THE CRISIS OF POST-MODERN ANTHROPOLOGYAND
NEW APPROACHES TOWARDS AN OMNIDISCIPLINARY CRITICAL AND SYSTEMATIC 'SCIENCE OF MAN'
Notes related to the anthropological seminar
'Between Reflexivity and Social Critique -
for an Anthropology of the 21st Century
Organised by the Department of Ethnology,
University of Neuchatel/ Neuenburg (CH)
by Nold Egenter
THE END OF THE GREAT QUESTIONS
Recently the Swiss Ethnological Association has organized an interesting 3-day‘s international seminar at Neuchatel (Western Switzerland). The title was 'Between Reflexivity and Social Criticism - for an anthropology of the 21st Century'. The program aimed at an answer on the question, what anthropology can contribute to contemporary cultural debates and to the actual political situation, a question, which - according to the view of the organizers - has remained vital since the origins of anthropology. "Anthropology is more than merely a descriptive science. In the actual world-situation the discipline has also its moral obligations. Never before, anthropology has gained so much importance as in the present international political situation, also - and above all - outside the university. The scholars, who were invited to this seminar, will debate about the necessity to develop new methodological approaches. Their epistemological and practical knowledge in regard to the status of the discipline at the beginning of the 21st century are in demand. By furthering exchange of ideas among scholars with different horizons, we hope to contribute to this fundamental debate."
In this frame the seminar was focussed on three main problematic fields, namely 'reflexivity', 'social criticism' and the 'practical tasks of anthropologists within modern society'. In another sense the meeting was interesting, namely because those invited represented quite different positions and because the themes were discussed with great frankness. There were also 'friendly tensions', particularly between perspectives of the old and new world.
Abstracts of the contributions
The first key note speaker, Martin Fuchs, coeditor of the critical book 'Crisis of Ethnographical Represenation' gave a short survey of recent developments of the area from his own position. He outlined the debates after the critical phase of the eighties and described them as a rather confused process of differentiations emphasising culture and social reflexivity. In the latter case cognitive problems ('production of knowledge') and conceptual reflexivity were in the centre with themes like subjectivation, rationalisation etc. And, in a third line he mentioned the increasing dichotomy between rapid urbanization and decentralized populations with corresponding implications. Four prevailing complexes were outlined in the discussion (interactivity, epistemic hierarchy, attributively defined religion, and the composed spectre of culture). Critically it can be objected here: evidently the strong emphasis on the autonomous formation and on the social construction of institutions theoretically runs into the form problem which can not be explained in this way. Fuchs mentioned also problems with the concept of religion, pointed above all to the European ethnocentrisms involved and to the problematic concept of 'belief‘. < 1> Fuchs works in India and cited one of his Indian acquaintances as saying: "I use the expression 'religion' only in conversations with Christians." Evidently, outside our own civilization we do not receive good notes in regard to our understanding of foreign cultures.
Fuchs' presentation produced rather dismal feelings regarding the capacity of postmodern ideology within present ethnology and anthropology. Any hope on universal perspectives has disappeared, he said. And, hinting to Gandhi, he suggested a respectfully tolerant pluralism. But, perhaps this reference to Gandhi has become an anachronism today. We live in a new quasi-imperial Domino-effect-phase of Millennium-fundamentalisms (Reagan, Polish Pope, American "Creationism", fall of the East and New Globalism, vehement Islamistic reactions) and consequently our optics must adapt to the new circumstances.
Perhaps the contribution of the second keynote speaker, Mariella Pandolfi in this connection could be taken as an illustration. She demonstrated the climate inside of anthropology. The attitude was however not fundamentally different in its critical relation regarding present conditions. Pandolfi described anthropology as a quasi-psychotic type of nostalgia on the level of ideas like ''immaculate conception''. She presented her own life-story as illustration and finally outlined her hopes quite paradoxically. She wished that a similar ideal would come again in the near future!
Nancy Cheng's presentation was refreshing. Though she actually was not less critical in her outlooks, she sketched her relationship to science with a healthy distance. She outlined it, theoretically and practically, as a kind of playball in the timewise and spatially changing political tactics and as part of culturally woven world-views, particularly between Western horizontal individualism and pyramidally communal structures in the East. The part of her lecture, which dealt with how biotechnology is done in China, emphasized the strong relationships of Chinese research with the United States, and thus was rather spicy. Marxism survives in the political institutions, but in the domain of biotechnology other rules are valid, she said at the end, answering an auditor‘s question.
The expression 'anthropo-technology' sounds rather new. The expression is focussed on the position of technology in society. Philippe Geslin described certain circumstances in which the diffusion of innovations and the transfer of technology were very important. Also in view of cognitive anthropology, he said, the socio-technological relationship is considerable. Related to this theoretical outlines, Geslin gave some examples. However, he did not mention the strong prejudices produced by the history of the humanities. In the framework of disciplinary classification the objective view on technology and material culture appears greatly distorted (e. g. ethnology and archaeology). Also in regard to the everpresent form-problem Geslin's connection between social and technological criteria was not convincing.
Very interesting was Marc Abélès' observation of centralized institutions in France and Brussels concerning spatial orders and their expression. It is an approach, which could be developed further in the framework of an anthropology of human space organisation. However, his topic 'assemblies as enterprises' appears to be a product of the contemporary zeitgeist. And the theme 'Theatralisation of Conflicts' is not completely new either, one could even say, a rather old and popular theme. Fascinating and new, however, is his study on the 'nouveau-riches' in the Silicon-Valley in California and their relationship to philanthropy. Urban-ethnology, theoretically a resigned setback on one hand, shows new aspects here. However, despite the references to Mauss' ethnological gift-exchange-concept, the result is quite close to sociology. Such comparisons may open fascinating new perspectives, but they neglect the objective differences. In addition the historic implications are minimal.
Social power and ritualisation of death and mourning in Columbia were the ethnological object in Anne-Marie Losonczy's lecture. She drew a rather extreme picture of poverty, corruption and political power. At the end some auditors put her presentation in question, above all with regard to wider political circles and their responsibilities in regard to the empirical close-ups of the presentation.
To a great extent George Marcus put himself into Malinowsky‘s line. From this viewpoint he emphasized new procedures, reflexivity as mainstream and the important significance of morality in American anthro-discussions. Further criteria from his view: methodology is more important than theoretical questions. At the end of his lecture the weight he had put on reflexivity in American discussions, was critically questioned. He answered by considering reflexivity and its meaning as part of 'postmodern ideology‘.
Rather frightening was the tremendous impoverishment expressed in the slides presented by Till Förster in the framework of new urban art from Africa. It is difficult, he said, to estimate, how the examples shown represented the factual situation, but very probably the pictures were representative. Four types of 'art' were shown, handmade publicity as advertisements and posters, most of them with rather strange expressions. Further the picture of an ancestor, which was very strange. It looked like a sketch from an European design-academy. Further some portraits followed, colors strongly spread on the surfaces, in this case too reminding of newspaper advertisements. And finally there was a piece of 'real art', which formally alluded to traditional African masks and had ancient shell-money integrated . There is a new 'boom' for crazy 'treasures‘ of this type, Förster commented. The main appraisal comes from the market, he said. In his role as art historian, Förster tried to discover new values, which could lift these poor artistic products onto an established level of art production: 'Hybridisation' (or syncretisation) were the new labels, magic words for the new Afro-style, which seems to be supported essentially by the new globalised market and intercontinental mobility.
Evidently the specific genre of travel-literature has lost its meaning today in the professional life of ethnologists, or social or cultural anthropologists. Francois Ruegg presented his 'baroque‘ thesis, to reanimate the lost fascination about the exotic, as it was present in the early travel-literature. Literature can newly sharpen the consciousness for paradigms, which have gotten out of view today, as, for example, the continuity of diversity within modern processes of spatial, social and cultural processes of homogenisation. He also proposed a renewed vitalisation of imagination and phantasy. They had played important roles in the framework of hermeneutic approaches towards the foreign. Lévy-Strauss might have deprived himself personally, as he decided to be mainly active on the side of the sciences and accordingly to neglect his equal capacity of artful writing.
So far the main-contributions to this seminar. Not all were presented, partially also due to language problems. Three languages were spoken, mostly without translation (French, English, German). Some persons spoke with a strong accent, consequently perception was not always 100 percent.
The final discussion
For many present at the seminar the final discussion was the most interesting part. Hans-Rudolf Wicker presented an introduction, which outlined some perspectives into the future, into the 21st century, as this was announced in the main-title of the seminar. But the future needs the past, he said, in regard to the commited errors, that have to be corrected.
Postmodern anthropology was a failure in an important regard. It remained fixed on a small-scaled criticism. It was not able to develop a positive concept for future work. Methodology for example was discussed in details but without showing its efficiency. To demonstrate its use for field research was omitted. We would need new general concepts for future work. If anthropology as a discipline wants to survive into the 21st century, it must know in which direction it should proceed. If the goal is known, research and corresponding methods could be adjusted.
In this future framework society and development are important. Wicker then suggested to discuss the main questions, which those present have in mind. National or continental differences should not be the main topics, social critique should be avoided. "What will be the general questions?"
George Marcus answered that he did not accept the diagnosis, but accepted the critical point, that methods were attributed too much importance, without knowing really what they were to be used for.
On the other hand he saw no lack of important concepts. Searching for the origins of culture and for the development of mankind are still considered relevant. Searching for concepts for social reforms too is still vital today, he said, from the perspective of ethnology as well as from sociology and philosophy. There are also socio-biological and bio-anthropological programs, projects for the evaluation of radioactive radiation (Nagasaki, Hiroshima). Further, molecular biology builds a bridge between history and biology, he said. The Genom project too, as 'big science' should not be forgotten completely. In general one could perhaps see the changing role of science and society as one of the most important themes for the next ten years. Then there is still the reconstruction after social dramas. Nations have become unstable. Civil wars will require reconstruction.
However, this view was vehemently questioned. It was maintained, that Marcus would deal specifically with American problems. What he had mentioned were not really anthropological concepts. Not without some irony Wicker argued that probably the main problem of the anthropology of the 21st century would consist in the fact that the problems of America have become the main problems of anthropology. Menget added that ethics will be an important theme of the future and that anthropology should deal above all with the questions of the origins of mankind. Field research or other research methods should be intensified, in order to learn more about early living conditions of humans.
Till Foerster's remarks in the final discussion were rather evasive. He proposed very general statements about statehood, media, diffusion and discussion of reflexivity also in other disciplines. Fuchs agreed that there was no perspective for the future. He emphasized the importance of increased cooperation, mentioned problems with the lack of social acknowledgements in this kind of work and pointed also to the dissolution of solidarity in many areas. Nancy Chen emphasized aspects of cooperation in research, indicated the role of power problems and emphasized the enormous divergences in the field of anthropology itself, what might complicate research occasionally.
Evidently there was embarrassment in the air. The expression 'crisis of anthropology' (or of ethnology) was heard in several contributions or expressed indirectly. Unquestionably there is a lack of meaningful goals. Is this a European problem? A nostalgia? Certainly not.
Neither American pragmatism nor the functional adjustment of their goals to politics can hide the fact that actually the problem of mankind is not solved. There are no generally accepted theories. There is an endless pluralism of contradictory hypotheses, in fact a situation, which contradicts to scientific norms. To some extent the seminar could be seen as a result of the critical discussions of the eighties, which were triggered above all by the intrusion of history and urbanisation into modern traditional societies (see Schmied-Kowarzik and Stagl 1981). One of the rather paradoxical results of this phase was the new perspective called 'urban ethnology'. The contributions of Maria Pandolfi and Marc Amélès fell into this domain. Both are practically identical in view of the methods used (urban sociology) as well as in regard to the results.
Obviously reflexivity has become a popular expression, but it looked rather like a term of postmodern philosophy which got lost in the field of ethnology. The other key expression of the seminar, namely 'social criticism', provoked nostalgic reactions on one hand and, on the other, made conscious that Marxism - as a once globally spread econo-social anthropology - had probably prepared the grounds for something, which just now begins to show its highly problematic side: the neo-mercantilistic globalisation.
Perhaps it would be good, to imagine an observer in this seminar, who would not be involved directly, but nevertheless having some deep interests regarding the topic. It would have been fairly clear for this observer, that the most problematic aspect of the event was the contradiction of the two terms ethnology and anthropology. On one hand the seminar was focussed on what one understands as 'ethnology' in Europe, that is 'knowledge about traditional peoples' (or populations, 'Völkerkunde'). However, since there were invited guests from the United States, the title and also the discussion completely sailed under the concept of anthropology. Evidently ethnology is limited in its dimension, as the expression 'ethnos' indicates. On the other side a broader potential is addressed, essentially through the history of the discipline and through its methods, contents and geographical expansions. In this extensive interpretation it essentially comes close to the idea of anthropology. However, anthropology has a strongly "holistic" meaning (Ember/ Ember 1994). Individualistically the term refers to the human being but generally to the whole of mankind in the broadest sense. In this totality anthropology implies the knowledge of humanity in its entirety, it reflects the whole history of human selfperception in different dimensions. Today this would correspond to the whole field indicated by the terms physical anthropology and cultural anthropology. < 2>
As mentioned already, the great questions have disappeared in the domain of ethnology, above all because history has entered the field defined by non-writing traditional populations. In addition processes of urbanisation have taken place in many once purely traditional areas. Under these influences local objects, behaviour- and language-traditions have disappeared in many places (Till Förster has pointed to a process of this kind in the art of Africa). Accordingly, there are hardly traditional societies any more today, which could be interpreted, within the concept of anthropology, in a culturally original sense, neither in view of social, nor technical, nor religious or any other conditions. < 3> Further, anthropology has not been clarified in the broader holistic sense. We merely have an incredible accumulation of heterogeneous concepts and methods which essentially reflect the dynamics of the European mental history. But, perhaps this dynamic history contains a key, which could provide some indication how to organize the data in better and more productive ways. In order to get familiarized with this process, we should perhaps attach some considerations in regard to the problematic relationship between ethnology and anthropology in the broader field of the present disciplines. We want to outline some comparisons, not between cultures, but within our own Western or Eurocentric 'landscape' of the disciplines. The position of anthropology (and ethnology) within the Euro-Mediterranean history of knowledge is the issue at stake. Or, globally: anthropology in the framework of the anthropology of cognition.
In Schmied-Kowarzik and Stagl's important book 'Basics of Ethnology' (Grundfragen der Ethnologie) Karin D. Knorr offers a interesting discussion. Under the title 'Anthropology and Ethnomethodology - A theoretical and methodical Challenge' she described the discipline of ethnology as "macro-science". Her thesis is supported with the key focus of ethnology on culture. Ethnology is complex, she maintains, is occasionally interpreted historically, but is most frequently understood as a "comparative science of human cultures". "The central object...." she says, "is thus what we consider as culture."
Culture is first defined in reference to Tylor's classical ethnological definition of 1871. Knorr considers it as a "complex totality, which includes knowledge, creed, art, morals, law, behaviour and all other capacities man has acknowledged as a member of human society."
In a second step she gives rather heterogeneous interpretations referring to the corresponding 'schools': American (Kroeber/ Kluckhohn), British (Radcliffe-Brown) and French (Lévy-Strauss). Subsequently she exposes a recent development, which puts the socially relevant knowledge of an ethnos in the foreground (Goodenough 1957) and consequently favours the priority of language. According to Knorr this changes the optics towards a microscopic method. However, in accordance with Lévy-Strauss and the wide interest the ethnologist accumulates in the framework of social science, on the other hand "ethnology is characterised ....as the scientific domain with the most rigidly macroscopical interest". And this macroscopic orientation of ethnology brings the discipline close to macrosociology, which deals with social activities by attempting "to record and to analyse statistically social groups based on percentages, rates and social indicators or more generally on aggregate data."
Since ethnology "with its macroscopical interest in the registration of common cultural traits operates with microscopic methods, like trying to intrude into the vital experience of the researched field, an alliance between micro- and macroscopic dimensions quite unusual in other disciplines is produced." For Knorr this is "one of the most essential advantages of ethnology." Let us keep this in mind. For the moment there is no need to deal with the rest of Knorr's study. Her intentions to present new developments occurring within social sciences are limited on similar discussions as presented above. What is most important here is the indicated concept of micro- and macro-optics.
Of course, such dimensional classifications are always highly relative. With exactly the same justification one could maintain the opinion that ethnology as a discipline is rather microscopically oriented. This immediately makes sense, if we compare ethnology with anthropology. The holistic outlook of the latter includes man in his individuality as well as in the framework of long processes of evolution with physical and cultural aspects involved. In contrast to this, ethnology shows a much narrower perspective focussed basically on a social group. Even the most basic definitions can vary considerably (family, tribe, people, ethnos, etc..). On the other hand a part, or a whole set of cultural traits is implicated in the term ethnology. The rationalistic mega container called 'culture' comes into view and guarantees a high pluralism of contradicting discussions related to it.
So far Knorr's contribution to the "Basics of ethnology". It is evidently a contribution to the so called 'theory' discussions, but Knorr moves within fairly narrow limits of ethnology and social sciences. In this sense Knorr is also exemplaric for the whole book. Most of the other contributions are essentially focussed on the micro-optics of ethnology, ethnological theories are discussed. Only Wernhart and Schmied-Kowarzik give wider contexts, in the direction of an anthropologisation of historical methods (Wernhart) and in the direction of a theory of human culture (Schmied-Kowarzik).
In the following we suggest a comparison between ethnology and a much wider study which on first sight can be identified with a "macroscopic view". We speak of Werner E. Mühlmann's "History of Anthropology". But, before, let us shortly add a generalization of the current discussion.
The micro-theoretical character of the disciplines in general
We should not be misunderstood here. We are far from attempting to question the importance of ethnology. Rather we are dealing with a methodological suggestion. Each discipline of the humanities can be examined in this sense as a micro-scientific field, which, as part of the macro-scientific humanities, represents a certain structure.
Each of these fields has its own history, its own leading figures, its own basic methods and its main theories which are discussed again and again. This is valid for the objectively or thematically open, but temporally fixed disciplines like ethnology and folklore studies, history, archaeology and prehistory, as well as for non-European high culture disciplines like Indology, Sinology, Japanology etc..It is also valid for the thematically defined disciplines like art, religion, philosophy, law, economy, politics, sociology and social anthropology. There is always a broad field of definitions, functions, relations (to other disciplines), transformations, corrections in certain times, positive and negative experiences, directives formed by conclusions etc.. All these paradigms constitute each discipline in definite ways.
What we want to prepare as an argument here, is the view on the relative limitations and the 'gravitation', or 'inertia' of these fields. They are never fundamentally questioned within a mega-revision of the sciences. Their fundamental structure, their traditional alignment is not questioned, in spite of numerous contradictions which clearly speak of distorting optics with regard to the factual reality. Such turbulences are mostly considered as of marginal significance. We will come back to this subject.
MÜHLMANN'S HISTORY OF ANTHROPOLOGY
Conflict between micro-and macro-history
Repeatedly during this seminar, the writer thought of parallelisms to Wilhelm E. Mühlmann's 'History of Anthropology' (1968). Of course the publication of this book is quite some time back (the first edition was published in the year 1948, the second, revised edition was published in 1968). Nevertheless, it is probably still one of the most qualified contributions to the topic. After its publication Mühlmann was considered as 'the' historian of anthropology. Nothing could be more mistaken. He is unquestionably a full fledged ethnologist in the 'microscopical' sense. And that is at the same time the structural problem of his book. In eleven chapters he describes extensively presented materials. He follows certain subjects and outlines influences crosswise through the disciplines. Time is basically from ancient Greece until today. However, full density appears only since the 17th century, that is, since Descartes. Rich insights are given regarding the contributions of science on one hand, as far as they are dealing with the human condition. And on the other hand practically all important disciplines of the humanities are considered, as far as they contribute something to the general knowledge about man, including philosophy, psychology, linguistics, etc.. His presentation outlines the important processes of each period, discusses thematic aspects related to the relevant authors. Important concepts are emphasized and presented critically regarding contradicting theoretical approaches.
Quite different than the usual textbooks, which are mostly structured thematically (Ember/Ember 1994), Mühlmann describes anthropology as a hetrogeneous field of ideas developing through time. In this sense it is more than a simple history. The idea of the 'creation of man' has changed. We see how modern perspectives are growing, through an increasing number of thoughts, ideas, speculations and schematisms. The discursive networks are becoming more and more dense and supported by facts on which new hypotheses are formed which may lead to plausible theories. Particularly in this sense of a 'macro-science' the book is extremely important, because it shows - different from the numerous attempt of universal historians - to develop somehow an 'omnidisciplinary' view, which necessarily becomes an extremely complex and macroscopic view. Mühlmann masters this method and that makes his book groundbreaking.
However, at the end of almost 250 brilliantly written pages, Mühlmann in the final outlook confesses: "Western anthropology is a fascinating, in its uniqueness a grandiose attempt of man, to understand himself by recognizing his position in the world." Simultaneously he regrets also the "eternal oscillation of the theories, which all only offer limited aspects of the whole truth,....". Consequently, following Sorokin, he continues "....it is not the question today to declare a theory as 'wrong' and the other as 'right', but to balance all reciprocally." Seen from a strictly scientific position this is a rather strange conclusion for a brilliant capacity like Mühlmann. What science wants today is doubtlessy more than a vague 'pro and contra', a mere balancing of 'for and against'. Unambiguous decisions are the goal of scientific reasoning. In Western thought contradictions are something like the devil in religion. With a closer look however Mühlmanns book shows some problematic points. To recognize them might prove quite important for the progress of anthropology.
Problem number one:
Ethnology or anthropology?
The quasi mystical considerations in Mühlmann's final outlook are provoking. Particularly, because he defines himself very clearly as ethnologist. To the larger part his book is based on ethnological principles and essentially uses intercultural comparison. In the following some points, which are important for us.
Famous reports of journeys and extensive investigations regarding inter-cultural research form a large part of his presentations through time. His first chapter 'The anthropology in the ancient world' begins with the well-known sentence of Jacob Burckhardt: "The contrast, through which Greek consciousness became complete, the notion of non-Greek, is called barbarian." He describes this dichotomy between Greeks and Barbarians as the model for all societies with a narrow, local group consciousness, what in the process of expansion of the horizons led to the perception of other populations, to the comparison of their characteristics with their own physical apearance, with own traditions and convictions.
Accordingly the comparative method plays a basic role in view of getting to know peoples and cultures. It supports the theoretical and discursive part of the famous and not so famous names. He describes it intermittently through the whole history of anthropology. In this framework he first deals with Herodotus considering his culturally comparative outlooks. He considers him as 'father of ethnography'. Similarly Thukydides. He mentions him in view of his critical and objective attitude in his descriptions of the war between Athens and Sparta.
His following paragraph about Hellenism too is close to the ethnological concept. It is dedicated mainly to Polybios and Poseidonios. The ethnographical abilities are emphasized. Some authors had a "comparing eye for other people" (Burckhardt). Particularly the brilliant descriptions of Celts and Germans showed the great empirical capacities of Poseidonios. At those times already, he was able to describe Germans and Celts as a kind of peoples close to nature and with strong emotions, in contrast to the civilised southern populations, who were educated to control their passions by means of their logos.
These relatively narrow outlines of an ethnographical and ethnological program, extend through the whole book, appear related to names like Rubruck, Ibn Chaldun, Sahagun in the 13th/ 14th century or with Lafiteau and the Jesuit missionaries in the 16th/ 17th century. Later the same concept appears also in the framework of specific investigations with limited themes, focussed on non-European traditional societies.
In contrast to this ethnological reasoning, we find - as we have mentioned - the other dimension, with a much wider outlook, which emerges above all with positivism. It is the 'liberalization' of empirical reasoning, the broader perception of anthropology. New perspectives emerge contradicting to the simple scheme 'Greeks and Barbarians'. That may lead also to greater distortions. The worst in this sense are extremely vague concepts like 'culture'. Especially in conservative minds the term notoriously appears in the framework of a close nature-culture dichotomy, thus each statement becomes highly problematic. This is valid also for any other constellation of cultural expression or behaviour, on which reflexions are presented.
Problem number two:
The anthropology of the Middle Ages
There is a further and much more important problem. The rather extensive first chapter, which is dedicated to the origins of ethnographical comparison and to the formation of ethnological theory, was presented here in detail, in order to explain the deep break, which follows in the second chapter and which, as its title says, is focussed on the age of discoveries.
It is to be emphasized first, that Mühlmann's book is a 'history'. It deals with the emergence of anthropology. But, the first paragraph of the second chapter with the title 'anthropology of the Middle Ages' is just one and a half pages long. It is important, to be aware, that this corresponds to more than 1000 years. Mühlmann's ethnographical disposition dictates a standstill of time for the whole medieval period.
He criticizes the fixed worldview maintained by the church. Everything, which was not Christian, was considered as belonging to the devil. There were no scientific impulses at all, also in consideration of the fact, that everything, what could and should be known, was writtten in the Bible. Any consideration of variations of human conditions was impossible. Foreign populations, particularly nomadic populations of Asia, were considered ugly races and the church emphasised their demonisation. "As far as one can speak about an ethnographical world perception in the Middle Ages, it represents a world of fable. As much as possible, its taste was focussed on the blatantly abstruse, paradox and monstrous."
He mentions the so-called 'monstra'. They were deformed, or otherwise marked as terrible phantasms showing one-legged beings, human figures with horse-feet, dog-heads, huge ears, also beings without heads, without mouth, or otherwise deformed and extremely shortlived or eternally living monsters etc.. In short, Mühlmann mentions absurd ideas, which last also into later times. In this connection he mentions also the question, which is debated by Albertus Magnus and other scholastic scholars in the 13th century, namely, whether pygmies are humans or not. Mühlmann comments as follows: "What today surprises us most, is the fact, that one thought to be able to answer such questions merely through speculations. Nobody came on the idea to examine the assertions empirically, that is to say by organising research-journeys."
Most readers spontainously will agree with Mühlmann in regard to his description of the Middle Ages as horror-story. One continues to read without getting disturbed. But, we can ask here already, whether Mühlmann progresses too easily, or, whether he has manoeuvred himself into a cliche. Who would not know them, all those apriori disparaging ideas regarding the miserable Middle Ages? However, the factual problem is much wider. The reliability of written history is at stake! In the eyes of the historian (and particularly also of the theologian) what is handed down in written form to us is considered apriori as 'true'. On the other hand, culture research on a much broader level, which includes also - and above all - human traditions, cannot claim comparable relevance.
However, we shall come back to this point below. We will see that this fixation on the historic method is to a great extent an Euro-medieval 'survival'.
The following paragraph of Mühlmann deals with the 'age of discoveries'. In its center we find Rubruck, his journey through Central-Asia to Caracorum and to the court of Bhatu Khan (1253-56) and Marco Polo's Asiatic journeys between 1254 and 1323. This is unquestionably a chapter, which fits Mühlmann's disposition, as well as several following paragraphs, which discuss discoveries in other cultures.
Problem number three:
Cartesian dualism and the beginning of science
The third chapter of Mühlmann's book begins with Descartes' (1596-1650) dualistic distinction of material and mental. Or, as Descartes called it, the extended matter ('res extensa') and the matter of thought ('res cogitans'). Mühlmann refers to Dilthey, who saw this break as the beginning of a 'dualistic anthropology'. Mühlmann reacts critically and follows another interpretation (Gusdorf). Cartesian dualism with its absolute separation and the mechanistic concept of man had separated anthropology from philosophy. According to Mühlmann, Descartes was fascinated by the concept of 'autonomous function', an idea, which was derived from William Harvey's discovery of blood circulation. It also alluded to Galilei's idea of nature functioning according to mathematical laws.
This quite short reference to Descartes is surprising. Mühlmann neglects something very important. His evident scorn for the Middle Ages and his negative relationship with medieval religion conceals something decisive to him.
1) In an evaluating or methodological sense Descartes' dualism frees the physical world of the medieval metaphysical order. It is cut off from the neoplatonic concept of 'objective idealism', which considered all physical facts as a radiation of the absolute spiritual world. Medieval anatomists for example had to do their research secretly, in shielded rooms or cellars. The human body was considered as God's creation. Descartes provides the signal for the 'desacralisation' of the physical world. The gates are opened for scientific empirism and scientific methods. Naturally, the process had begun already earlier, mainly with the early reception of Aristotelian writings in high scholasticism and Renaissance with Copernic (1473-1543), John Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo Galiei (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and many others. However, Descartes was the decisive step.
2) The most important point however: at the same time the cartesian dualism leaves the metaphysical structure of scholasticism intact. In fact, Descartes himself with his concept of 'idea-innata' provides the proof of the existence of God. Naturally, the empirical antithesis of scholasticism had to respect the religious apriori, the revelation character of the ecclesiastic tradition as it was postulated by the church not only in the Middle Ages again and again. Omission could mean deathly persecution.
Problem number four:
The continuance of the cartesian dualism
The post-cartesian part of Mühlmann's book consists of nine chapters, which can be described best by the fact that they implicitly use cartesian dualism as structural element. Already in the introduction he refuses the "disciplinary separation into disciplines" for his work. They are considered to be too young in relation to the history of anthropology. The disciplines began about 1860 and they appear also today in arbitrary combinations. "From this it is clear, that for the purpose of our presentation, the breakdown of anthropological knowledge into the usual academic disciplines of today can not claim any standard significance." The disciplines are "themselves a product of the history of the knowledge of man." Mühlmann chooses "a more meaningful distinction: hominid and humanid anthropology."
On one hand this elementary but anthropologically 'correct' division allows a very lively presentation of the heterogeneous materials. On the other hand it is evident that Mühlmann with this disposition reproduces the cartesian splitting and uses it as the basis of his structural order. With his hominid anthropology he finds himself doubtless in the German tradition, which until today sees anthropology to a great extent in the framework of natural sciences, that is, in the triangle of zoology, human anatomy (medicine) and paleoanthropology. On the other hand, with his 'humanid anthropology' as "spiritual science" he puts himself essentially into the line of Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey, the founder of the theory of cognition in the framework of the 'spiritual sciences' ('Geisteswissenschaften') considered the recording of "historic processes of souls" through understanding and interpretation (hermeneutics) as a basic task of the humanities. He was closely related to theology and German idealism and in his studies of the occidental spiritual history emphasized the independence of the humanities from the empirical natural sciences.
With this arrangement Mühlmann's basic disposition is essentially defined. His nine post-cartesian chapters follow this order. The main titles and subtitles as well as the discussions in the text are oscillating back and forth between hominid and humanid parameters. The last two chapters are devoted to the contemporary "development" of the hominid, resp. humanid anthropology. And, characteristically, the humanid subject provides the concluding chapter. Mühlmann fills this chapter with many problems of the humanities somehow enjoying the contradictive manifold: see how enormously contradictive this all is! (see chapter VII of this paper).
It is essential, to see this dualistic cartesian structure, which works at the root of Mühlmann's presentations and makes the book end in a contradictory pluralism. Today nobody is surprised about this, because the book shares this pluralistic structure with the Euro-Western sciences in general. Not only this, it reflects also the deep separation of European thought into 'spiritual' and 'natural' sciences (in German: 'Geistes- / Naturwissenschaften).
In the following we will approach Mühlmann's book with a macro-structural aspect. Evidently his main problem consists in his relationship to the Middle Ages, resp. to religion. Evidently, all this does not fit into his primary microfield of ethnology. However, if seen the other way round, was ethnology not forced to introduce and take over historistic criteria of theology into its own area? Is religion itself a historic construct? Is the cartesian dualism the product of a manoeuver of the history of science? Is it possible to clarifiy this problem anthropologically? We will try to show, how this macro-structural approach could help to find the way out of this pluralistic dilemma, the way out of this "eternal oscillation of theories".
In other words, an anthropologist of this stature would have had to modify Descartes' famous sentence from 'I think therefore I am' to 'I doubt therefore I am'! As ethnologist as well as anthropologist he should have questioned the problematic character of the centralism of the Roman state based on religion, instead of devaluating and negating medieval religion. But that did not happen in the case of Mühlmann, in spite of his brilliant 'omnidisciplinary' study.
Similar discussons could be done also by using the example of philosophy (metaphysics) , or art (aesthetics) instead of religion. However, in the area of religion the relevant structures are found early in history. The important processes can be reconstructed clearly.
Mühlmann's problem with the Middle Ages
We have seen, in his initial chapter Mühlmann develops an ethnological concept of the perception of foreign cultures based on Burckhardt's idea of Greeks and Barbarians. We have mentioned also, how Mühlmann deals with the anthropology of the Middle Ages. Roughly 1000 years are insignificant for him. He sees them merely as a period of absurd imagery. Only some few figures are considered valid because they indicate ethnographical perspectives. Then, in the third chapter, cartesian dualism. Mühlmann's negative concept of medieval religion prevents him from seeing clearly what the cartesian dualism really meant for the sciences in general and what it caused factually in regard to anthropology. It meant the liberation of the empirically accessible world from the neoplatonic claim of the church, to consider it as part of creation. What was previously unassailable, was moved now into the range of the human senses. The second point, which we mentioned, was likewise important: the cartesian dualism protected the metaphysical claims of the church in the area of the spiritual and created a deep schism, which became the basis of a quasi- schizoid worldview of the Euro-Western world.
It is very surprising, this relationship of a brilliant anthropologist of the 20th century to religion. We would expect a much broader vision, a certain understanding for the historic processes, which in the Middle Ages produced the phenomenon generally called religion. Expressed in other terms, Mühlmann proceeds in very common ways by devaluation and marginalisation of the problem. However, the process is scientifically illegitimate. The matter is apriori subjected to devaluation, evidently an old practice to put problems of this type out of ones way.
In view of this complex of questions how to deal scientifically with religion(s) something important has happened towards the end of the 19th and in the first third of the 20th century at a strategic point within the humanities. Paradoxically it was ethnology, which influenced this turn decisively, and in a domain, where nobody would assume it, in Egyptology. In Mühlmann's book nothing is found in this regard. It has escaped to him. The matter can be called of a strategical nature because the religion of Ancient Egypt forms the genetic milieu of the Judeo-Christian religious system.
Notes / Bibliography