Introducing Anthropology and Publicity


Although anthropology is by definition ‘public’, the relationship between its practitioners and society, its social relevance and its connections with the wider audience, have always been controversial and complex. This will be the general theme of the meeting on 5 November 2010 at Ravenstein. To be sure, it is a vast and multifaceted topic.

The focus is on the dissemination of anthropological knowledge to relevant groups in the societies to which anthropologists belong and those where they conduct their research. We will address the reasons for the underexposure of anthropological knowledge (albeit there is considerable variation in this regard according to national anthropological traditions) and explore ways to improve its dissemination and application in society.

Since the emergence of academic anthropology, the discipline has had the double mission of, on the one hand, describing and interpreting cultural differences and, on the other, generating cross-cultural knowledge about humankind. The inherent tension between the particular and the general requires a balancing act on the part of anthropologists and complicates the translation of anthropological knowledge for ‘consumption’ by the wider public, media and policy makers. Given the increased complexity of societies in a globalizing world, anthropological knowledge has become potentially more relevant, yet remains underexposed to wider audiences.

Bridge over the river Waal (Waalbrug) Nijmegen

The meeting in Soeterbeeck will be structured by four intimately related questions. First, in which ways can anthropological knowledge be improved in order to become more relevant and accessible for non-collegial groups in their own society and in the societies where they do their fieldwork? Second, what are the pros and cons of popularizing anthropological publications and moving them to the ‘front lines’? Third, to what extent can cultural relativism play a role in the public debate on social issues? And, finally, what role can the new digital media play in enhancing the public value of anthropology?

These questions will be addressed by the following speakers: Ulf Hannerz (Stockholm University), Thomas Hylland Eriksen (University of Oslo), Jeremy MacClancy (Oxford Brookes University), Annelies Moors(University of Amsterdam), Mathijs Pelkmans (London School of Economics) and discussed in a small gathering of colleagues at the conference centre Soeterbeeck of Radboud University Nijmegen.

Henk Driessen, Martijn de Koning, 27/08/2010

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