Ernest Gellner explores here the links between anthropology andpolitics, and shows just how central these are. The recentpostmodernist turn in anthropology has been linked to the expiationof colonial guilt. Traditional, functionalist anthropology ischaracteristically regarded as an accessory to the crime, andanyone critical of the relativistic claims of interpretativeanthropology (as Ernest Gellner is) is likely to be charged (as hesometimes is) with being an ex post imperialist.Ernest Gellner argues that cultures are crucially important inhuman life as constraining systems of meaning. Cultural transitionmeans that the required characteristics are transmitted fromgeneration to generation, leading, he shows, to both greaterdiversity and to far more rapid change than is possible amongspecies where transmission is primarily by genetic means. But therelative importance of semantic and physical compulsion needs to beexplored rather than pre-judged. The weakness of idealism, which atpresent operates under the name of hermeneutics, is that itunderplays the importance of coercion, and that it presentscultures as self-justifying and morally sovereign: this line ofargument, the author demonstrates, is fundamentally flawed.
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About the Author
Ernest Gellner was Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, before which he had been since 1962 Professor of Philosophy at the London School of Economics. He is now head of research at the Central European University and divides his time between Prague and Cambridge, where he is a Fellow of King's College. His previous books include Nations and Nationalism (1983), The Concept of Kinship (1986), Reason and Culture (1992), Encounters with Nationalism (1994) and Conditions of Liberty (1994).
Table of Contents
1. The Politics of Anthropology.
2. Origins of Society.
3. Culture, Constraint and Community.
4. Freud's Social Contract.
5. Past and Present.
6. James Frazer and Cambridge.
7. Pluralism and the Neolithic.
8. The Highway to Growth.
9. A Marxist Might-have-been.
10. War and Violence.
11. Tribe and State in the Middle East.
12. Maghreb as Mirror for Man.
13. Lawrence of Moravia.
14. Anthropology and Europe.
15. The Coming Fin de Millenaire.
16. The Uniqueness of Truth.