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Lecture 7

Lecture 7 Legacy_Ethnographic_Knowledg_Reconsiderede_.doc

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Donna Young

Lecture 7: Evans-Pritchard’s Legacy Fifty years after E-P completed his ethnographic study of the Nuer, the American anthropologist Sharon Hutchinson went to Nuerland, in the Southern Sudan, to conduct ethnographic research. In the opening passage of her ethnography, Nuer Dilemmas: Coping with Money, War, and the State (1996), she writes: It is good that you are leaving before the rains begin,” remarked Gatnyinijar, my long-standing host and “head chief” of the western Leek Nuer, as we walked together with his policemen to auction off several head of cattle confiscated in lieu of uncollected taxes. What has changed? 1. The previously egalitarian society now has a CHIEF. 2. Taxes are paid: A form of centralized state is recognized. 3. Cattle are auctioned: Cattle viewed as a commodity, sold in trade. The relationship b/w cattle and the Nuer has altered. There were still family herd but also there were herds that were purchased in the marketplace which gave young people a lot more freedom form their elders which began to deteriorate the entire tribal and family structure All of these things were inconceivable when E-P worked and walked among the Nuer in the early 1930s. The Sudan declared independence from Egypt and England in 1956, but civil war began a year earlier between North and South Sudan. During colonial rule, the north and south had been governed differently, and after Independence, racialized and religious categories were used to separate the two. The North was Arabic and Muslim; The South was Christian or Animist and Black. Civil War in one form or other would continue until the Southern Sudan was granted Independence just this past year. Sharon Hutchinson’s work builds directly on the path–breaking work of Evans- Pritchard. But anthropological theories and styles of ethnographic writing changed over the 50 years between the two studies. The reasons for both changes are interconnected. Theory and styles of representation are connected. This lecture is going to explore that relationship. In the Nuer, E-P put forth a theory about political life among the Nuer that became known as Structural-Functionalism. In Structural Functionalism, the ethnographer illustrates the interconnectedness between various cultural and social institutions that work together like a finely oiled machine, holding the society together and allowing for the reproduction of that society. The focus in structural functionalism is on maintaining equilibrium, and on reproducing shared cultural patterns. The problem with structural functionalism is that it is not very good at explaining social change. There is no room for critique. For all that E-P was influenced by the discipline of history, so that he understood historical understanding to be culturally relative (a very important observation), his structural-functionalist analyses tended to treat societies as static, self-enclosed, holistic, cultural units. The irony is that the very colonial regimes he served were instigating radical social change. But there were other historical forces as well, as social and cultural movements have swept across North Africa for m
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