Re: Span of ethnography (was: Isolated societies)

John Cook (
Thu, 26 Jan 1995 03:42:45 GMT

In article <3g68v9$asv@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM>, claird@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM
(Cameron Laird) wrote:

> In article <3g31ac$>,
> Iain Walker <> wrote:
> >A question. I came across a statement today along the lines of
> >'the Industrial Revolution has affected all societies in the world'.
> It sounds banal, but followers of Wallerstein
> claim this is a politically-charged proposi-
> tion.
> >
> >What do you think? Are there any societies that have escaped
> >the effects of the IR? If any, I would imagine they would be hunter-
> >gatherer societies in the rainforest somewhere who have never met
> >an anthropologist.
> Anyone have an answer to the narrow question?
> Departmental folklore ('least in the depart-
> ments I've seen) has it that there's no
> *ethnos* even *that* pristine, that is, that
> every culture has been anthropologized by at
> least one practitioner. Are there counter-
> examples? Would an ambitious anthropologist
> share the information even if there were?
> .
> .
It's still a fairly regular occurence for groups to be "uncovered" in
Papua New Guinea who have never met "white man" or been anthropologized
for that matter. But they usually walk out of the bush wearing shorts and
jewellry made out of tin cans. Their cultural systems have usually been
significantly impacted upon by things such as cash cropping and
missionisation in groups they exchange with etc. There isn't usually any
sort of anthropological rush to "claim" these people, as far as I know,
probably because they immediately get inundated with reporters from
national geographic arriving in helicopters.

I guess the question (among lots of questions) in all this speculation
though is what constitutes the Indistrial Revolution as singular event
that spreads out across the world from its epicenter? The singularisation
of such processes can be problematic for theorising the highly innovative
and creative transformtion that take place throuout such a spread. Is it
really stiil meaningful to talk about the IR in PNG?

It is interesting also that we should frame this question in terms of the
presence of anthropologists. Is the old fear of the loss of the primitive
issue again?


John Cook.