Converging disciplines
Pages 2

As †Evans-Pritchard noted (1981:200), Radcliffe-Brown’s exclusion of ‘guesswork history’ in fact entailed the exclusion of all history. He was concerned to establish a sociologically rigorous inquiry, that had a definite identity as a separate discipline, and could not tolerate the messy complexities of historical contingency (Thomas 1989). He and most other British social anthropologists consequently disembedded intensive ethnographic studies from their historical contexts, not only from a prehistory of hazy migrations, but also from colonial interactions and other developments over the decades immediately preceding the time of fieldwork. Just as some ethnographic photographers such as E.S.Curtis notoriously persuaded subjects to resume traditional dress, and airbrushed-out signs of †acculturation, anthropologists elided foreign contacts that detracted from the authenticity of the cultures studied. Interactions between traditional societies and *colonial powers were reduced to ‘social change’ that might be dealt with in a brief introduction or in a concluding chapter to the classic *functionalist monograph.