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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 develop methods for predicting individual and collective performance with a view to drawing up research agendas for the US Army Research Institute ...

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 Marshall Sahlins 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 topics of ‘Big Men’ (power-brokers who aren’t chiefs, masters of the games of speech and generosity), or the socially embedded economy of premodern societies, ‘negative reciprocity’ (exchange characterised by hard bargaining, predation or theft), the cultural apperception of colour, or why Americans don’t eat dogs ...

Philip’s People

Anna Della Subin, 8 May 2014

... and a blurb promising ‘an epic culture clash’. In the mid-1990s, the anthropologists Marshall Sahlins 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, spun by sailors and scholars to reinforce white ...

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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... 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 encounter with Europeans, not only regarded the white men ...

Sudden Losses of Complexity

Edmund Leach, 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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... with ‘simplicity’. The experts on the latter theme are cited as Morton Fried, Max Gluckman, Marshall Sahlins – 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 with the living. Outside the Americas, Tainter’s ...

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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... while its ‘blue states’ vote Democrat. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Edmund Leach, Mary Douglas and Marshall Sahlins 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 indigenous groups traditionally studied by ...

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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... say pre-Post-Modern – masters: Jack Goody (1919), Victor Turner (1920), Mary Douglas (1921), and Marshall Sahlins (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 middle Eighties, he was, after Lévi-Strauss, the most ...

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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... Why did people start farming? At the ‘Man the Hunter’ symposium in Chicago in 1966, Marshall Sahlins 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 environments, he said, hunter-gatherers weren’t engaged ...

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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... and ‘civilisation’; the second was Evolution and Culture (1960), edited by Elmen Service and Marshall Sahlins, 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 they imposed the anthropological present onto the ...

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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... Kuper’s three chapter-length profiles of American anthropologists (Geertz, David Schneider and Marshall Sahlins) 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 Kuper has been gently expository, sounding like a ...


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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... been the subject of extremely detailed and perceptive analysis by the Chicago anthropologists Marshall Sahlins 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 ...

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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... of starvation, he fails to note that they also work far less hard and thus have far more leisure. Marshall Sahlins 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 freedom, their varied diet, their egalitarian ...

Bizarre and Wonderful

Wes Enzinna: Murray Bookchin, Eco-Anarchist, 4 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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... domination’. In Ecology of Freedom he drew on work by the anthropologists Paul Radin and Marshall Sahlins, 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 existed in these ‘organic’ communities of ...

Making Up People

Ian Hacking: Clinical classifications, 17 August 2006

... Well, yes: to six-year-olds who grow up anywhere in the world of scientific reason, what Marshall Sahlins 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 something, and then we say that what we hit was ...

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