1992, 2nd Biennial Conference, Prague

Social anthropology in a changing world

Since the establishment of the EASA in early 1989, Europe has experienced both a falling of walls and a  building up of new frontiers. In many ways this is a reflection of the world-wide trend towards globalisation on the one hand and localization on the other. At one level, all societies are integrated in a global system, at another level, cultural distinctions seem to play an increasingly disruptive part in world history. The result is a chaotic ethnographic present which poses a conceptual as well as an ethical challenge to an anthropology that was originally designed to deal with well-bounded wholes. It is this challenge that the conference seeks to meet.

The general theme of the conference represents a continuation of the process of investigation that started at the last conference in Coimbra 1990. On that occasion the concepts of society, history, ritual and gender were critically scrutinised on the assumption that there was an increasing gap between old categories and new realities. Since then the mismatch of categories has become even more conspicuous, and the issue of misunderstanding still more pertinent.

When the irregular has become the norm and chaos part of the social order, the time is ripe for rethinking the part played by social anthropology. What are we doing in a permanently changing world? What are the tacit assumptions in East and West. North and South - and are they at all congruent?

As always in anthropology, rethinking is based in empirical studies. The conference, therefore, takes as its point of departure the historical moment that we are witnessing. The discussion will be organised around three particular themes that are closely interconnected, and each of which forms the focus of a separate panel.