kind of knowledge (Herzfeld 2001:21–34). The concerns of these highly qualified academics are often perceived as reflections of the concerns of the oppressed and dispossessed victims of western hegemony (Kahn 1995:134). the “non-specialists” (among whom the relevance of anthropology is indexed) are largely faculty in other disciplines that also compete for public attention—in addition to the increasing number of “postcolonial” or “subaltern” cultural critics (Englund and Leach 2000:225). Harries-Jones 1996. which. Giri 2001. Karim 1996:135. 252. This means that rather than merely accommodating the students’ needs for relevant knowledge. Englund and Leach 2000:239. if not mutually exclusive. The anthropologists have failed to recognize the “others” among whom they do fieldwork—as producers of knowledge that is coeval with anthropological knowledge—is a common form of self-criticism (Moore 1996:6. Strathern 1997). Karim 1996:135). and (b) an increasing awareness that the pressures these conditions impose detract time and energy from reflecting about the substantive aspects of academic endeavors. the “relevance” of knowledge and its marketability are. according to Maddox (2001:186) is “a symptom of an alienating and repressive sublimation. is forgotten. there is (a) a growing skepticism about the “factory conditions” to which anthropologists must adapt in order to rescue their careers.” the idealization of relevance offers a way of casting conformity to ever-rising standards of productivity as an index of disciplinary growth and commitment to critical or counter-hegemonic perspectives. Filitz 2001:250. it is also conceptualized as a value amenable to maximization and thus to quantitative measurement. However.

In addition. On the basis of my own teaching experience. as well as the skill of deploying formulaic language for writing or speaking without thinking. also designed according to the needs of prospective consumers—a vision which may become all the more pernicious if disguised as anthropological relativism. a modicum of mystification or fetishization fuels desire for knowledge. But it also requires equal distance from the liberal vision of academic knowledge as a commodity. Rimoldi 2001. I often feel that perhaps the eagerness of some to jump on the wagon of prestigious “modern” discourses. intra-disciplinary constraint. McDonald 2001.272 Alexandra Bakalaki common sense notions. Strathern 2001a. I have already suggested that students often regard sophisticated terms as metonymic representations of prestigious discourses. But. Harries-Jones 1996:158. Facing up to this task requires that teachers themselves assume a critical distance from the hyper-professional criteria according to which one’s interlocutors are limited to fellow academics. Bakalaki 1997:515. students have internalized the notion that knowledge is a “thing. exclusionary. are not yet standard practice. innovations. its purification from risks. Karim 1996:129–130). is a sublimation of their frustrated capacity for self-expression—from which they have been dispossessed. and reinforces indifference if not aversion to critical thinking (Giri 2001. is not. As a teacher. In Greece. the question is how much and what kind of mystification is advisable? . but the assumption that the extent to which a discourse is inviting or challenging depends on its accessibility. Those opposing the institution of such procedures. and in providing insights into new ways of looking at the world. which subject academic teaching to student evaluations and to assessments regarding the marketability of knowledge in university settings. draw on criticisms by academics working in higher education institutions both within and outside the European Union. Having gone through the Greek educational system. tailored to compete successfully with other equivalent commodities. perhaps. Giri 2001. where such procedures are firmly established. and intellectual challenges.” the possession of which upgrades one’s status. If so. The latter point out that the enfranchisement of students as consumers or customers encourages the bureaucratization of the educational process. which also limits the relevance of such theorizing among non-specialists and students (Abu-Lughod 1991:143. Shore and Wright 2001. b). hierarchical. precisely because they depart form everyday language. many anthropologists have also argued that the insulated. jargon can be mystifying. Clearly. The idea that jargon is incompatible with egalitarian language politics is self-evident. 152. audit procedures. and alienating language of much anthropological theorizing constitutes an inherent.

” “home” and “abroad. Although the ensuing obstacles are being felt in . rather than referring to a fixed identity.” encages anthropologists into thinking in terms of dichotomies like “here” and “there. Indeed. Clifford 1997. Sahlins 1999:v. Englund and Leach 2000:238). Bourdieu has analyzed the ways in which university instruction in France mystifies and reproduces the privilege of professors with exceptional clarity (Bourdieu and Passeron 1985). this idea and the concomitant faith in the deployment of the ways of “others” as a perspective from which to engage in the cultural critique of one’s “own” society (see Marcus and Fischer 1986). and what kind of identifications one wants to avoid. from which to deconstruct western hegemony. bureaucratic. Rising financial. has repeatedly reiterated his commitment to critical thinking which challenges common sense notions and his aversion for the kind of discourse which is easily accessible and “well received because it tells its audience only what they want to hear” (1995:viii).” or “us and “them. On the other hand. Ortner 1984:143. autonomous language. The apparent contradiction is resolved if. desire. the ritual word in which those of whom one speaks and for whom one speaks no longer ‘recognize themselves’” (Bourdieu 1995:90. have recently been problematized from two very different points of view. Yang 1996:107–108). Some anthropologists have argued that the search for counterpoints. At the same time. an author whose writing style is notoriously complex. Narayan 1993). has contributed to the establishment of an inward looking tendency whereby the study of “others” is legitimized as a means of understanding of the cultural “self” (e. He has also addressed the political implications of the use of “ready-made formula.” This detracts them from problematizing “the unity of the ‘us’ and the otherness of the ‘other’ and question[ing] the radical separation between the two” (Gupta and Ferguson 2001:43. and perhaps also fear—that is.g. but also fantasy. Malkki 1997. see also Abu-Lughod 1991. However. and governmental constraints are making “traditional” long-term fieldwork in distant places difficult even for anthropologists affiliated with prestigious metropolitan institutions (Clifford 1997:217. Gupta and Feguson 1997. notions and emotions about who one wants to identify with. it has been pointed out that cultural critique as mediated by exposure to the ways of “others. automatic. It is important to take into account the fact that both of these positions are being put forth at a time when anthropological practice is undergoing considerable transformations. my emphasis). Ong 1996:61–62. the idea that one’s self-recognition is transformed through exposure to the ways of “others” has been a common assumption among anthropologists.A Different Kind of Knowledge? 273 Pierre Bourdieu. one thinks of “self recognition” as a dynamic process which implicates not only experience.

objective perspective. this perspective is all but absent from ethnic or minority studies. it may reinforce reified and essentialist notions of cultural difference and identity. Maddox 2001:288–289). the question of “how are these ethnographers to make their Other” is still addressed primarily to anthropologists who. it is too early to tell whether it will outbalance the prevalent tendency for “home” fieldwork. After all. a household writ large. There is a growing body of ethnographic work on ethnic groups and minorities and an emergent interest in the study of immigrants living in Greece.” and consequential in terms of social practice than their own. Nevertheless. As Karakasidou (2000) notes. but also presenting them with a critical view of the mainstream anthropological practice whereby the people studied are less powerful and more marginal than those studying them (Nader 1974. “authentic. Gefou-Madianou 2001:269–270) and an invaluable resource of ethnographic material. Not surprisingly. Thus. Counting themselves among the majority and situating themselves in the “mainstream” of social life. Greek anthropologists are concerned that their heretofore failure to seek their “others” elsewhere will continue. the standard anthropological strategy whereby the “other” is sought out within one’s “own” society (Argyrou 1999. students often assume that the cultural identities of immigrants. which may be evoked in order to destabilize the hegemonic representation of Greece as a homogeneous society—in Herzfeld’s terms. and one which has often yielded excellent results. and ethnographic research documenting internal diversity are promising strategies toward the enrichment of . see also Bakalaki 1997:513–516.274 Alexandra Bakalaki the Euro-American academic centers where cross-cultural research is a longstanding practice. in Greece the idea that immigrants are culturally different and that their “otherness” is both readily discernible and problematic is largely viewed as a self-evident truth (Bakalaki 2003). minority or “local” people are more fixed. by choice or necessity. turning students’ attention to differences “within” may entail some dangers. and a place in mainstream society (Douglas 1992:3–21. research their own kind (Weston 1997:170). Rosaldo 1988). Namely. More generally. attributing culture to “others” empowers one to claim a bias-free. unitary. undermining the students’ tendency to “culturalize” others requires not only enabling them to question their own assumptions about the nature of cultural identity. 2000) is continuing to be a popular option. Fieldwork among these non-Greek populations is a means of transcending the mono-culturalism of Greek anthropology (Panopoulos 2003:201–202. Although there is some hopeful evidence of an emergent trend among younger anthropologists to carry out fieldwork abroad. Meanwhile. Although enlargement of the geographic range within which Greek anthropologists do fieldwork.

Its final version owes a lot to the editing of Natasa Tsagarakou. The Department of History and Ethnology at the University of Thrace was established in 1991. Many thanks to Costas Douzinas and Michael Fotiadis for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. and Folkore to Department . I dedicate this paper to Liz Kennedy. But commitment to respectability and commitment to the understanding that anthropology can be and should be subversive. or at least “uncomfortable. it was renamed Department of Social Anthropology and History. I am also indebted to the anonymous reviewers of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies who were very thorough with their comments on my paper. ordinary practices. In 1990 the Panteion School of Political and Social Sciences in Athens established the Department of Social Policy and Social Anthropology. The most recent joint department was established at the University of Thessaly in Volos in 1999. over the years. The prospect may not necessarily be conducive to disciplinary respectability. The history of anthropology in the Greek university goes back to the early 1980s. In other words.” it is important to help them unlearn idioms of privilege. I thank my colleagues and students who. and the socially excluded. when anthropology courses were included in the curriculum of the Department of Sociology at the Panteion School and in the Faculty of History and Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. which render the value of hegemonic perspectives and practices transparent by naturalizing them as a-cultural (Visweswaran 1994:98). is the only stand-alone anthropology department in Greece.” as Firth (1992:218) would have it. In 2004 the two disciplines were divided and the Department of Social Anthropology. now part of Panteion University. and hegemonic ideas of the sensible at home and abroad are no less cultural than the ways of the poor. in 2001. Archaelogy. the minorities. shared with me their views on anthropological education in Greece. and the propertied and educated elite. The Department of Social Anthropology at the University of the Aegean admitted its first graduate students in 1987 and its first undergraduates two years later. and to remind them that mainstream. are not necessarily compatible. ARISTOTLE UNIVERSITY OF THESSALONIKI NOTES Acknowledgements. with gratitude and love. my teacher. In 2001 its name was changed from Department of History. I hope that my views will interest them.” Thus. neither one of them in itself promotes the de-naturalization of “studying down. I think it is important to interest students in research among the urban middle class.A Different Kind of Knowledge? 275 anthropological practice in Greece. 1 For a preliminary exploration of some of the issues presented here see Bakalaki 2002. along with encouraging students to learn about “others. and unmarked identities.

and Petralias and Theotokas 1999. Historians and social scientists. Archaeology. Avdela (1995:61) concludes that what students end up with is “an exceptionally traditional. but omitted the part on the American Firewalking (see Paradellis 1995). 2 I taught in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of the Aegean in Mytilini between 1987 and 2000. anthropology courses are also taught in the Department of Cultural Technology and Communications at the University of the Aegean. On developments which took place in the Greek university after the implementation of the 1982 Reformatory Law for Higher Education Institutions. University students are entitled to a free copy of the one or two books assigned as textbooks in each of the courses in which they enroll. Voulgaris 2000).276 Alexandra Bakalaki of History. Finally. and the Department of Sociology in the School of Social Sciences of the same university. 6 The curriculum of the newly established Department of Balkan. and on the establishment of anthropology as an academic discipline see Gefou-Madianou 2000:257–263. Slavic. Metaxas 2000. the market for anthropology books has increased as the number of anthropology students has grown. Presumably the omission was due to the assumption that the Greek public is not interested in books about other cultures. and investing in such books would be risky. Since then. established in 2003. Filitz’s (2000) excellent account of the structural problems and policy inconsistencies in Austrian higher education provides a perspective for comparison. and Cultural Heritage Management at the University of the Peloponese. and linear historical narrative. Since then I have been teaching in the Department of Modern and Contemporary History. Ten years ago. the Program of Folklore in the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Ioannina. and Oriental Studies of the University of Macedonia includes several comparative ethnography courses focusing on the Balkans and Eastern Europe. and homogeneous entity (Askouni 2000. which is intensely ethnocentric. and Social Anthropology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. the Department of Philosophy and Social Studies in the School of Philosophy at the University of Crete. who participated in a research program indexing conceptions about history among adolescents. 3 On the regional background variation among Greek university students see Stamelos and Sivri 1995. Folklore. also affirm that young people have an ethnocentric orientation toward the Greek nation. The fact that this orientation by no means precludes positive attitudes toward “Europe” as a cultural entity and toward Greece’s integration in the European Community (Dragonas and Bar-On 2000. Archaeology. Lambropoulos and Psacharopoulos 1990. 4 For a review of the “perennial debate” on the state of Greek education see Psacharopoulos 1995. Folklore. and which leaves no room for critical thinking” (see also Avdela 2000). event-oriented. transcendental. Several older university departments also offer anthropology courses as electives. which they perceive as an a-historical. 5 Having studied both the content of history and the teaching methods used especially in primary school. Prodromou 2000).” including fellow Europeans. and Social Anthropology. Usually the anthropology books translated . For critical views on the Greek university see Gavroglou 1981. the “rhetorical haughtiness” by which Greek youth express their ethnocentrism. Metaxas (2000) points out that the intensity. Among them are the Department of Modern and Contemporary History. may be a function of their need to defend Greece against actual or putative criticisms by “others. and Social Anthropology in the Faculty of History and Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. the publisher of the Greek translation of Danforth’s book on firewalking (1995) included the part on the Anastenaria. In fact. and in the Department of History. established in 2000. Hantzi and Abakumkin 2000. suggests that ethnocentrism is not a vestige or a survival from the past that will disappear on its own in the face of modernization.

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