I was hoping that a discussion of my first post would push me to think harder about Canadian anthropology in light of American and European traditions and the comments have done that. Jesse pointed me to a fascinating article in the Canadian Journal of Sociology which sets up such intellectual disarray among Canadian sociologists (McLaughlin 2005) that I see the anthropology discussion more clearly as a debate. As Jesse notes, however, some of what McLaughlin says about Canadian sociology does resonate with discussions of Canadian anthropology; the impact of anti-Americanism, the small population in a geographically large country, are relevant to discussions of the distinctiveness of Canadian anthropology.
The question of a distinctively national anthropology in Canada can be addressed on a number of levels. Institutional links to sociology are common. A large amount of research has been conducted by scholars trained elsewhere. Anthropological support for aboriginal rights goes back to the early 1900s. These characteristics are not unique to Canada but they are emphasized here.
Given the size of the country and the number of ‘cultural areas’ within it, it also seems wise to consider Canadian anthropology in light of regions like the west, Ontario, the Maritimes, the eastern Subarctic, or the Arctic. Nancy’s comments about Franophone and Anglophone anthropology in Canada are mindful of this regionalism. Coming to Shore, a recent book of collected essays on Northwest Coast (NWC) anthropology in honour of Lévi-Strauss, exemplifies the value of such an approach. In their introduction, Mauzé, Harkin, and Kan review the academic traditions that inform NWC scholarship (2004). They argue that it is impossible to separate Canadian and American traditions of anthropology and that successful cross-pollination of ideas has occurred. In the same volume, Darnell demonstrates the relationship between Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism and Boasian anthropology – and by doing so, draws European scholarly traditions into the mix with Canadian and American traditions. Does this, then, leave us still with the notion that Canadian anthropology is a blending of traditions? Probably … and maybe that is what is truly distinctive about a Canadian anthropology.
I still find myself uncertain about how to position myself. I know something of the pedigree of my teachers and about the traditions of research in the western Subarctic where I do my fieldwork. My methods highlight textual analysis and I rely on the sociology of people like Goffman. Without an extensive publication record to cite as evidence, is that what a hiring committee wants to hear?
This post has gotten away from an effort to offer inclusive discussions of anthropology, of interest to the wider and multi-national audience of Savage Minds … I appreciate Jesse’s efforts to extend the discussion too. Let’s continue pondering these topics in the comments here.
In my next post, however, I’ll turn away from my own identity troubles to questions related to Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in aboriginal communities.
Mauze, Marie, Michael Harkin, and Sergei Kan. 2004. Coming To Shore: Northwest Coast Ethnology, Traditions, and Visions. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press.
McLaughlin, Neil. 2005. Canada’s Impossible Science: Historical and Institutional Origins of the Coming Crisis in Anglo-Canadian Sociology. Canadian Journal of Sociology. 30(1):1-40.