If only Derrida missed that flight... About the assessment of the "academic achievements" of the so-called "American Anthropology" by Belgrade Structural-semiotic School of Folklore

  • Miloš Milenković Department of Ethnology and Anthropology Faculty of Philosophy University of Belgrade
Keywords:
history of anthropology, Levi-Strauss, structuralism, postsrtucturalism, postmodernity, Belgrade Structural-semiotic School

Abstract

Taking into account recent critiques of “underdevelopment”, “positivism”, “methodological backwardness” and other failings attributed to so-called “American Anthropology” by some of the authors from the Belgrade Structural-semiotic School of Anthropology of Folklore, I analyse the context in which colleagues and students may be tempted to explain common sense political connection between polyphone ethnography, neo-romanticism and nationalism as counter-intuitive history of the discipline. I already pointed that the important transformative differences in the attitudes towards structuralism between European anthropologists, especially Belgrade Structural-semiotic School of Anthropology of Folklore and so called “American Anthropology”, are the consequence of a pure coincidence – the fact that French structuralism and French poststructuralism were launched simultaneously at the American interdisciplinary intellectual scene (“Theory”) at the same conference. This ironic concurrence would not be much more than one entertaining episode for students, historians of anthropology and historians of ideas, if there were no attempts (more and more frequent and increasingly fluently articulated) to compare different intellectual traditions as they were elements of the same unilineal evolution of the discipline. Belgrade Structural-semiotic School (further called only SS) and especially its spiritus movens and most prominent representative Prof. Kovačević started in recent years to criticise some “American Anthropology” measuring  its academic “achievement” (the author’s term) in comparative perspective and taking as an analytical unit uncritically generalized traditions marked with a single term of “postmodern anthropology” on the one hand, and “anthropology” on the other. Belgrade SS School did develop globally original, although badly promoted and never fully used, battery for the synchronic analysis of the folklore phenomena, but this was done only after Leach, Needham, Schneider and representatives of ethnoscience and cognitive anthropology had already adapted Levi-Strauss’s ideas about mind and science to ethnographic phenomenology. Transformation of Levi-Strauss’s analysis and limited success of its adaptation to the analysis of phenomena that usually concern anthropology happened simultaneously with the development of the critique of structuralism as a theory of culture in the American academic scene. This proves a theory that there is at least one “Atlantic split”, analogue to that in philosophy, more than it makes a relevant context for measuring of the comparative ’academic achievements’ of the specific and unconnected disciplinary traditions. Indirectly, this paper explains that Levi-Strauss’s work has contradictory functions in the history of ideas in anthropology, serving as a starting point for ‘postmodern’ neo-romantic and positivistic critique of imperial realism (in USA), as well as ‘enlightened’, realistic and anti-tribal critique of ethnology as positivistic, nationalistic and national science (in Serbia). In this paper, special emphasis is placed on the local context in which structuralism as a founding discourse of anthropology is opposed to ethnology as national prose. As such it had completely different role in comparison to structuralism in a) the history of American anthropology and b) in the history of interdisciplinary/postmodern Theory.

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Published
2009-10-19
How to Cite
Milenković, Miloš. 2009. “If Only Derrida Missed That Flight. About the Assessment of the "academic Achievements" of the So-Called "American Anthropology" By Belgrade Structural-Semiotic School of Folklore”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 4 (2), 37-51. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21301/eap.v4i2.2.

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