I got into an argument recently with a senior colleague about whether or not Magic, Witchcraft, and Oracles Among The Azande was a structure-functionalist monograph. I argued that it wasn’t and that the book had more to do with Seligman (actually I said Westermark, but I meant Seligman) and his influence on Evans-Pritchard than with Radcliffe-Brown. Many people — particularly non-anthropologists — today remember MWO as the classical statement of the idea that witchcraft beliefs were epiphenomena of underlying conflicts in social structure. This is indeed a textbook structure functionalist approach to witchraft — it’s just that Monica Wilson is (afaik) the person who articulated it, not Evans-Pritchard! And of course by 1961 Evans-Pritchard is producing pieces like History and Anthropology. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that all of Evans-Pritchard’s works were not really so much structure functionalist as just structuralist, and he appeared less and less post-R-B and more and more pre-Needham. Of course Evans-Pritchard was always his own thinker, and it’s been a long time since I’ve revisited his work, so perhaps I’m off base here.
Thinking about it more broadly, however, structure functionalism is a brand that continues to sell even though the label covers a multitude of different approaches. As Stocking points out in After Tylor, by the time that structure functionalism came together as a program it was already drifting apart in other directions: Mancusian Ma(r)xism, Hocartesians, and (slightly later) Barthian transactionalism, etc. etc. Still we — and perhaps here I just mean clueless Yanks — continue to use this term today. As a ‘brand’ structure functionalism — and particularly the work done in Africa — in general seems to sell.
I was recently reading a book which discussed the history of anthropology. The book — which to be fair was just giving a summary — said that anthropology began with a spurt of important work in the Pacific (Haddon, Malinowski, etc. etc.), which then gave way to sustained work in Africa. I was flabberghasted — not only does this sort of summary ignore that fact that the British worked in places outside of Africa, it totally ignores the fact that for many (indeed, probably most) anthropologists the paradigmatic ‘field location’ is America — and particularly Morth American! It was as if Boasian anthropology (or its French connection via Levi-Strauss) just hadn’t happened.
Partially this is because, as many people have pointed out, of the fact that while both Boas and Radcliffe-Brown were institution builders, Boas didn’t make programmatic statements the way that R-B did. Which is not to say that the Boasians didn’t have a program. It’s just that they didn’t sell it the way R-B did.
So… when was structure functionalism again? I feel to a certain extent the brand continues along today, decades after its main exponents stopped writing, and continues to hide a multitude of different approaches.