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Anthropology? What ‘Anthropology’? – Allegra

In September 2018, Jarosław Gowin, Poland’s Minister of Science and Greater Schooling, abolished anthropology as a tutorial self-discipline by an government decree. The much-protested new regulation on larger schooling entered into drive on 1 October 2018. Amid mounting outcry, this submit attempts to stipulate the significance of this determination, determine its sensible penalties and situate it towards a background of our self-discipline’s more basic crisis.

In a well-known scene from the 1980s Polish comedy film Miś (‘Teddy Bear’) a person walks right into a publish workplace to make an extended distance telephone call. ‘London?’ the jaded clerk behind the counter replies. Checking the thick register she responds, ‘There’s no such place referred to as “London”. There’s only Lądek, Lądek Zdrój.’ To a Polish ear, Lądek, pronounced ‘Londek’, is phonetically just like ‘London’. The man patiently explains that he means ‘London, a city in England’, to which the clerk angrily exclaims: ‘Why didn’t you say it’s overseas?! Gotta look it up!’ The scene ridicules the ignorance and parochialism of Polish public establishments in the declining years of ‘real socialism’. However with Minister Jarosław Gowin’s lately introduced educational reform, overseas anthropologists looking for collaboration with their friends in Poland might quickly anticipate to be confronted with an analogous response: ‘Anthropology? What anthropology? There’s no such discipline.’

October 1 is the inauguration of the brand new educational yr in Poland. It was on that day that the brand new regulation on Greater Schooling and Science entered into drive. The regulation had been passed by the parliament towards widespread protests final summer time. Proudly dubbed the ‘Constitution for Science’, the regulation is the Minister’s cherished brainchild. While Gowin and the right-wing authorities, of which he’s a member, claim that the brand new regulation is a response to the Polish academia’s requires a reform, in truth many teachers are concerned.

Gowin’s new regulation centralizes academia, subjects it to elevated management by political appointees and large business, and intensifies demand for commercially applicable research. It advances the tendency in the direction of decreasing universities to the position of boot camps for techno-managerial cadres.

Many actions, not included within the regulation itself, have been launched by the Minister’s government decrees. Disciplines have been lumped together right into a small number of newly created umbrella disciplines. Anthropology turned included in ‘Culture and Religion Studies’, a subset of the Humanities, whereas most other branches of social science have been listed underneath a separate category. The abolition of anthropology was instantly met with protest by the Polish Ethnological Society and all the anthropology/ethnology departments throughout the country. International anthropological associations such as the WAU, WCAA, IUAES, and AAA, as well as the nationwide anthropological unions in a number of nations have been fast to precise their solidarity with Polish colleagues, issuing appeals to Minister Gowin to revoke his determination.

Beyond the apparent absurdity of erasing anthropology in Bronisław Malinowski’s homeland, what does Polish anthropology’s abolition imply in apply and why exactly are anthropologists crying out?


The abolition of anthropology as a self-standing self-discipline will make the work of Polish anthropologists far much less visible to overseas colleagues and less recognizable to funders. The Ministry argues that the ‘consolidation’ of disciplines is important to enable correct evaluation of research. ‘Evaluation’ is explicitly a keyword guiding the broader educational reform. Anthropologists will probably be immediately reminded of Marilyn Strathern’s Audit Cultures (2000). Just how our work goes to be evaluated could be very much a part of the explanations for anthropologists’ outcry. The Ministry has ready an inventory of journals organized by the newly created umbrella disciplines. Only articles revealed in journals listed beneath the heading that corresponds to the writer’s official disciplinary affiliation will rely as part of the researcher’s output and basis of their individual evaluation. The record for “Culture and Religion Studies” does embrace a lot of the main international anthropology journals, but very few if any interdisciplinary ones or those with a regional focus. Which means Polish anthropologists should assume twice before they decide to an interdisciplinary research or writing challenge. Thus the chief decree belies the Ministry’s declared aim to facilitate the internationalization of Polish analysis by making a simplified, more legible construction.


Different considerations are monetary. Earlier than the reform, centrally allocated funds for analysis and salaries was distributed to schools in accordance with the ranking of their respective research outputs. To take one example: my own home division, the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, is part of the School of Historical past at the College of Warsaw, which also consists of the departments of history, archaeology, artwork history, and musicology. Owing, partially, to the anthropology division’s contribution, the school’s research has steadily ranked within the highest potential category, ‘A+’. But the reform reduces the position of colleges in favour of the newly created disciplines (the precise construction and position of colleges is yet to be decided). The results of it will differ for different departments. For us, because the average score of the newly created “Culture and Religion Studies” is decrease, the change means much less funding.

Furthermore, money can also be allotted to particular disciplines in accordance with their ‘cost absorption coefficient’. Principally, the costlier the sort of research in a given subject, the extra money the discipline receives.

Fieldwork-based disciplines akin to archaeology or (until now) anthropology obtain a bit greater than those disciplines, primarily in the humanities, whose analysis is carried out primarily in libraries, and pure science disciplines that require labs furnished with expensive gear receive considerably more. This was so earlier than the reform and the brand new regulation preserves the overall principle. The reform introduces a more nuanced scale for calibrating the varied disciplines’ respective research costs. Beforehand, with 1.0 being the essential normal, the maximum coefficient for any discipline was three.0, and most humanities disciplines ranked or 1.5. The new decree extends the size up to On the face of it, the change would seem useful, and maybe it’s – for some. However with anthropology’s merger with non-fieldwork based mostly Tradition and Religion Studies, our coefficient drops to the minimal degree. Our already miserable analysis funds turn out to be much more pathetic. Again, by curbing the monetary prospects for conducting research, collaborating in international conferences, and quite simply staying up-to-date with worldwide literature, the chief determination belies the Ministry’s proclaimed objective of internationalization.

Research and Educating

Furthermore, the worry is that the merging of disciplines is perhaps a first step in the direction of a de facto abolition of anthropology research and educating. For now, the departments and research programmes keep in place. A complicated state of affairs is created by which anthropology (or ‘ethnology’, as for historic reasons it is more generally recognized in Poland) remains recognized as a research programme however not an educational self-discipline. Students will proceed to be enrolled and obtain degrees in a area that’s a Schrödinger’s cat – on the similar time alive and lifeless. However the new regulation provides rectors and newly created supervisory boards composed of government appointees and enterprise representatives free reign in restructuring universities. The menace appears quite real that sooner or later in the near future the rectors and supervisory boards may determine that non-profitable departments representing non-existent disciplines reminiscent of anthropology must be shut down in the identify of austerity and ‘rationalization’. Coincidentally, a brand new Polish edition of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations got here out this yr – now that’s useful social science! It gives a transparent understanding of the world’s modern challenges. Who wants anthropologists with their esoteric hair-splitting, their ‘predicaments of culture’ (Clifford 1988), ‘gender trouble’ (Butler 1990), ‘blurred boundaries’ (Gupta 1995) and ‘partial connections’ (Strathern 2004)? Who needs their nonsense about ‘mushrooms at the end of the world’ (Tsing 2015) and forests that ‘think’ (Kohn 2003)? They only make things difficult, whereas Poland (and humanity) needs options and applicability to grow to be nice once more.


This points to a remaining set of issues in regards to the the reason why the Minister’s meat-axe fell on anthropology. Talking to colleagues abroad, they typically assume this have to be part of ideological warfare, eradicating anthropology as a supply of ideas hostile to Poland’s nationalistic and conservative authorities. A lot as I want anthropology in Poland was so politically vital as to benefit the nationalists’ and conservatives’ in authorities particular (if malevolent) consideration, I don’t assume this is the case. More probably, it seems to me, the abolition of our discipline is a result of its low public visibility paired with the sheer ignorance of Ministry officers. ‘What’s that anthropology?’ I imagine them questioning, ‘Dunno – something about culture, you know, folk dances and strange beliefs and rituals.’ ‘OK, so it’s Tradition and Religion, right?’

Within the newest situation of Anthropology Right now, Bruce Kapferer (2018) writes concerning the threats to anthropology posed by the enmeshing of our self-discipline and academia as an entire in what he calls ‘techno-corporatizing realities’ and ‘economic pragmatism’.

The strain to supply applicable and commercializable outcomes deprives anthropology of its distinctive power: the capacity, by drawing on ethnography, to move past the confines of the already recognized. ‘Anthropological practice is vulnerable to outside political, economic and socio-cultural forces’, Kapferer states.

But he also points out how anthropologists are, partially, themselves responsible. Abandoning the venture of ethnographically derived theory-making, we’ve got de facto accepted a secondary place in relation to other disciplines whose theories colonize our work and to whom we frequently function mere purveyors of ‘raw data.’

Whereas the small print of Kapferer’s argument are debatable, I feel his evaluation broadly describes, partially no less than, additionally the origins of the precise state of affairs of anthropology in Poland at current. For historical reasons too complicated to discover here, Polish anthropology had been remoted from the developments of the discipline within the English-speaking world for decades. Nonetheless immediately there is a vital hole when it comes to the supply of Polish translations of anthropology’s trendy classics. Departments and university libraries are sometimes too underfunded to afford entry to current worldwide literature. These problems are usually not particular to Poland only. Confronted with structural, monetary and institutional obstacles, and additionally confused about our self-discipline’s transnational legacies and distinctive strengths, we have now been unable to determine public relevance and recognizable voice for anthropology around the globe basically, and in Poland particularly. We have now thus discovered ourselves unprepared for the present assault by the mixed forces of conservative authorities and company energy.

This may help perceive why, as an example, informatics, initially also slated for ‘consolidation’ with different fields, has been capable of secure its standing within the disciplinary panorama of Polish academia redrawn by Minister Gowin, whereas anthropology hasn’t. I do need to assume all shouldn’t be yet misplaced, however we’re preventing an uphill wrestle, and we rose up late. Our colleagues in astronomy have succeeded in getting their self-discipline again. Maybe the Minister hopes they may identify a star after him someday ‑ although an Armageddon asteroid could be extra apt. But anthropology? What might we probably identify after Gowin? A savage tribe?

Please signal Allegra’s letter to Minister Gowin right here,


Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Hassle: Feminism and the Subversion of Id. New York: Routledge.

Clifford, James. 1988. The Predicament of Tradition: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard College Press.

Gupta, Akhil. 1995. ‘Blurred Boundaries: The Discourse of Corruption, the Culture of Politics, and the Imagined State’, American Ethnologist 22(2):375‑402.

Kapferer, Bruce, 2018. ‘Anthropology at Risk’, Anthropology In the present day 34(6):1‑2.

Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Assume: Toward an Anthropology past the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Strathern, Marilyn. 2004. Partial Connections, Updated Edition. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.

Strathern, Marilyn (ed.). 2000. Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics and the Academy. London: Routledge.

Tsing, Anna L. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Risk of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton College Press.