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Anthropology after GluckmanThe Manchester School, colonial and postcolonial transformations$
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Richard Werbner

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526138002

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.7765/9781526138019

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Elizabeth Colson: home town anthropologist, systems sceptic

Elizabeth Colson: home town anthropologist, systems sceptic

(p.76) 3 Elizabeth Colson: home town anthropologist, systems sceptic
Anthropology after Gluckman

Richard Werbner

Manchester University Press

This chapter reviews the work and life of Elizabeth Colson, Gluckman’s successor as head of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, through an intellectual history focused on her social biography. The account explains how and why her legacy, so rich in Central African ethnography, matters for coming generations of anthropologists. A main contention is that coming from a Midwestern town in Minnesota, distinguished by the uneasy coexistence of displaced Ojibwa Indians and white settler farmers, predisposed Colson towards concerns with discrimination, emplacement and displacement, egalitarianism and participatory democracy, and towards being a systems sceptic, who cast doubt on the utility of any model of a system as if it were something consistently well integrated as a totality. Her scepticism stands out against the approaches of other pioneering social anthropologists; so too does the creative legacy of travelling theory in her transatlantic role. Early in her long career, she introduced to British social anthropology approaches from American sociology. Her breakthrough regarding cross-cutting ties in conflict resolution called into question the utility of the mainstream structuralist model of segmentary opposition and lineage theory. This account documents the intense networking, the broad critical reviewing, and the sustained international collaboration that she accomplished.

Keywords:   cross-cutting ties, travelling theory, systems scepticism, academic networking, lineage theory, social order, transatlantic mediation, dislocation, governance, social control

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