Sociology and Anthropology

Toward Islamic Anthropology: Introduction

A. The Science of Anthropology

This study is speculatory and concerns a difficult and complex subject. Its task is made more difficult as it defends a metaphysical position, advances an ideological argument and serves a moral cause. It will, therefore, remain an incomplete part of an on-going process in the debate on key issues in contemporary Muslim society.

The major task of anthropology(1) - the study of man - is to enable us to understand ourselves through understanding other cultures. Anthropology makes us aware of the essential oneness of man and therefore allows us to appreciate each other. It is only quite recently in history that it has come to be widely accepted that human beings are fundamentally alike; that they share basic interests, and so have certain common obligations to one another. This belief is either explicit or implicit in most of the great world religions, but it is by no means acceptable today to many people even in "advanced" societies, and it would make no sense at all in many of the less-developed cultures. Among some of the indigenous tribes of Australia, a stranger who cannot prove that he is a kinsman, far from being welcomed hospitably, is regarded as a dangerous outsider and may be speared without compunction. Members of the Lugbara tribe of northwestern Uganda used to think that all foreigners were witches, dangerous and scarcely human creatures who walked about upside-down and killed people by magic. The ancient Greeks believed that all non-Hellenic peoples were barbarians, uncivilised savages whom it would be quite inappropriate to treat as real people. Many citizens of modern states today think of people of other races, nations or cultures in ways which are not very different from these, especially if their skin is differently colored or if they hold other religious or political faiths.

An eminent British anthropologist has noted: "When I was an administrator in Tanzania, it was widely held that Europeans were cannibals, who kidnapped African children and others and processed them for sale as tinned meat. Some European stereotypes about Africans were no less absurd. I have heard Europeans who had lived for many years in Africa  (but who had never bothered to learn an African language properly, or to get to know any Africans outside the master-servant relationship) assert that Africans are lacking in natural family affections, that they do not know the meaning of gratitude, and that their languages lack a word for "thank you"  (Beattie 1977:273).

I do not here discuss in detail the historical development of social anthropology; full accounts are available elsewhere. But it will be easier to see why contemporary social anthropology is the kind of subject it is if we have some idea of what has led up to it. As a branch of empirical, observational science, it grew up in the context of the world-wide human interaction which has vastly increased in the past century. What is most familiar is often taken for granted, and the idea that the study of living human communities was of legitimate scientific interest in its own right became evident when detailed information began to be available about hitherto remote and unfamiliar human societies. These societies had been speculated about since time immemorial, but they could not be scientifically investigated until new, easier and quicker ways of getting about the world made it possible for scholars to visit and observe them.

Initially, the reports of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century missionaries and travellers in Africa, North America, the Pacific and elsewhere provided the raw material upon which the first western anthropological works, written in the second half of the last century, were based. Before then there had been plenty of conjecturing about human institutions and their origins to say nothing of earlier times in the eighteenth century. Hume, Adam Smith and Ferguson in Britain, and Montesquieu, Condorcet and others on the Continent, had written about primitive institutions. Although their speculations were often brilliant, these thinkers were not empirical scientists; their conclusions were not based on evidence which could be tested. On the contrary, their speculations were deductively argued from principles which were for the most part implicit in their own cultures. They were really philosophers and historians of Europe, not anthropologists as we would now understand the term.

The common view was that civilized men could have nothing profitable to learn from studying the way of life of a lot of savages. It is reported that even at the end of the nineteenth century the famous Sir James Frazer, when asked if he had ever seen one of the primitive people about whose customs he had written so many volumes responded with "God Forbid!" In an important sense these writers were the forerunners of modern social anthropologists.

Modem social anthropology owes much to these nineteenth-century scholars, in spite of their misconceptions. Although they were mainly preoccupied with the reconstruction of a past which was lost forever, they were like their successors, interested in social institutions and the interrelations between the cultural and social institutions of different societies.

By the end of the nineteenth century a considerable amount of miscellaneous ethnographic information had been assembled from all over the world. The most celebrated collection is that of James Frazer. His compilation of religious beliefs and practices was published in several editions around the turn of the century as The Golden Bough. In this work Frazer, starting with the idea found in ancient Roman myth that the priest ruler, as representative of a god, should be slain and replaced by another before his powers waned, collected a vast body of information about "primitive" religious and magical practices throughout the world. Like his predecessors, Frazer was mainly interested in origins, but he did claim that social anthropology (he was one of the first to apply the adjective "social" to the discipline) should seek regularities or general laws. The laws he had in mind, however were those exemplified in the earlier stages of human society, and were represented, so he and the evolutionists believed, by existing "primitive" societies.

Like most of his contemporaries, Frazer was still concerned with isolated "customs", reported from various parts of the world largely by people with little or no scientific training, and so considered apart from the living social contexts that could give them real meaning. Frazer's approach is very different from that of modern social anthropologists. Even so, the literary skill and imaginative sweep of his work caught the imagination of both scholars and the general reader in the West.

As the quantity of ethnographic information increased, and its quality gradually improved, it began to dawn on some scholars that this material was too important to be used merely to illustrate preconceived ideas about primitive peoples or about presumed earlier stages of human society. More and more this extensive ethnography was seen to demand some sort of comparative analysis in its own right. Practical concerns stimulated this interest. Colonial administrators and missionaries began increasingly to see that their work would benefit by an understanding of the social and cultural institutions of the populations they dealt with. Some of the best of the earlier monographs on the simpler societies were written by serving missionaries and administrative officers and will be discussed below.

Aided by the colonial enterprise at the turn of the century, there began to develop a scientific concern with a systematic undertaking of first-hand field studies of human communities that had hitherto been known to scholars only through the piecemeal observations of non-professional observers. Individual field studies, a few of very high quality, had been made earlier. Franz Boas's research among the Eskimos in the 1880's was a notable example, and so was Morgan's work among the Iroquois Indians, undertaken more than a generation before. But it was in the early 1900's that the systematic collection of information in the field, covering a wide segment of the social and cultural life of particular peoples, came to be generally regarded as an essential part of the social anthropologist's task. An important stimulus in British anthropology was the Torres Straits expedition in 1898, in which a team of anthropologists led by A.C. Haddon undertook a comprehensive field survey of a part of Melanesia. Later, Radcliffe-Brown's study of the Andaman Islanders, undertaken before the first World War, and Malinowski's work in the Trobriand Islands of the western Pacific during World War I, became particularly important influences in modern social anthropology.

It was with the change of interest from the reconstruction of past societies to the investigation of contemporary societies that modem social anthropology began. From this time forward social anthropologists were no longer satisfied with the collection of isolated pieces of information about particular customs or institutions, however skillfully these might be woven into theoretical schemes, or however wide-ranging the comparisons based on them. It no longer seemed as worthwhile, as it had to Frazer, to collect huge numbers of examples of totemic practices or first-fruit ceremonies from all periods of history and from all comers of the world. "Primitive societies" had at last come into their own; they were no longer merely a vast storehouse from which all kinds of exotic materials could be drawn by the diligent researcher. It was now recognized that however different they were from the familiar states of western Europe, they were, nonetheless, systematically organized and viable communities. So, for the first time, the question arose: how are these unfamiliar social and cultural systems to be understood?

The answer was attempted by French sociological thought with its analytical, intellectualist tradition. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French writers about human society were much concerned with the "nature” of society and of human social institutions. Their interest lay rather in what human society essentially is that in the history of its development, either generally or in particular cases. Thus Comte, like his predecessor and teacher, Saint-Simon, was much concerned with stressing that societies are systems, not just aggregates of individuals. Neither an African tribe nor a university town is just a collection of people any more than a house is just a collection of bricks, or an organism just an aggregate of cells. What makes these entities something more than merely the totality of their component parts is the fact that these parts are related to one another in certain specific and recognizable ways. In the case of human communities, the more or less enduring relationships between different peoples are what we refer to when we speak of societies.

The French thinkers saw that if societies were systems, they must be made up of interrelated parts. They also thought that these parts must be related to one another and to the whole society of which they were parts, in accordance with laws analogous to the laws of nature, which in principle at least, it should be possible to discover. So the understanding of societies, and of Society with a capital "S", like the understanding of the physical organisms with which they were either explicitly or implicitly being compared, was to be achieved by discovering the laws of social organization that operated to maintain the whole structure. This "organismic" approach to the study of human societies has some grave limitations and can be misleading. But it did point to the important truth that the customs and social institutions of human communities are somehow interconnected, and that changes in one part of the system may lead to changes in other parts.

When this was understood it became possible to ask, and sometimes even to answer, questions about real human societies - questions which arose less readily so long as the "piecemeal" view of human cultures, which had hitherto been dominant, prevailed. Thus an anthropologist faced with accustom such as mother-in-law avoidance, which is found in many societies far remote from one another, was no longer content merely to record it for purposes of comparison with other apparently similar customs elsewhere. He now asked about the implications of the institution for husband-wife relations, or for the pattern of residence. This "organismic" approach reached its most sophisticated expression in the writings of the French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, who is still one of the most important influences in social anthropology.

My concern here is to stress that the two most important strains from which the fabric of modern social anthropology is woven are the fact finding, empirical, graphic tradition represented by British and by much German and American anthropology and the "holistic", analytical intellectualism of French social philosophy.

Can we then, at this point, give a preliminary statement of what modern social anthropology is about? Anthropology is by definition the study of man. But no one discipline can possibly study man in all his aspects, though some anthropologists have written as though it could. On the whole, social anthropologists have concentrated on the study of man in his social aspect, that is, in his relationships with other people in living communities. The multifarious dimensions of the social and cultural life of more complex, literate societies have for the most part been left to historians, economists, political scientists, sociologists, and a host of other specialist scholars.

Of course, the anthropologist is interested in people; they are the raw material he works with. As a social anthropologist however, his main concern is with what these people share with other people, the institutionalized aspects of their culture. For this reason social anthropologists are not interested in every social relationship in the societies they study; they concentrate mainly on those which are habitual, relatively enduring features of the societies in which they occur.

The emphasis today is essentially empirical and functional. Contemporary social anthropology is centrally a study of relationships between different kinds of people, and at a higher level of abstraction, of relationships between relationships. Let me make this clear. The social anthropologist is not just interested in the relationship between, for example, a particular chief and a particular subject. He is, as we have just noted, interested in the kinds of relationships between chiefs and subjects that are characteristic of the society being studied, and of which the particular case is an example. Further, he is interested in the implications that the institutionalized chief-subject relationship has for other institutionalized relationships in the society, for example, the relationships between different kinds of kin or the system of land-holding.

We shall find that in modern social anthropology the emphasis is contextual and relational. Recent social anthropology may claim to have contributed most significantly to this kind of contextual understanding in the Western social sciences. But anthropologists are today being increasingly associated with practical problems outside the classroom and their solutions.

The UNO and the governments in the British Commonwealth, the United States, and elsewhere have made much use of trained social anthropologists. They have done this in various ways. First, they have added trained sociologists or social anthropologists to their permanent staffs. Thus the anthropologist becomes a civil servant. As such, his primary business is with practical problems upon which he brings to bear the techniques and special knowledge with which his professional training has equipped him. Government anthropologists have been asked to advise on such matters as labor migration, succession to political authority in particular tribes, and the likely social consequences of proposed land reforms. An anthropologist who takes such a post becomes a sort of anthropological general practitioner.

For anthropologists of practical bent, there is much to be said for such a career, and if a government locates the right employee it is well served. Some African governments have successfully made use of professional social anthropologists in this way. Such employers, whether they are governments, missionaries, or businessmen should allow their anthropologists sufficient leisure to enable them to keep reasonably abreast of current theoretical developments in their field, as well as permitting them wide latitude in their approaches to the problems set for them.

A second way in which a government can make practical use of social anthropology is to employ a professional, on contract for a period of a year or two, to carry out a specific piece of research. This method can work well when a particular problem is considered sufficiently important to justify the expense of full-scale, professional study. An anthropologist, who has made a special study of religious institutions, might be hired to investigate the emergence in a particular area of a separatist movement; or an expert on political organization might be engaged to make a study in a community for which major administrative changes were proposed. The Sudan Government employed the anthropologists, Evans-Pritchard and Nadel, in this way before World War 11. For such specialized tasks, governments do best to select experienced and established scholars rather than young anthropologists without previous field experience. First field studies are best controlled and financed through universities or other research bodies, and a social anthropologist on his first tour of field work is still very much a student. If he is to become a full-fledged professional, his supervision should be academic rather than administrative.

A third method by which governments have availed themselves of information provided by anthropological investigations is by supporting, encouraging, or merely tolerating research by workers academically attached to universities or other research-sponsoring bodies.

B. Anthropology and Other Sciences of Man

Social anthropologists study people's customs, social institutions, and values, and the ways in which these are interrelated. They carry out their investigations mainly in the context of contemporary, small-scale  communities and their central, though not their only interest, is in systems of social relations. It is useful to say something about social anthropology's relationship to other branches of anthropology, and also to certain other social sciences.

In Britain the term "anthropology" loosely designates a number of different branches of study which are more or less closely associated, although sometimes the association derives rather from the historical fact that they developed together as "evolutionary" studies of man and were originally taught together, than from an intrinsic relationship. Thus physical anthropology, prehistoric archaeology, primitive technology, ethnology, and ethnography are usually subsumed with social anthropology under the rubric, anthropology, which sociology is not, even though its problems and methods overlap to a considerable degree with those of social anthropology. So, it is not a bit surprising that the word "anthropology" means different things to different people. Even when it is qualified by the adjective "social", anthropology still suggests to some people an interest in bones and head measurements, to others a concern with prehistoric man and his works, to yet others an obsessive interest in exotic, preferably sexual, customs. Because of the confusion which the ambiguity of the word "anthropology" has caused, perhaps it would be a good thing if another name could be found for the subject we are concerned with. Unfortunately, no one has yet been able to suggest a better one.

Let us discuss briefly the present relationship between social anthropology, as the subject is understood in Britain and the Commonwealth, and some other kinds of anthropology, namely, physical anthropology, prehistoric archaeology or prehistory, ethnography and ethnology, and cultural anthropology. I will then consider its relationship with history and psychology. Social anthropology has some concern with other branches of knowledge too, political science, economics, human geography, agronomy, even philosophy and theology, to name a few. This relationship is not surprising, since social anthropologists claim to take at least some account of the whole social and cultural lives of the peoples they study, and all of these disciplines are concerned with aspects of human culture. Although social anthropology often borrows from, and sometimes lends to these other studies, the borderline between them and anthropology is not a matter of ambiguity or disagreement. In the case of the subjects discussed in this section, however, the link with social anthropology is not only close, but it is also often confused and sometimes disputed.

On the European continent anthropology means physical anthropology. This discipline is concerned with man as a physical organism, and with his place in the scheme of biological evolution. It deals with such topics as the classification of early forms of man, the physical differences between the races of the species, Homo sapiens, human genetics, and the modes of physiological adaptation and reaction to different physical environments. This study is important and interesting, but it has little to do with the analysis of people's social institutions and beliefs.

It is now usual, at least in Britain, to distinguish ethnography from ethnology. The term "ethnography" refers to descriptive accounts of human societies, usually of those simpler, smaller-scale societies which anthropologists have frequently studied. In this sense ethnography may be said to be the raw material of social anthropology. However, descriptive studies imply some generalisation and comparison, either explicit or implicit.

The term "ethnology" was formerly used as a kind of blanket term to designate almost all of the anthropological studies, including physical anthropology and prehistory. It is still sometimes so used in America and on the Continent. But British social anthropologists have found it useful to restrict it to studies of the preliterate people and cultures which attempt to explain their present in terms of their remote past. In this sense, ethnology is the science which classifies people in terms of their racial and cultural characteristics, and attempts to explain these by reference to their history or to their prehistory. To take a concrete example, investigations into the origin of a particular type of canoe are ethnological investigations, while inquiries about its contemporary use and its practical and symbolic significance for the people who have it fall within the scope of social anthropology.

Nowadays a distinction is often drawn, as I have already indicated, between social anthropology and cultural anthropology. Culture has been variously defined, since Sir Edward Tylor described it nearly a century ago, as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. In this broadest sense, "culture" refers to the whole range of human activities which are learned and not instinctive, and which are transmitted from generation to generation through various learning processes. Often the physical products of human activity are included under the term as "material culture". Thus understood, cultural anthropology obviously covers an exceedingly broad field, including practically all the nonbiological aspects of human life. Men's social institutions and values, social anthropology's central concerns, occupy only a small part of this range.

To study this whole range of activity would be difficult and most British social anthropologists consider "culture” too extended a concept to be designated a specific field for systematic study. A century ago one scholar might have been able to deal with the whole life of man, at least of "primitive" man, on this massive scale; advances in anthropological knowledge and techniques have made it impossible now. In fact, cultural anthropology has broken down into many specialist fields such as linguistics, acculturation and personality studies, ethnomusicology, and the study of primitive art. On the whole, American scholars have laid more stress on cultural than on social anthropology, which some of them have regarded as a more restricted interest concerned mainly with "social structure". The broader view of the content of the subject has led to a wide dispersal of interest over a variety of fields, such as acculturation studies and learning theory, many of which have been little developed in British anthropology.  The broader view has also involved a concern with particular aspects or items of culture, with what have been called "culture traits" rather than with the analysis of cultures or societies as systematic wholes. Much American anthropology is nearer to ethnology, as defined above, than it is to social anthropology as it is understood in Britain.

In America the concern with items of culture rather than with social systems may be partly due to the nature of the ethnographic material most readily available to scholars in that country. Most British social anthropology is based on field studies of people whose societies are still "going concerns", such as island populations in the Pacific and tribal societies in Africa. Until recently American researchers have had much less access to such live material. Many (though by no means all) of the North American Indian groups among which American anthropologists worked had long ago ceased to exist as viable societies, although their members often preserved extensive knowledge of their traditional cultures. In America problems of social and political organisation could not present themselves with the same urgency as they did in the study of the still viable societies of Africa and the Pacific. Thus less work has been done in America than in Britain and the Commonwealth in the analysis of actual communities as working social systems, the field in which recent British social anthropology has made its main contribution. There are important exceptions to this generalisation, but it is significant that some modern British social anthropologists would claim that they have been more influenced by the writings of American sociologists than by those of American anthropologists.

In America cultural anthropologists emphasize the study of symbols and examine how such symbols explain individual and group behaviour in society. Clifford Geertz, one of the leading American anthropologists, writes of culture, "The concept of culture is essentially a semiotic one.  Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after, construing social expressions on their surface enigmatical" (Geertz 1973: 5). In contrast British anthropology, terming itself social anthropology, 21 looks at social structure and organization with a view to explaining society. Following is an example of how these different schools interpret the same society differently.

Clifford Geertz at Princeton and Ernest Gellner at London, two of the most prominent Western anthropologists and both leading their distinct schools of anthropology on either side of the Atlantic, have studied Moroccan society (2). 'To the former, society is to be interpreted, [as in his book Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society (1979)], through the suq (market), and relationships that arise from transactions generated in buying and selling. The market becomes symbolic of relationships in society and helps explain larger societal behavior and society. In contrast, Ernest Gellner, who worked among the Berbers in the Atlas mountains (1969, 1981), found social life is organized on the basis of principles characteristic of segmentary tribal society.

However significant, these differences in approach and their importance can be exaggerated -it must be remembered that for the most part they imply only a difference in emphasis - they do not, or at least they should not, imply that social anthropologists and cultural anthropologists study different subject matter. Whether the observer's main interest is in society or in culture, the reality which he observes, people in relation to one another, is one and not two. Cultural and social anthropologists sometimes ask different kinds of questions, but however we distinguish these, there is
a good deal of overlap.

So much for the relationship between social anthropology and other kinds of anthropology. I turn now to its relationship with some other social sciences, first of all with history. Historians are chiefly interested in the past, whether remote or recent; their business is to discover what has happened and why. On the whole, they are more interested in particular sequences of past events and their conditions, than they are in the general patterns, principles, or laws which these events exhibit.

Although the two disciplines are different, social anthropology has a very close relationship with history in two important ways. First, an anthropologist who aims to achieve as complete an understanding as possible of the present condition of the society can hardly fail to ask how it came to be as it is. Although his central interest is in the present, the past may be directly relevant in explaining the present. In the twenties and thirties some social anthropologists, reacting against the pseudo historical hypotheses of the preceding generation, went so far as to imply that history could never be relevant for social anthropologists, whose proper concern was with structural relations not with historical ones. Some of Radcliffe-Brown's earlier writings expressed this view, though he later repudiated it. Few social anthropologists today adopt so extreme an approach. Many of them have worked in relatively advanced communities that have documented histories. Also, European contact and the changes which have followed from it have provided histories, not always happy ones, for societies which formerly had none. So, most modern social anthropologists do take account of the histories of the societies they study, where historical material is available and where it is relevant to the understanding of the present.

Second, the study of social change is by definition a historical one, though it makes use of sociological categories as well. Though they are different, the aims and methods of social anthropologists and historians coincide in some degree. Historians use documentary evidence infrequently available to anthropologists, and anthropologists employ first-hand observation rarely possible for historians. Both are concerned with the description and understanding of real human situations, and they use whatever methods are available and appropriate to this purpose. Like historians (and unlike natural scientists) a social anthropologist can make the way of life of the creatures he studies intelligible to us only insofar as he manages to convey to us something of what it would be like to participate in that way of life. His task is largely one of interpretation. An anthropologist who tries to understand why African chiefs in a selected tribe act as they do is not engaged in an enterprise essentially different from that of a historian who is trying to understand why Roman emperors of a particular period acted as they did. Both anthropologists and historians attempt to represent unfamiliar social situations in terms not just of their own cultural categories, but, as far as possible, in terms of the categories of the actors themselves. The main difference between anthropology and history lies not so much in the subject matter (though generally this does differ) as in the degree of generality with which it is dealt. Once again, it is a question of emphasis. Historians are interested in the history of particular institutions in particular places, parliament in England, for example, or the Hapsburg monarchy. But they are also concerned, implicitly if not explicitly, with the nature of these institutions themselves. A social anthropologist who is concerned with the role of chiefs in a particular society must be a historian to the extent of studying the careers and activities of individual chiefs. Unless he does so, his account will be empty, formal, and unconvincing. Although in a general sense historians are concerned with what is individual and unique, and social anthropologists, like sociologists, are concerned with what is general and typical, this dichotomy is too simple. As so often in the social sciences, the difference is largely one of emphasis.

Social anthropology is not psychology, although like sciences which deal with human affairs, it constantly makes use of psychological terms and concepts. Psychology is concerned with the nature and functioning of individual human minds, and although it is generally accepted that human mentality is a product of social conditioning, the study of that mentality differs in important ways from the study of the social and cultural environment which is its context.

Rather, as in the study of history, a tendency to deny that psychology can have any relevance for social anthropology is now being replaced by a recognition of the important contributions it can make to the understanding of people's social behaviour. This recognition is associated with social anthropology's concern with what people think and with their systems of beliefs, symbols, and values. The impact of Freud on social anthropology, as on human thinking generally, has been considerable, though for the most part indirect. His one incursion into anthropology, his theory of the origin of totemism, is hardly convincing, but his massive demonstration of the primacy of symbolic, irrational elements in human thought has had far reaching influence on the subject.

In fact, every field anthropologist must be to a considerable extent a practicing psychologist. An important part of his job is to discover what the people he is studying think, never a simple task. Ideas and values are not given as data; they must be inferred, and there are many difficulties and dangers in such inferences, particularly when they are made in the context of an unfamiliar culture. It may well be that there is much to be learned through the techniques of depth psychology about the less explicit values of other cultures (as well as about those of our own), especially about the symbolism involved in rituals and ceremonies. But a word of warning is necessary. The incautious application in unfamiliar cultures of concepts and assumptions derived from psychological research in Western society may lead - and indeed has led -to gross distortions. The Oedipus complex, for example, is something to be proved, not assumed, in other cultures. To sum up, the association of psychology with physical anthropology, prehistoric archaeology and prehistory is historical only; today social anthropology has little or no concern with these subjects. It shares its subject matter with ethnology, and with it possesses a common base in ethnography. The questions it asks are not ethnological, but relate rather to contemporary society and culture. Its emphasis differs from that of cultural anthropology, although social anthropologists are concerned with culture too. Anthropologists use history, but for a purpose not itself strictly historical, that is, to understand the present. They also use psychological concepts, though their chief interest is in the society and culture in which individuals participate, rather than in the individuals themselves.

Social anthropologists, more than other social scientists, need to have some acquaintance with the concepts and methods of a number of subjects. The simpler, small-scale societies which they usually study and many of the institutionalised social relationships and values in which they are interested are in fields which in more complex cultures are studied by specialist disciplines. Thus, for example, social anthropologists who study "primitive law" should know at least some of the vocabulary of law and jurisprudence; those who are concerned with relationships of political power and authority, should know some of the categories of political science, and those interested in production and exchange in the societies they study should know those of economics. The social anthropologist's claim to treat these and other specialized subjects in the context of his own studies is less arrogant than it may seem. The relationships which such subjects comprise are, for the most part, small in scale and relatively simple in content. They are effective on a person-to-person level, and since they are for the most part comprehensible to non-specialist members of the cultures concerned, they are also comprehensible to the anthropologist who has really "learned" the culture. Nor, in the primitive cultures which social anthropologists study, does the understanding of social and cultural institutions require, as it would in literate societies, the mastering of numerous books and documents. Thus when social anthropologists, in the restricted context of the small-scale communities in which they work, investigate the several dimensions of social and cultural life, their investigation does not demand the lengthy specialist training necessary for the study of any one of these dimensions in a complex, literate society.

C. Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter

Modern Anthropology is seen by its Marxist and Third World critics as a product of colonialism which is true to the extent that anthropology and anthropologists have aided the colonial enterprise sometimes overtly and sometimes indirectly.

Ethnographic investigation and colonial enterprise have gone hand in hand from the first. In Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt were 150 scientists including ethnographers with pen and notebook in hand. This first contact between colonizing Europe and colonised Asia or Africa laid the foundation of ethnographic methodology for these continents. The ethnographic interest in colonized people was to culminate in the exhaustive studies of African, Asian and Oceanian society.

The Orientalist (the Western scholar of peoples and customs of the Orient) contributed to the image of the Oriental. During the colonial decades a cumulative picture of the Orient formed in Western minds. Let me cite the author of Orientalism for a description of the Oriental, "The Oriental is irrational, depraved (fallen), childlike, 'different' ". In contrast, "the European is rational, virtuous, mature, 'normal' " (Said 1978: 40).

Following is a discussion of the Orientalist influence on anthropology. The colonial period produced some of the most informative ethnographic material on "native" and "primitive" peoples. For instance, some of the most detailed and accurate ethnography on the Pukhtuns comes from the British colonial period. It begins with a colonial officer (Elphinstone 1972) and ends with one (Caroe 1965). Similarly Robert Montagne, a French colonial administrator, is the author of the most rewarding work on the Berbers in Morocco.

Not all colonial ethnography is defective, although its political assumptions are. Sometimes political officers administering tribal groups were more sympathetic to their charges than some of the postcolonial native officials who succeeded them. Perhaps some of these colonial officers were themselves men of sensitivity and perception. These qualities, together with assignments to peripheral provinces of the colonial administrations, made them marginal to the great metropolitan empires. They posed questions difficult to answer in the context of colonialism.(3) Morocco for the French and India for the British were the "jewels" in the colonial crown. It is no coincidence that the best officers were assigned there. Some of them proved to be excellent ethnographers.

A study of their relationship with the cultural system that produced them, and the more traditional one that attracted the colonial officers who administered tribal groups, would be rewarding (4) It would tell much about the colonial power and also a great deal about the virtues and vices of tribal groups.

In an important sense anthropological writing is auto-biographical. Studies today have illustrated the psychological 'reasons why "Arabists" - the European traveler-scholars - reacted to the Arabs as they did. Their lineage, schooling, and childhood helped form their reaction. It would be instructive to be aware of the relevant biographical aspects of the anthropologist's life. We might have a more comprehensive picture of the group if we knew the relationship between the author and his subject.

Deeper studies of the famous "Arab" scholar-travelers are now being written (5). Their relationship to Islam, for instance, obviously determined their attitudes to its adherents. We know that Doughty hated Islam, which to him symbolized everything decadent and corrupt. In contrast, Blunt almost became a Muslim, such was his fascination with Islam. Some officer scholars were motivated by forces that lay deep in family psychology and childhood memory. For instance, it is widely recognised that T.E. Lawrence, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, attempted to live out his fantasies through his Arabian adventures. He was "getting even" with the world through the Arab legend in a distant land where he had princes at his beck and call. The Lawrence saga is poor historiography but excellent press.

The scholar-travelers wore native clothes and spoke the native language. In their flamboyant behavior and eccentric appearance, they imagined they found acceptance far from home (Burton's moustache which had provoked adverse comment at Oxford was appreciated by tribal chiefs). Rejected in some childhood memory, they would indulge every fantasy in the East. They were not adult men playing at boys, but boys playing at men. Kings and chiefs were made and unmade by them (from Edwardes to Lawrence they prided themselves on this power) and they created grand sounding titles from exotic places for their heroes: Edwardes of Bannu, Gordon of Khartoum, Roberts of Kandahar and Lawrence of Arabia(6).They were not just Orientalist villains destroying native custom and trampling on native culture. The picture is more complex.

Orientalists were only partly racist; a number of them sought identity among and with tribal groups, and sometimes the former was subordinated to the latter. However, the romance was one-way only. European colonial scholarship was not politically innocent. Its aim was to understand the colonials better in order to dominate them more efficiently. This knowledge was translated into administrative policy. A crude example may be given from both the British and French colonies.

Determined attempts were made to separate the people of the hills from the people of the plains. Hill tribes were projected as proud, honest, hospitable, egalitarian people abiding by a traditional tribal code. In contrast, groups living in the plains were seen as servile, unreliable, and racially inferior. The former provided the prototype of the noble savage. To the French, the Berbere and to the British, the Pukhtuns fell in the first group.

Translating ethnographic knowledge into administrative reality, the French through the Berbere Dahir in North Africa and the British through the Tribal Areas in north India administratively cut off the hill tribes from their cousins in the low lands. The separate administrative entity, it was hoped, would eventually create an ideological division within the population. We know that in both areas the colonial strategy was not entirely successful.

When it came to resisting the colonial power, hill and plains cousins joined hands. Indeed, the hill tribes, far from accepting the new boundaries, continued to raid into and harass the Imperial districts.

Similarly, and perhaps unconsciously, some modern anthropologists follow the imperial attempt to separate Muslim groups. One means is to distinguish "good" from "poor Moslems". Certain anthropologists go to great lengths to establish that nomad/tribal groups possess "a reputation for being poor Moslems" (Tapper 1979:2). Barth found the Basseri in Iran "poor Moslems" (Barth 1961). There is, however, general though scattered evidence to the contrary (Ahmed 1980 a, 1982 b, Ahmed and Hart 1982, Cole 1975, Lewis 1961).

The link between colonialism and academic anthropology continued even after the second World War when most Muslim countries were free or almost free of their colonial masters. It is not entirely a coincidence that some of the better known post-war British anthropologists were officers who had held colonial posts in the empire.

Evans-Pritchard, Leach, and Nadel, to name a few eminent British social anthropologists, held  colonial posts.' Of these the most outstanding was Evans-Pritchard who was a Tribal Affairs Officer in Cyrenaica and who formulated the models based on Bedouin ethnography which were to later become the classic statement for segmentary tribal society. In a sense the segmentary theory had returned home to the Bedouin - for whom Robertson Smith discussed it - after its first major anthropological statement for the Nuer by Evans-Pritchard. Segmentary tribal society, comprised of those tribesmen related to each other genealogically and traced to an apical - and usually eponymous - ancestor, organised in segments with "nesting attributes". These tribes were generally seen as "anarchic" and too primitive for their members to be socially differentiated.

In South Asia the imperial roots of anthropology reach beyond this century. It was Henry Maine, the Law Member of the Viceroy's Council, who with his Ancient Law (1861) and Village Communities in the East and West (1871) could justifiably claim to have laid the foundations of anthropology - or village studies -in India. Lyall, who was to become the Lieutenant Governor of the North-West provinces, published his Asiatic Studies: Religious and Social in 1882. Imperial administrators in the field share with the anthropologist its major characteristic, the fieldwork experience.


1 From anthropos, Greek for man.
2. In spite of the attack on Jewish scholars-as Zionists- by Edward Said (1978) not all Jewish scholars are Zionist. The most perceptive anthropological work in Morocco has been conducted by those with a Jewish background - however nominal (Brown, C. and H. Geertz, Gellner, Rabinow and Rosen). Is it, as Bernard Lewis suggests, a Jewish sense of affinity for Muslims in relation to Western civilizations within which they live? (Lewis 1972: 35-6). We do know from these studies that Jewish groups live in harmony with the majority Muslims in Morocco.
3. One good example of a political officer who sympathised with his tribes and compared their code of behavior favourably to Western civilization was Sir Evelyn Howell (see Ahmed 1980b).
4. My colleague, David Hart, and I are working on a joint volume examining just this perspective, Islamic Tribes and European Administrators: Readings in the Colonial Encounter (Ahmed and Hart forthcoming book).
5. For a new and interesting psychological insight into the famous Arabist Western scholartravellers see Tidrick 1981; for the impressions of Arab women of these very 'Arabists' see Pastner 1978.
6. See "The Man Who Would Be King: British Political Officers among the Bedouin and the Pukhtun" (Ahmed forthcoming paper).

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