Arguments about Aborigines: Australia and the Evolution of Social Anthropology

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The emergence of anthropology in Britain coincided with the publication of Darwin's book on the origin of species. In the context of inescapable questions about the natural history of our own species, Australian Aborigines were assigned the role of exemplars par excellence of beginnings and early human forms. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, European scholars bent on discovering the origins of social institutions began a rush on the Australian material that lasted well into the present century. The Aborigines have consequently featured as a crucial case-study for generations of social theorists, including Tylor, Frazer, Durkheim and Freud. Arguments about Aborigines reviews a range of controversies (some still alive) that played an important role in the formative period of British social anthropology. The chapters cover family life, male/female relationships, conception beliefs, the mother-in-law taboo, various aspects of religion and ritual, political organization, and land rights: all subjects that have been matters of lively interest and long-running research. Along the way, the study traces changes in Aboriginal circumstances and practices and notes the ways in which these changes affected the scholarly debate.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In our native titles era, lawyers, historians and interested non-professionals would find it useful to learn more of anthropologists' intellectual engagements with Aboriginal people over the past century or so. This important book is a good place to start; it is an achievement worthy of a distinguished tribal elder." Bruce Rigsby, Australian Journal of Politics and History

"Reading each of these chapters as separate essays provides one with a brilliant and critical commentary on the history of anthropological thought....Reading the essays in their totality is fascinating. In many ways they read like a mystery of a detective story where the plot is set in the 1850's, subplots and mini-narratives are added on and eventually the 'scientism' of social anthropology displaces the misnomers of the nineteenth century as well as the metaphysics of Aboriginal thought and interpretation." Aram Yengoyan, American Anthropologist

"Reading the essays in their totality is fascinating. In many ways they read like mystery or detective stories in which the plots are set in the 1850's, subplots and mininarratives are added on, and eventually the scientism of social anthropology displaces the misnomers of the 19th century as well as the metaphysics of Aboriginal thought and interpretation. Each chapter drew me intellectually and inquisitively to the ideas and issues espoused prior to 1910." Aram A. Yengoyan, American Anthropologist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521460088
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/1996
  • Pages: 225
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Table of Contents

List of illustrations
1 Prologue 1
2 Real estates and phantom hordes 13
3 Group marriage 36
4 The woman question 57
5 People without politics 78
6 High gods 100
7 Conception and misconception 120
8 Dangerous mothers-in-law and disfigured sisters 142
9 Initiation: the case of the cheeky yam 165
10 Epilogue 183
Notes 187
References 207
Index 222
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