World Anthropologies

By Čarna Brković (Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies, Germany)

My geographic trajectory over the past ten years has been rather unusual. I received my first degree in ethnology and anthropology in Belgrade, Serbia. My PhD in social anthropology was awarded by the University of Manchester, UK. I now teach and research in Regensburg, Germany. On top of that, I conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Montenegro, and held positions in Hungary and Romania. Moving so much throughout Europe was a real administrative and practical challenge for someone with a former Yugoslav (Montenegrin) passport. It has also enabled me to observe and participate in a “transnational community of European social anthropologists” (Martínez 2016, 368). It fortified my conviction that contemporary anthropology needs to be thought of—and practiced—beyond the national traditions either at the “core” or at the “peripheries.” That is, beyond nationally defined American, British, French, German, Romanian, Serbian—and so on—anthropologies. That being said, the infrastructure supporting a transnational institutionalization of sociocultural anthropology is yet to be developed.

As an undergraduate student, I was acutely aware of multiple histories and names of our discipline—including social anthropology, cultural anthropology, ethnology, and ethnography. The awareness was the result of the fact that in Belgrade I had courses both in “world anthropology” (svetska antropologija) and in “national ethnology” (nacionalna etnologija). “World anthropology” was understood as a combination of traditions of the “core”—the American, British, and French traditions. This was why I spent the first two years of my university education reading the classics, such as Malinowski, Mead, and Mauss, cover to cover. “National ethnology” traced the history of ethnology in Serbia and the Balkans from the early twentieth century. This was why I also read national and regional classics, such as Bogišić (1884), Filipović (1945), and Đorđević (1953).

Later doctoral training in the UK led me to reflect upon the relationship between Eastern European ethnologies and Anglo-Saxon anthropologies. This position of a “split subject” was highly beneficial: I learned to see anthropology as an always already “multiple space where ‘other anthropologies’ and ‘anthropology otherwise’” coexisted (Restrepo and Escobar 2005). The specificities of studying anthropology in southeastern Europe and the UK helped me to understand how different histories and institutional frameworks shape epistemological and methodological concerns of a discipline. It clarified that, if from certain positions “ethnology” and “anthropology” refer to the same discipline, from some other perspectives they are quite different intellectual and political projects.

A sociocultural anthropologist fully educated in the UK could potentially spend her whole anthropological career without ever getting in close touch with ethnological departments, journals, book series, and other elements of the disciplinary infrastructure of ethnology. However, an ethno-anthropologist educated in Serbia would be enrolled in a department of “Ethnology and Anthropology,” where she would learn different disciplinary histories and how they converged towards the end of the twentieth century. As a result, these two anthropologists would most likely have different ideas about whether “ethnology” and “anthropology” refer to the same discipline. Understanding how something could be both the same and different—depending on sociohistorical and geopolitical points of view, practices, and relationships—was a profound anthropological insight that I got simply by studying our discipline in different places.

Socialist monuments in Podgorica, Montenegro. (Photograph by author)

When I moved to Germany—for a combination of professional and personal reasons—I realized this multiplicity of histories and traditions of anthropology and ethnology was not just a matter of intellectual concern. It can directly affect people’s livelihoods and career paths. In Germany, “anthropology has a rather difficult relationship to ethnographic research ‘at home,’ be this in Germany or another European country” (Bierschenk, Krings, and Lentz 2016, 5). This “difficult relationship” has resulted in parallel disciplinary infrastructures—departments, institutes, professional associations, and so on—for “ethnologists” who conduct research abroad and “European ethnologists” who research Germany and Europe (see Bendix 2016; Gingrich 2005). Conducting ethnographically grounded anthropological research in Europe does not mean the same thing—and institutionally it is not supported in the same way—in Serbia, in the UK, and in Germany. In direct contrast to Germany, anthropological research in Serbia is very rarely conducted abroad, partly due to financial and institutional reasons, and partly due to the long tradition of conducting ethnographic research “at home.”

Why didn’t I go back to Serbia after my PhD if Europeanist and Balkanist anthropologies are so well developed there? Because it was rather difficult in practical terms. Montenegro and Serbia separated in 2006, and I got the Montenegrin passport. Montenegro has a ban on dual citizenship with Serbia. Pursuing an academic job in Serbia as a foreigner would likely have been administratively difficult. I searched for an academic job in Montenegrin universities instead. However, the Ethnographic Museum is the only ethnological-anthropological institution in the country, so this search was rather limited. With only 650,000 inhabitants, Montenegro has never had any university departments or institutes of ethnology and anthropology. Opening one requires experience, status, and connections that surpass my own.

My unusual geographic trajectory has been shaped by my intellectual concerns as much as by the location of my fieldsites and passport, changes of borders and citizenship regimes, and my personal and family relations. A set of issues that are usually taken for granted in the lives of most anthropologists and ethnologists for me presented something to think about. As a result, I feel somewhat like a guest in any given nationally defined anthropological and ethnological tradition—but this is not the only way of differentiating world anthropologies. I am far from alone in this feeling. Several years ago, I co-organized a Wenner Gren–supported workshop on “Anthropology Otherwise: Rethinking Approaches to Fieldwork in Different Anthropological Traditions.” The workshop attracted more than thirty anthropologists and ethnologists from fourteen countries, many of whom could not fit neatly into any national anthropological or ethnological tradition.

During five days of intense discussions, we explored the grounds on which world anthropologies can be differentiated. Our guiding assumption was that a comparison of national anthropological traditions potentially reproduces methodological nationalism (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002) and freezes intellectual landscapes into a mosaic-like image of discrete cultures (Brković and Hodges 2015). The consensus was that national traditions should be avoided as the criterion of differentiation whenever possible. Instead, world anthropologies can be differentiated on the basis of actual anthropological practices. For instance, boundaries between world anthropologies could be provisionally established on the basis of how they imagine and practice ethnographic research.

The workshop focused on similarities and differences of “extended stays” (that is, ethnographic fieldwork conducted by staying in one place for an extended period) and “back and forth” methodologies (where ethnographic fieldwork is conducted through shorter visits repeated over several years). While extended stays are commonly used in English-speaking anthropologies, and a back-and-forth approach in Eastern European ethnologies, both approaches require the linguistic and sociocultural immersion that come with prolonged participant observation (Ingold 2014). As a result, both approaches to fieldwork can generate anthropological knowledge.

World anthropologies could be differentiated perhaps also through different publishing practices and/or types of involvement in public conversations. Relevant publishers in Anglo-Saxon anthropologies are usually not interested in publishing doctoral theses, which is why the process of reworking a thesis into a book takes several years. In German-speaking countries, on the other hand, a person who passes the doctoral defense has the right to the title of a doctor only after they publish their first book. This means that publishers do not ask for a rewrite of doctoral theses; instead, they make doctorates available to the public in a limited number as early as possible after the defense. In this example, the differences in publishing practices are reflected in the importance assigned to the first book, promotion and tenure requirements, and timeline and structure of the second major fieldwork research (called “habilitation” in Germany).

The workshop was a venue where some aspects of the currently emerging “Euro-anthropology” (Green and Laviolette 2015) were discussed. Our discipline in Europe is hegemonically imagined as a family of anthropologies nationally defined as British, French, German, Portuguese, Croatian, Czech, and so on (Barrera-González, Heintz, and Horolets 2017). However, as Martínez and Martínez (forthcoming) argue, transnational and nonnational spaces and networks for the production of anthropological knowledge are slowly developing throughout Europe. These alternative, transitional, and nonnational ways of imagining and practicing Euro-anthropology are currently being experimented with in various spaces. Contested and negotiated, they complicate the difference between anthropology at home and anthropology abroad. As a cooperation between PrecAnthro initiative[1] and the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) indicates, they may also open up new possibilities for working against precarity and job insecurity caused by the current global transformations of universities (Ivancheva 2016).[2]

Overall, it is not quite clear what Euro-anthropology is at the moment—and what it can be in the future. Euro-anthropology stems from intellectual traditions that seem to be both the same and different, depending on one’s vantage point. It combines various models of financing scholarship, as well as different ideas on how anthropologists should contribute to public conversations. That it is a nonnational and unfinished project, sensitive to socioeconomic inequalities among its participants, and open to discussion, negotiation, and experimentation are some of its best characteristics.

Barrera-González, Andrés, Monica Heintz, and Anna Horolets. 2017. European Anthropologies. New York: Berghahn Books.

Bendix, F. Regina. 2016. “Accentuate the Positive: ‘Native’ Scholarship and International Scholarly Conversations.” American Anthropologist 118 (2): 376–77.

Bierschenk, Thomas, Matthias Krings, and Carola Lentz. 2016. “World Anthropology with an Accent: The Discipline in Germany since the 1970s.” American Anthropologist 118 (2): 364–75.

Bogišić, Valtazar. 1884. O obliku nazvanom inokoština u seoskoj porodici Srba i Hrvata [On the form called inokoština among the rural families of Serbs and Croats]. Beograd: Štamparija napredne stranke.

Brković, Čarna, and Andrew Hodges. 2015. “Rethinking World Anthropologies through Fieldwork: Perspectives on ‘Extended Stay’ and ‘Back-and-Forth’ Methodologies.” Anthropological Notebooks 21 (1): 107–20.

Đorđević, Tihomir. 1953. Veštica i vila u našem narodnom verovanju i predanju [A witch and a fairy in our people’s belief and myth]. Beograd: SANU.

Filipović, Milenko. 1945. Nesrodnička i predvojena zadruga [A non-kinship-based joint family and a divided joint family]. Beograd: Smiljevo.

Gingrich, Andre. 2005. “The German-Speaking Countries.” In One Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology, coauthored by F. Barth, A. Gingrich, R. Parkin, and S. Silverman, 61–153. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Green, Sarah, and Patrick Laviolette, eds. 2015. “Forum: Rethinking Euro-Anthropology.” Social Anthropology 23 (3): 330–64.

Ingold, Tim. 2014. “That’s Enough about Ethnography!” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (1): 383–95.

Ivancheva, Mariya. 2016. “Precarious Anthropology.” Social Anthropology 24 (3): 357–58.

Martínez, Damián-Omar. 2016. “EASA and Euro-Anthropology: An Ethnographic Approach.” Social Anthropology 24 (3): 368–69.

Martínez, Damián Omar, and Francisco Martínez. Forthcoming. Looking Closer to Home: Ethnographies of European Anthropology. New York: Berghahn Books.

Restrepo, Eduardo, and Arturo Escobar. 2005. “‘Other Anthropologies and Anthropology Otherwise’: Steps to a World Anthropologies Framework.” Critique of Anthropology 25 (2): 99–129

Wimmer, Andreas, and Nina Glick Schiller. 2002. “Methodological Nationalism and Beyond: Nation-State Building, Migration and the Social Sciences.” Global Networks 2:301–34.

[1] PrecAnthro is an informal group and a self-organized network of precarious anthropologists primarily located in Europe. Currently focused on research-led advocacy, the group works towards establishing a transnational anthropological union.
[2] From the 2017 Annual General Meeting of the EASA, “On Politics and Precarities in Academia: Anthropological Perspectives,” is organized in collaboration with the PrecAnthro Group, University of Bern, and the Swiss Anthropological Association, with the aim to “gather information on the actual situation of precariousness in Europe in order to make it more visible and develop strategies of support beyond petitions . . . EASA will include reports on variations of precarity in academia in the position paper that will be officially presented to different universities, the European Commission’s Director General for Research, Science and Innovation, but also to the Director General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.” Available at:

Brković, Čarna. 2018. “The Same, Yet Different: Ethno-Anthropological Traditions in Europe.” American Anthropologist website, May 22.

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