Struggling with Patterson Against Neoliberalism in Anthropology (Review of Chapter 5)

Patterson, Thomas C. (2001). A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg.

(Chapter 5, p. 135-164)

Though the overall aim of Patterson’s book was to identify the effects of social conditions on the historical development of knowledge production in anthropology in the United States, this last chapter epitomizes a gradually increasing lack of explicit linkages between social conditions, the changes within anthropology, and the positions of anthropologists. As was said in class, Patterson initially presents the social conditions and history of a period. Then the theoretical developments follow, sometimes without sufficient effort to connect them. I was particularly disappointed by how clear this was in the last chapter, as I consider it extremely important for anthropology to not underestimate the extent to which (neo)liberal assumptions and norms reach into and influence our research and representations. I will go over the chapter to further develop some of its points, but I will also try to address the matter that Patterson (commendably, if only implicitly) struggles with in chapter 5: what is neoliberalism, and where can we find it in contemporary anthropology?

Patterson presents us with a critical history of the mid-1970s to 2000, but misses opportunities to connect it explicitly to shifts in the discipline later on. By 1974, the already initially tenuous labour-capital pact for material progress that had emerged out of the postwar period had begun to break down. Patterson notes that this period has also been characterized by continued intervention in the “Third World” by the IMF and other US-dominated institutions, if not more directly by NATO and the US military. This point about US and Bretton-Woods domination is an important part of the introduction to the context of the neoliberal era, and indeed this influence is hard to overstate. However, Bretton-Woods policies and US imperialism are relatively absent from the rest of this chapter.

Chapter 5 divides the neoliberal era into three broad periods that coincide with theoretical, methodological and empirical shifts in interest in American anthropology. These are the Marxist turn from 1974-1982; the postmodern turn or “restructuring” of the profession from 1982-1994 and the last section dealing with globalization, feminism and the future of anthropology from 1994-2000.

Patterson remarks that symbolic anthropology and ecologically-oriented neo-evolutionists had no means of accounting for the new labour conditions in the mid 70s, but the Marxist perspective did, which is largely why it had more success up until the early 80s. That said, if we look at the works of symbolic anthropologists like Schneider and the work of neo-evolutionists like Rappaport and Leslie White, both these schools were clearly influenced by Marxist thinking (even if the latter school in particular shed most of the ideas about class and dialectics in favour of technology, culture and energy). Patterson perhaps understates the shared roots of these three currents.

During this same period leading up to the 1980s, no-growth budgets meant that universities and departments could not hire as they previously had: full-time faculty were not replaced, and an increasing number of part-time faculty (mostly women) joined, leading in part to the current paradigms of full-time vs. part-time, tenured vs. non-tenured, and as discussed in class, gender inequalities in graduate studies as well as faculty hiring.

The period from the early 80s to the early 90s is described as the “restructuring” of the profession and the postmodern turn. The postmodern turn in anthropology was also a linguistic one, in which the Geertzian language of the text and hermeneutics dominated explorations of culture. Particularly, the author underlines the centrality of words to the way in which people negotiated meaning as intersubjective (there being no objective reality outside the text made up of what people say). Writing Culture authors Marcus and Clifford became the figureheads of a turn towards new ways of writing and auto-ethnography, but also demonstrated a strong concern (particularly from Clifford) for the ways in which anthropologists author-ize their claims about culture using “I was there” tropes, and refraining from referring to the influence they had by adopting the “objective observer” perspective. Postmodern anthropologists focused disproportionately on social and cultural change in a capitalist world as coming from the middle class and the elite. Identity politics took priority over acknowledged, but ultimately ignored, vectors of structural oppression.

What is missing here, to me, is that there is no in-depth commentary on why these anthropologists acted the way they did. Patterson shows us the conditions of emergence, and shows us how people acted, but in this last chapter, doesn’t make the move Bourdieu (1984) does of saying ‘academics were situated here, this is their history, and this is why they acted this way in these conditions’. For instance, there is a common narrative about the critical turn in anthropology that anthropologists were being criticized for their involvement in colonialism and so turned inward to create distance from these actions, as well as introspect on what anthropology should do in order to avoid reproducing its colonial representations and methods. The author mentions the influence of Marcus, Clifford, and to a lesser extent Said, but doesn’t really look at this as a moment of crisis (resulting not only from neoliberalism but of critique of the discipline and its ongoing relationship with colonialism and imperialism). Indeed, one of the guiding threads of this book had been the evolution of race and contestations around colonialism, which go undeveloped in chapter 5.

However, the author does emphasize that this was a period of increasing state repression under Cold War dictatorships and a period of neoliberal policies that allowed corporations to suck the life out of workers, peasants and tribal peoples. Patterson intimates that anthropologists concerns seem rather quaint, and even complicit, in retrospect. Even more so when we consider the administrative changes at the AAA that paralyzed attempts to take public positions against CIA recruitment, apartheid, and other issues.

The last period, from 1994-2000, covers ongoing changes in the structure of the discipline and the anthropology classroom. Anthropologists are apparently more integrated into applied projects, particularly oriented towards improving health in the global south. The author uses this as evidence of the fact that anthropology isn’t at risk of going away, without really talking about what anthropology is becoming as a result. Simultaneously, he notes that less emphasis is placed on the four field approach, and students are becoming increasingly specialized but unable to relate to things outside their field. This last claim is particularly specious to me. I think that, for better or for worse, many social scientists are now all the more interested in similar topics, and even using similar methods and theories.

I want to end by addressing a question that we did not have time to explore in the seminar: what is Patterson’s view of neoliberalism and where does he locate it in anthropology? Patterson claims that postmodern anthropology adopted the ahistorical central tenet of neoliberalism: that identities were not created in social relations but rather in the exchange of words and ideas between peoples occupying different places in the hierarchy of power (Patterson, 2001: 155). I want to set aside potential confusion around terms of “social relationships” and “peoples” here. Patterson does not spend enough time developing this point for me to explain what is meant, but it is clear enough that he is calling out as neoliberal the kind of agency and identity work done by the likes of Marcus and others. Instead of trying to counter this perspective, I want to briefly present a complementary one in light of the recent success of actor-network theory across the social sciences.

Rather than claiming that neoliberalism has some kind of consistency anchored in a central tenet, I would focus on the potential for the theories we use to uphold and support existing orders of oppression. Network or system theory’s focus on decentralized networks and its purported inspiration in either nature or machines (or both in the form of cybernetics) tends to represent reality as flattened of power relations, or even relations bearing any form of quality. At its worst, by making the basic unit of analysis this vague idea of “the relationship”, actor-network theory often amounts to assembling these relationships that suggest infinitely diffuse power and responsibility. For all the potential that thinking with networks might have for problematizing notions of “the human” and “the individual” that are too often assumed to have no connection to gendered or racial oppression, this theoretical orientation meshes quite well with the historical practices of neoliberalism (and they indeed share roots in cybernetics). It may be that no matter how we cut the network to emphasize hierarchies or conflict, its assumptions are so deeply entangled with those of network thinking that it is unlikely to provide significant challenge to the main means by which power is exerted today.


Bourdieu, Pierre. (1984). Homo Academicus. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Patterson on Anthropology in the Postwar Era: How Research is Directed by and Serves the State

Patterson, Thomas C. (2001). A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg.

(Chapter 4, pp. 103-134)

In this chapter, Patterson describes the fluctuations and trends within anthropology between the end of World War II (1945) and the end of direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War (1973, two years before the war’s official end). He blazes through multiple crises and huge shifts within U.S. society, politics, and economy and ties these shifts to anthropological thought and research, while attempting to also cover the larger global context as it is relevant to these changes. Patterson tackles the adjustments of areas of learning in universities (along with the funding opportunities made available for academics) to fit the state’s needs, the rise of support for analytic frameworks which countered more radical ones, the increased flow of funding from the government and private philanthropies to researchers, the erasure of certain subjects (such as Marxism) from academia and research, and the phenomenon of researchers losing their jobs due to their political beliefs and activities. He lays these points out in the beginning of the chapter, leaving the reader to carry them through the remaining pages.

Of particular interest in this chapter is the internationalization of anthropology which stemmed from WWII and the postwar projects taking place overseas, as well as the U.S.’s attention to newly independent nations following decolonization. Anthropologists, previously focused on issues and peoples at home, moved their projects abroad following funding from the U.S. government and organizations such as the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie foundations. Patterson shows how area studies shifted according to which parts of the globe were receiving the most interest from the government, and how research initiatives within and outside of universities were formed in conjunction with foundations’ funds which closely aligned with state needs. In 1946 the Russian Research Center was formed with Carnegie money at Harvard, and, according to Patterson, was linked also to the CIA and FBI. Funding in Micronesia was granted to researchers who supported navy efforts there, and those same researchers became administrative members of the “Trust Territories” that their research helped establish in the area. In the mid-sixties the Ford Foundation gave 138 million dollars to universities to promote the study of non-Western languages. MIT’s Center for International Studies worked with the CIA to ensure that newly independent nations would become capitalist societies which could in no way challenge U.S. interests. In a move that would later become quite controversial and lead directly to the establishment of the AAA’s Ad-Hoc Ethics Committee, The Department of Defense funded Project Camelot, consisting of anthropological studies of social revolutions in Chile, Columbia, and Peru. Anthropologists also lent themselves to counterinsurgency efforts in Thailand. Finally, in 1968, Kathleen Gough published “Anthropology and Imperialism”, an article which critiqued the ways the discipline was serving the politics of domination and called for a reflexive, critical anthropology.

Patterson also details changes within the discipline and universities during this time, noting how the influx of veterans into higher education after 1946 doubled the number of college students. This resulted in a general swell in the size and number of universities and more specifically of anthropology departments, causing a rise in the numbers of anthropologists working as professors instead of as government officials. In accordance with the increased number of people doing anthropology, there was a proliferation of schisms within the discipline. Patterson details the split of sociology from anthropology as well as the division of anthropology into the four fields of linguistic anthropology, physical anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, and archaeology. He notes that archaeologists in particular enjoyed National Science Foundation funding due to their concerns with cultural evolution (borrowed from a depoliticized Marx) and their cross-cultural emphasis, as well as their properly scientific methodology. It is evident from these and other examples given in the chapter that anthropological research never took place on a plane of pure intellectual curiosity divorced from the political, social, and economic realities of the world in which it was situated. Furthermore, it is clear how anthropological knowledge was produced in order to respond to state needs, not simply produced innocently and co-opted by the state.

Even as succinct as he is, it feels as though Patterson had a particularly tough time jamming all of the massively important events of these years into one thirty page chapter. The feeling is far from unique to this chapter, indeed during each segment of the book I wish Patterson spent more time making his connections and arguments explicit, exploring the significance of the events he outlines more fully. Instead it is often left to the reader to fill this in themselves as they work their way through the history packed between these pages. This is not to say that the connections Patterson draws are unclear, as the focus on funding and politics and the relationship of these with anthropological research is consistent throughout the entire book, but they beg to be fleshed out.

Chapter 3: The Search for Social Order at Home and Abroad

Patterson, Thomas C. (2001). A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg.

Chapter 3: Anthropology and the Search For Social Order 1929-1945, Pp. 71 to 102.

Patterson’s third chapter surveys the professionalization of anthropology during the tumultuous decades starting with the 1929 stock market crash and concluding with the end of World War II. During this period, anthropology transitioned from a privately funded, university centered discipline to one intimately incorporated to the needs of the US government. The chapter’s title, the Search for Social Order, seems to minimize the harrowing practices of American anthropology during this time in which cultural knowledge was explicitly produced and utilized to further the interests of the dominant class. Social order in this sense is the status quo and this period highlights the ways in which the minds and societies of the ‘other’ became strategic concerns. 

Three key initiatives that shaped the direction of anthropological research in the US. The first was Rockefeller money channeled through charitable foundations: the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the Laura Spleman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM). The SSRC and LSRM invested approximately $50 million dollars into the advancements of the social sciences in the United States including founding the University of Chicago and supporting programs at numerous well known schools. These ‘centeres of excellence’ would help foster a more scientifically legitimate approach to the study of the social and would emphasize a practical approach to promoting economic and civil stability.

The second organization was the National Research Council (NRC) formed in 1916 and during this period focused on the so-called Negro Problem. Much like the powder keg of class war, a series of riots sparked by racism, labor competition, and segregation led black workers to self-organize through groups such as the NAACP and by charismatic individuals such as the Pan-African nationalist Marcus Garvey. Anthropologists spearheaded a series of groundbreaking community studies into African American life to challenge biological determinist views on race and to highlight the continuing effects of slavery and segregation on communities.

The third initiative was the American Council of Learned Societies’ Committee (ACLSC) on Research in American Native Languages. This group continued the the work of cataloguing indigenous language and cultural intelligence from seventy five Native American peoples. In the ACLSC culture became viewed as shared elements of a collective conscience that could be understood to better incorporate Native Americans into the cultural hegemony of the United States.

These programs were of great interest to the federal government before and during World War II as culture emerged a key front to stabilize decades of unrest. Industrial relations during this period were characterized by extreme levels of violence, not only in Rockefeller owned sites as noted in a previous post regarding the Ludlow massacre, but also during the spectacular Battle for Blair Mountain in 1921 and the Harlan County War during the early 1930s. Presumably seeking a way to resolve labour grievances without the use of machine guns, the social sciences drew upon the colonial experiences of the applied anthropological model of the British social school to provide data on working conditions across industrial America. Succinctly noted in seminar discussions was how formalized these practices have become in contemporary industrial relations to convince workers that their interests are aligned with management and owners. While this strategy avoids much of the direct violence characteristic of industrial relations in the 19th and early 20th centuries the end result of minimizing labour’s power is still achieved.  

Also reflective of the strategic importance of culture were the interest to the SSRC and the LSRM of the ways in which cultural contact changed groups. To this end, a series of studies commissioned in South America in the late 1930s sought to understand how acculturation took place between cities and rural indigenous communities. The process of which was challenged by several other anthropologists including Malinowski who noted that rarely, if ever, did acculturation take place as the term implies an exchange between two equally considered parties (Patterson; Pp. 88). In the United States, colonial capitalism dictated both the form and function of cultural exchange between white hegemony and both indigenous peoples and communities of colour. This, as noted in the seminar discussion, resembled an early iteration of the counterinsurgency logic that would become Project Camelot and later the Human Terrain System.

The Great Depression saw increased interest in anthropology from the federal government which funded several labour intensive archaeological programs through the Work Projects Administration. In the buildup to World War II language and cultural studies became strategically important to the US government to understand emerging threats abroad; notably understanding differences between ethnic and national identity with the intent of securing a population’s loyalty, or at least complicity, in the event of military occupation.

On the home front, the insight anthropology provided in the search for social order culminated with the War Relocation Authority to forcibly intern tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans in prison camps. The American Anthropological Association was not only silent of these endeavors, they actively encouraged participation in the war effort. Price notes: “In this war social scientists were harnessed at new levels as intelligence analysts, propagandists, guerrilla insurgents, language instructors, jungle survival specialists, saboteurs, foot soldiers, officers, and spies” (2011; Pp. 20). By the end of World War II the search for social order went global as the same tools used to mitigate class and race conflict in the US were employed abroad by the needs of American imperialism. This point marks a long period of explicit exchange between the military and anthropology that would see strategies of weaponized culture employed at home and abroad.

Price, David H. (2011). Weaponizing Anthropology. Oakland: CounterPunch and AK Press.

Thomas C. Patterson – Anthropology in the Liberal Age, 1879-1929 (chapter 2)

Patterson, Thomas C. (2001). A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg.

In this chapter, Patterson is looking at the professionalization of the field from the creation of the Bureau of Ethnology in 1879 to the Wall Street Crash in 1929. Key processes of this period were the imperial interest of businesses to control foreign markets, the colonialist expansion over dark-skinned people, and the immigration of southern and eastern European people. At that time, mass-media and new policies became important channels of transmission of classism, racism, sexism, and xenophobia.

During the 1870s, John Wesley Powell, Commissioner of Indian Affairs and Secretary of the Interior, proposed the replacement of military campaigns by reservations that would serve the acculturation purpose.  In 1879, Congress created the Bureau of Ethnology,  under Powell’s direction, to publish work related to the Indians of North America. Powell’s extensive work, a compilation and classification of North American Indian languages and their genetic relationship advanced the organization of past data and of tribal synonymy. However, his research was constricted by lobbying groups advocating for the study of mound-builders. During the 1920s, Boas and his students critiqued cultural evolutionism and racialist theories. During the same period, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) was founded and graduate programs were created in many universities. This professionalization was opposed by Edgar Lee Hewett, founder of the Archaeological Society of New Mexico, who attracted away support given to Boas and Putnam. At the end of the First World War, Boas discovered that four anthropologists were spies in Central America and Mexico. Moreover, views on what anthropology entails were divided between Boas’ cultural determinism of behavior, Aleš Hrdlička’s stress on physical anthropology, and Charles B. Davenport’s eugenics and social Darwinism. In 1916, the National Research Council (NRC) was created to organize science and research for the war effort and, in July 1919, the Division of Anthropology and Psychology was created.

In Homo Academicus, Pierre Bourdieu (1984) described situations when professors gained power and social position because of their charismatic personality or their writings for the mainstream population. Indeed, many of the precursors of today’s field were journalists themselves or engaged in popular writing. This is the case of Powell who “wrote popular accounts for the mass media, which publicized various aspects of Indian life in the West” (Patterson 2001:37). Moreover, people who collaborated with Powell for his research came from various fields, including newspaper reporting James Mooney. These researchers were said to conduct brilliant research, which lead to much of the development of anthropology. Most importantly, at a period when mass media was used to spread discrimination and popular beliefs, it could also be used by anthropologists, such as Franz Boas, to attack these beliefs but also the occurrences of the time. Today, the use of digital media to increase social capital is seen through social platforms such as twitter,, and TED talks, which have a direct impact in the careers of social scientists.

Another aspect of reflexion is the practice of ethnographic work by individuals having personal interests in colonial or imperialist objectives, which were still very present during this period. This was the case of the colonial administrators described in The Expansive Moment by Jack Goody (1995), who walked into the field with a notebook and a gun. Within Powell’s team, one must question the interests of the people involved, for instance, but not only, the army surgeon, army officer, and missionary. Moreover, Powell’s research was of interest for the Director of the 1880 Census who believed a better understanding of linguistic relationship would facilitate the administration of Indian tribes. Finally, anthropologists conducting research abroad and simultaneously spying during the Second World War were not necessarily seen as breaching ethics by the AAA. The AAA  still struggles to assert its position regarding current conflicts because its stands result in strong debate within the association.

During the period covered by this chapter we have seen countless examples of individuals and organizations trying to control the outcome of research through their political influence or their monetary power. Lobbying seemed to be particularly strong before the professionalization of the field, as the government controlled the funds allocated to the various research teams. Research seemed to rely on political games, where the most powerful or annoying got the result they wanted. Researchers were also trying to attract individuals with money to fund their institutions and their research. This also meant that outsiders of the academic field, such as Grant at the committee of Anthropology of the NRC, were allowed in the decision making processes. Today, government and private agencies offering scholarships and grants might prioritize certain research that is beneficial to them.


Bourdieu, Pierre. (1990). Homo Academicus. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: The Rise of Social Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Patterson, Thomas C. (2001). A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg.

(Ch.1, p.7-34)

Chapter 1 of Patterson’s contextual overview of American anthropology covers the period of 1776 to 1879, the period during which the United States was established as an independent entity and its centralized authority consolidated itself. The topics of the day in anthropology were those of interest to the developing American nation and the anthropology  of this time is very explicitly political. The agenda is set by the strategic issues of the day and the balance of power weighs on the competing positions.

In part, this situation us caused by a major difference between the intellectual environment of the early republic and the contexts described by Bourdieu and Goody. The anthropologists of the early republic are described by Patterson as amateur. This is in contrast with the professional anthropologists and social scientists described by the other two contexts. These professional anthropologists are trained as anthropologists with specialist degrees; they are, for the most part, funded institutionally and they publish in peer reviewed journals which are the manifestation of an institutionalized methodology. Meanwhile, the anthropologists of the early republic are mostly politicians and medical practitioners, drawn into anthropological debates by the political questions of their day. They publish in books and periodicals (such as the North American Review) which also serve as sources of funding. Other sources of funding for anthropological endeavor at this time are government commissions (official anthropology) and self-funding by wealthy individuals. Although many claims to scientific legitimacy are made by all sides in any given anthropological debate of the period, these are mostly hyperbole and rhetoric. In the absence of an institutionalized methodology for conferring academic legitimacy upon ideas, there are two main sources of legitimacy: institutions of power and popularity. Institutions of power, such as government and economic interests, weigh upon the debates of the day, lending support to positions which legitimize and promote the directions they intend to take. Meanwhile, the democratic nature of the American constitution and the local political context mean that ideas must vie for support amongst those who may vote.

The strategic issues of the day which define anthropological debate during this period stem from the need for the United States to establish itself as a sovereign nation, to extend its power regionally and to consolidate its centralized power (the emerging federal government). In order to establish the United States as a viable nation in the eyes of European nations whose diplomatic support (and capital markets) were essential to American security, people like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson found themselves analyzing native languages. By arguing that the natives were more culturally sophisticated than Europeans had initially thought, they thought to counter European beliefs (chiefly Buffon) that the Americas were a degenerate place where nothing could thrive. As the United States took its place amongst the world’s powers, the focus shifted to arguing that the natives were in fact primitive; too primitive to be said under English traditions (essentially the doctrines of Locke) to actually occupy the land they lived upon. Such conclusions were then used to justify land seizure, reservation and relocation policies. These arguments, by people such as Lewis Cass, presented the natives as incorrigibly backwards and were the foundation for an anthropology of race which would dominate anthropological discussion during the latter part of the period which the chapter covers. On one side of these debates were polygenist ideas, based on the belief that different human races were in fact different species and that differences between races were biologically driven and inherent. There was thus an immutable hierarchy of the races. Such ideas were often based on phrenology, such as the work of Samuel G. Morton. On the other side were monogenist ideas, most prominently argued by William Dwight Whitney and Lewis Henry Morgan, which held that all human beings were of the same species and that differences were largely due to quirks of development, were therefore essentially cultural and thus, changeable.

The dominant topic of the latter portions of the period was slavery. The polygenist/monogenist debate is even more virulent here than in the context of native questions. Polygenists argue that the inferior races are inherently unhealthy and that allowing the races to combine is fundamentally wrong and dangerous. Monogenists mostly argue for education and other “civilizing” policies. Nobody seems to think the natives and the black people might be fine on their own. Nobody seems to notice the chinese workers. Nobody seems to consider it relevant that women of every race don’t matter very much. Such ideas will be for a later period.



Bourdieu, Pierre. (1990). Homo Academicus. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: The Rise of Social Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Patterson: The Dialectics of Knowledge Production in Anthropology

Patterson, Thomas C. (2001). A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg.

Preface, ix-x
Introduction, 1-5

Thomas Patterson opens his rather unique text on the history of US anthropology by remarking on the sense of dissatisfaction that he and some of his colleagues felt over the continued production of “internalist” accounts in the field. By this I take it he means historiography that focuses on key personalities and their ideas, the transfer and revision of their ideas by their disciples, their followers’ addition of new ideas that are then passed on to their students, and so on. The result has been the construction, teaching, and learning of certain creation myths in US anthropology, especially around the figure of Franz Boas. This is indeed a deeply dissatisfying manner of writing disciplinary history, and Patterson offers a productive change of course.

We know what a non-internalist account would eschew: the discipline was not internally self-generating; it did not develop in total autonomy; its major influences were external to the discipline, and even external to academia; and, among the more useful insights of this volume, there is no such thing as an inherently “anthropological question,” and there never has been.

Patterson calls his approach a dialectical one:

“the study of anthropology is a dialectical process. It is shaped by what the world is and who the anthropologists and the diverse peoples they study are. The three are joined together by structures and practices of domination and subordination whose appearances do not always convey the full extent of their reality. To understand the changing positions and interrelations of the anthropologists and the communities they study in the structures that organize the world, it is essential to know what those structures are, how they came to be, and how they are changing. It is also essential to realize that people and anthropologists who have different positions in these structures of power see the world differently. As a result, a knowledge of the whole is a precursor for a fuller understanding of the parts” (p. 2)

In his study, he approaches the historical development of US anthropology by examining,

  1. the circumstances that first facilitated the formation of anthropology as a set of questions and practices, and then as a discipline;
  2. the political-economic conditions in which anthropological knowledge was developed, shaped, and deployed;
  3. the appearance of practices centered in specific regions and groups of researchers;
  4. the place of anthropology within larger structures of power; and,
  5. the role of anthropology in creating/perpetuating images of past and contemporary peoples (pp. 2-3).

Completing his introductory outline, Patterson identifies the three major goals of his book, which involve:

  1. Outlining the diverse sources of inspiration that were brought together and deployed by anthropologists in the US;
  2. Restoring knowledge, or acknowledgment, of the anthropologists who were marginalized and silenced in various political crackdowns in the US; and,
  3. Showing how the production of anthropological knowledge is a dialectical process.

In these opening pages, Patterson proceeds to outline his chapters in a very succinct manner, which I shall further condense. In chapter 1 he explains how the formation of US national identity, the construction of “American exceptionalism,” territorial expansion, and slavery worked to spur and shape the first serious attempts to develop anthropological research. In particular, the work of the American School of Ethnology, the American Ethnological Society, and the Smithsonian, are highlighted, as well as the influence of various US Presidents, insurance companies, and the quest for foreign loans. Scientific racism, the debate over the importance of language versus race, the first stages of salvage ethnography (long before Boas), and the logics founding what would become the “four fields” of US anthropology, all appear in this chapter. In chapter 2, Patterson sets out to discuss the professionalization of anthropology, and how anthropological work moved from the Bureau of Ethnology to the National Museum and then to universities. This was a time of especially intense discrimination against people of colour and a struggle erupted over “the identity and direction of the field…between cultural determinists, eugenicists, and those who emphasized the biological bases of human diversity”. In chapter 3, Patterson examines the impact of the Great Depression, World War II, militarization, and the impact of the newly formed Social Science Research Council on the expansion of US anthropology. Subjects and frameworks that rose to dominance were those relating to acculturation, assimilation, national character, and area studies. In chapter 4, Patterson looks at post-WWII expansion, US hegemony, the return of evolutionism, and the impacts of the Cold War and anti-Communism on anthropology. The work of the Ford, Rockefeller, and Fulbright foundations also figures in this chapter, as well as the the role of anthropologists in counterinsurgency. Finally, in chapter 5, Patterson studies the impact of the rise of neo-liberalism–economic restructuring, privatization, the corporatization of the university, and the teaching of neoliberal doctrine–on academia and anthropology in particular, which has become increasingly fragmented.

Interestingly, Patterson also seems to be passing a baton to David H. Price, one of whose works will again conclude this seminar. Patterson does so in the following statement: “It was not my aim to write an account of the lives of anthropologists who were persecuted for their political activism. Nor was it my aim to relate the actions of anthropologists who sought to drive colleagues and students from the profession. These are chapters in the history of U.S. anthropology that remain to be written” (p. x)–in other words, areas in which Price specializes.

Finally, this book directly addresses a number of this seminar’s key questions, such as:

  • Who has been served the most by an institutionalized Anthropology in Western universities? In other words, who needs anthropologists the most?
  • What are the material conditions that influence the production of Anthropology?
  • What constitutes “an anthropological question”? In other words, which questions are asked, when and where, and who gets to ask them?
  • Is Anthropology ever really separate from politics?
  • When did ethnography become important for Anthropology, and why? Were Anthropologists the ones who conceived of, or innovated, ethnography?
  • To what extent does institutional Anthropology’s practice resemble or parallel the foreign policies of its home states?


A Social History of Anthropology in the United States.
By Thomas C. Patterson
Oxford: Berg, 2001.

The third book in our series for the Fall semester of 2015 is described by the publisher as follows:

patterson_social_history_bkIn part due to the recent Yanomami controversy, which has rocked anthropology to its very core, there is renewed interest in the discipline’s history and intellectual roots, especially amongst anthropologists themselves. The cutting edge of anthropological research today is a product of earlier questions and answers, previous ambitions, preoccupations and adventures, stretching back one hundred years or more. This book is the first comprehensive history of American anthropology. Crucially, Patterson relates the development of anthropology in the United States to wider historical currents in society. American anthropologists over the years have worked through shifting social and economic conditions, changes in institutional organization, developing class structures, world politics, and conflicts both at home and abroad. How has anthropology been linked to colonial, commercial and territorial expansion in the States? How have the changing forms of race, power, ethnic identity and politics shaped the questions anthropologists ask, both past and present? Anthropology as a discipline has always developed in a close relationship with other social sciences, but this relationship has rarely been scrutinized. This book details and explains the complex interplay of forces and conditions that have made anthropology in America what it is today. Furthermore, it explores how anthropologists themselves have contributed and propagated powerful images and ideas about the different cultures and societies that make up our world. This book will be essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the roots and reasons behind American anthropology at the turn of the twenty-first century. Intellectual historians, social scientists, and anyone intrigued by the growth and development of institutional politics and practices should read this book.