I returned from London with two things, a bad cold and a copy of the Borofsky book on Yanomami: The Fierce Controversy. It was a good combination, because having the cold gave me the opportunity to stay home and read it. And I read it pretty much in one go. I get the sense from the general aheadness of Minds Readers that many of you have already read it, so I won’t go into the details of what the book is about. In any case, the main positions set out in the book were in the public domain long before it was published.
Aside from the controversy with which it explicitly deals, the book offers fascinating insights into the organisation of anthropology today, indeed it could be taken as a contribution to something one of its own contributors calls for, an anthropology of anthropology. The book is structured around three successive `roundtables’ in which individuals with expertise in Yanomami politics and anthropology give their perspectives via written submissions on the main issues in the controversy. This format serves the book’s purpose effectively, providing clearly contrasting positions which enable the reader to weigh different sides of the debate. But it also sheds light on the individualistic culture of professional anthropology.
Contributors to the round tables write not so much as against one position or another implicated in the Darkness book, but , certainly by round table three, as against each other. Some of this doubtless stems from the way in which the round table format was set up. However, I think it provides an interesting snapshot of anthropology as a discipline concerned with the primacy of individual interpretations over the possibilities for collaborative working or consensus. This normative position is so strong that even in a book which highlights the limitations of single researcher perspectives and fieldwork, the possibilities of collaborative research or teamwork are not considered, although revisits to the same field site by successive generations of individual researchers are proposed.
What anthropologies of anthropology can others recommend? Laboratory Life is a good starting point for academia in general, part ethnography, part career manual for grant attracting scientists. Have we yet subjected ourselves to what we advocate for other sciences?