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Human Science

Marshall Sahlins

9 May 2013
... In late February I resigned in protest from the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on two grounds. The first was the academy’s recruitment of anthropologists to do research designed to improve the combat performance of the US military. One project would study the tactical operations of small units and their leaders in a variety of contexts including ‘major combat operations’; a second would ...

Adrift from Locality

James Davidson: Captain Cook’s Mistake

3 November 2005
Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa 
by Marshall Sahlins.
Chicago, 334 pp., £21, December 2004, 0 226 73400 5
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... For students of the human sciences, the anthropologist MarshallSahlins is, with Clifford Geertz, one of the few Americans who has achieved the status of a name to conjure with alongside the French maîtres à penser, particularly when the conversation turns to the ...

Philip’s People

Anna Della Subin: Divine Prince Philip

7 May 2014
... is on the book’s electric orange cover, with the sun for a halo, palm trees sprouting from his shoulders, and a blurb promising ‘an epic culture clash’. In the mid-1990s, the anthropologists MarshallSahlins and Gananath Obeyesekere debated whether Captain Cook, landing in Hawaii in 1778, was really mistaken by the natives for their god Lono, or whether Cook’s apotheosis was a European myth ...

Aloha, aloha

Ian Hacking

7 September 1995
What ‘Natives’ Think: About Captain Cook, For Example 
by Marshall Sahlins.
Chicago, 316 pp., £19.95, July 1995, 0 226 73368 8
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... It is an adventure story in itself, and a stepping-stone to better ones. My only regret is that this book – you can think of it as the third of a trilogy – will be more widely read than Sahlins’s Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities (1981) and Islands of History (1985). What ‘Natives’ Think is entirely focused on the question of whether the Hawaiians, on their first prolonged ...
10 November 1988
The Collapse of Complex Societies 
by Joseph Tainter.
Cambridge, 250 pp., £27.50, June 1988, 0 521 34092 6
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... R.H. McGuire, a specialist in the prehistory of South-Western Arizona. Complexity is here contrasted with ‘simplicity’. The experts on the latter theme are cited as Morton Fried, Max Gluckman, MarshallSahlins – all social/cultural anthropologists. The distinction is important. Tainter would have us believe that prehistorians are concerned with the dead, and social and cultural anthropologists ...

The [ ] walked down the street

Michael Silverstein: Saussure

8 November 2012
by John Joseph.
Oxford, 780 pp., £30, March 2012, 978 0 19 969565 2
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... of political coloration has been renewed, but now America’s ‘red states’ vote Republican while its ‘blue states’ vote Democrat. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Edmund Leach, Mary Douglas and MarshallSahlins have pointed out that our normative ‘totemic’ systems of colour – urban gang colours, sports team colours, school colours, gender colours etc – are precisely analogous to those of the ...

Djojo on the Corner

Benedict Anderson

24 August 1995
After the Fact: Two Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist 
by Clifford Geertz.
Harvard, 198 pp., £17.95, April 1995, 0 674 00871 5
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... congeries of ‘new nations’. Thus, between 1919 and 1930 were born the modern – one might also say pre-Post-Modern – masters: Jack Goody (1919), Victor Turner (1920), Mary Douglas (1921), and MarshallSahlins (1930). Right in the middle came Clifford Geertz, who was born in San Francisco in 1926. In the quarter-century between 1960, when he published his masterly The Religion of Java, and the ...

Why did we start farming?

Steven Mithen: Hunter-Gatherers Were Right

30 November 2017
Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States 
by James C. Scott.
Yale, 336 pp., £20, September 2017, 978 0 300 18291 0
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... ideas that ultimately rest on a narrative of human progress and on the ideal of the city/nation-state. Why did people start farming? At the ‘Man the Hunter’ symposium in Chicago in 1966, MarshallSahlins drew on research from the likes of Richard B. Lee among the !Kung of the Kalahari to argue that hunter-gatherers enjoyed the ‘original affluent society’. Even in the most marginal ...

No Escape

Bruce Robbins: Culture

1 November 2001
Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress 
edited by Samuel Huntington and Lawrence Harrison.
Basic Books, 384 pp., £12.99, April 2001, 0 465 03176 5
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by Francis Mulhern.
Routledge, 198 pp., £8.99, March 2000, 0 415 10230 8
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Culture: The Anthropologists’ Account 
by Adam Kuper.
Harvard, 299 pp., £12.50, November 2000, 0 674 00417 5
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... point about the hidden and undesirable parallels between cultural studies and Kulturkritik. Kuper’s three chapter-length profiles of American anthropologists (Geertz, David Schneider and MarshallSahlins) are followed by a composite chapter on the younger (now middle-aged) generation of James Clifford and George Marcus, co-editors of Writing Culture. Here the tone changes. Up to this point ...

Foursomes and so on

Steven Mithen: Prehistory of Inequality

11 April 2013
The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery and Empire 
by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus.
Harvard, 631 pp., £29.95, May 2012, 978 0 674 06469 0
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... Society (1877), in which he defined three stages of social evolution: ‘savagery’, ‘barbarism’ and ‘civilisation’; the second was Evolution and Culture (1960), edited by Elmen Service and MarshallSahlins, which posited four stages: ‘bands’, ‘tribes’, ‘chiefdoms’ and ‘states’. Flannery and Marcus set out to address two of the criticisms made of these earlier works: first, that ...


Edmund Leach

23 October 1986
The Anthropology of Violence 
edited by David Riches.
Blackwell, 232 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 631 14788 8
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Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilising Process 
by Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning.
Blackwell, 313 pp., £19.50, August 1986, 0 631 14654 7
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Sport, Power and Culture: A Social and Historical Analysis of Popular Sports in Britain 
by John Hargreaves.
Polity, 258 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 7456 0153 7
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At the Dawn of Tyranny: The Origins of Individualism, Political Oppression and the State 
by Eli Sagan.
Faber, 420 pp., £17.50, April 1986, 0 571 13822 5
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... Polynesian materials discussed by Sagan on the basis of the original 18th-century records have recently been the subject of extremely detailed and perceptive analysis by the Chicago anthropologists MarshallSahlins and Valerio Valeri. Although some of this material has been in print since 1979, Sahlins’s first contribution is mentioned by Sagan only in his bibliography, where it is described as ‘an ...

Making Up People

Ian Hacking: Clinical classifications

17 August 2006
... The cognitivists will protest that their results are confirmed cross-culturally and apply to six-year-olds. Well, yes: to six-year-olds who grow up anywhere in the world of scientific reason, what MarshallSahlins calls ‘the world system’. It is part of our scientific attitude that what we find out about people using any of the seven engines of discovery, and more, is a fixed target. We usually hit ...

Bizarre and Wonderful

Wes Enzinna: Murray Bookchin, Eco-Anarchist

3 May 2017
Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin 
by Janet Biehl.
Oxford, 344 pp., £22.99, October 2015, 978 0 19 934248 8
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... economic questions but in terms of every aspect of life … not merely of class domination but hierarchical domination’. In Ecology of Freedom he drew on work by the anthropologists Paul Radin and MarshallSahlins, who argued that hunter-gatherer societies had been far more prosperous than previously thought and were humankind’s original ‘affluent societies’. Bookchin claimed hierarchy hadn’t ...

Crops, Towns, Government

James C. Scott: Ancestor Worship

21 November 2013
The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? 
by Jared Diamond.
Penguin, 498 pp., £8.99, September 2013, 978 0 14 102448 6
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... communicable diseases. Believing, against the evidence, that hunters and gatherers live in daily fear of starvation, he fails to note that they also work far less hard and thus have far more leisure. MarshallSahlins called hunter-gatherers, even when relegated to the most undesirable environments, ‘the original affluent society’. It’s hard to imagine Diamond’s primitives giving up their physical ...

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