Between structure and No-thing, ed. Patrick J. Devlieger

Second paragraph of third essay (“On Social Structure”, by A.R. Radcliffe-Browne):

I hope you will pardon me if I begin with a note of personal explanation. I have been described on more than one occasion as belonging to something called the “Functional School of Social Anthropology” and even as being its leader, or one of its leaders. This Functional School does not really exist; it is a myth invented by Professor Malinowski. He has explained how, to quote his own words, “the magnificent title of the Functional School of Anthropology has been bestowed by myself, in a way on myself, and to a large extent out of my own sense of irresponsibility.” Professor Malinowski’s irresponsibility has had unfortunate results, since it has spread over anthropology a dense fog of discussion about “functionalism.” Professor Lowie has announced that the leading, though not the only, exponent of functionalism in the nineteenth century was Professor Franz Boas. I do not think that there is any special sense, other than the purely chronological one, in which I can be said to be either the follower of Professor Boas or the predecessor of Professor Malinowski. The statement that I am a “functionalist,” or equally the statement that I am not, would seem to me to convey no definite meaning.

As stated previously, I’ve been a big fan of anthropology for many years, without ever having formally studied it; this is quite a decent selection of classic essays on the discipline, of which my favourite were the Radcliffe-Browne piece cited above, Lévi-Strauss’ “The Structural Study of Myth”, Clifford Geertz’ “Think Description”, Sherry Ortner’s “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?”, and Lila Abu-Lughod’s “The Interpretation of Culture(s) after Television”. I still don’t feel I know as much as I’d like about anthropology, but my ignorance has been elevated to a new level.

Unfortunately the editorial structure provided by Devlieger is very poor to the point of being unprofessional. The essays appear to have been processed by OCR, and very inadequately proof-read; Devlieger’s own foreword is in very poor English, as are many of his footnotes. It’s a shame that the editor did not seek some editorial assistance himself.

This was the non-fiction book which had lingered longest on my unread shelf. Next in order is The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony, by Stephen Schwartz, but I’m going to wait until I’ve cleared my sf acquisitions of 2009 before starting seriously on the 2010 pile.

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