European Anthropology Research Paper

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Often European studies are considered to be within the province of history, sociology, art, or political science—certainly not anthropology. But as early as the 1920s, Robert Redfield’s student, Charlotte Gower Chapman, conducted a community study in Sicily. Some of the classic ethnographies in anthropology were conducted in Europe. Indeed, one of the seminal community studies was conducted by Conrad M. Arensberg and Solon T. Kimball in Ireland in the 1930s, published in 1941 as Family and Community in Ireland (1941/1974) and as Arensberg’s The Irish Countryman (1937/1968), still is in print and is used as a teaching ethnography today. We would argue that the European culture area is as worthy of study as any other culture area, and this is especially so as the foci of anthropological studies have changed since World War II from isolated, technologically and politically simple societies to more urban and interethnic cultures. With as many anthropologists who study behaviors in the modern United States of America as there are today, it is illogical to hold on to the belief that anthropologists should not study Europe as well.

Of course some sources will be left out of a research paper such as this, and some may question the sources chosen to be included. To the students of Europe, we apologize; not everything could be included in a reference source such as this, and we have chosen to include those topics that we knew better than others. We hope that no one will feel slighted by this entry and that the choices made for inclusion or exclusion will not be taken personally by any authors or other scholars.

What Is European Ethnography?

This research paper explores the ethnography of Europe. Ethnography comes from two Greek words, ethnos (ετηνοσ), a group of people; and graphos (γραπηοσ), to write. Thus, ethnography is writing about a group of people—in this instance people in Europe. There is a prejudice in anthropology against European studies: Susan Parman (2005) wrote that some scholars consider the anthropology of Europe to be a self-contradictory phrase, that anthropologists are supposed to study “the other,” that is, Tibetan nomads or people in leopard skins; to study Europe, she wrote, is considered problematic. Parman wryly has quoted John C. Messenger Jr.’s assertion that Europeanists sometimes are considered people who study those with particularly interesting local vintages. Nonetheless, Europe is as worthy a province of anthropological research as any other culture area, and just because one has studied what Robert Redfield called “the great tradition” of Europe in school does not mean that he or she has the least familiarity with the various little traditions extant in Europe— such as those in Inis Beag, Kippel, Vasilika, Locorotondo, Hal-Farrug, or Cairn, any more than having taken a

Spanish language class and visited Mexico city automatically makes one familiar with rural Tarascan or Zapotec folk culture on the western side of the Atlantic.

Origins of European Anthropology

Were we to situate the origins of Western civilization with the ancient Greeks (more accurately referred to as Hellenes, as many of them actually lived in Asia Minor) and Romans, then we might describe “the other” of their day as “non-Western”—even though quite a few descendents of those “others” claim to be the heirs of their ancestors’ early Western enemies. That is to say, if we consider the origins of Western civilization to be the Greeks and Romans, then their contemporary transalpine peoples may be considered non-Western (and suitable for anthropological study even to “purists”). Descriptions of these early European “others” can be found at least as early as the fourth century BCE in the writings of Pytheas of Marseille, who may have traveled as far north as Iceland and east to Jutland and perhaps into the Baltic.

Other early authors who provided ethnographic descriptions of the northern peoples would include Xenophon, Pliny, Diodorus Siculus, Caesar, Strabo, Posidonius, and Tacitus, to name but a few of the better-known writers of the classical era. Although these descriptions sometimes are muddled or colored by war propaganda, they constitute some of the earliest ethnographic descriptions of nonMediterranean Europeans. Later, medieval Arab travelers and geographers, such as Ibn Battuta, al Idrisi, and Ibn Khaldun, best known for their descriptions of life in Africa and south and west Asia, also explored southern and eastern Europe, and it is from them that we get an etic (outsider’s) perspective on European ethnography prior to the Renaissance. Some northern authors, such as Geraldus Cambrensus (Gerald of Wales) also made cultural observations during that period.

Late in   the 18th century (1786), an Englishman, Sir William James, was attempting to translate ancient Indian Hindu religious texts from the ancient, holy language Sanskrit into English when he noticed Sanskrit’s similarity to ancient Greek and Latin—for example, in Sanskrit the divine father is Dis Patir, while in Latin it is Deus Pater. These similar words with similar meanings, but in different languages, became known as cognates, and they imply a common derivation for the languages. Thus, the Indo-European language family was discovered. Some of the larger and better known members of the Indo-European language family as it is found in Europe today include the Celtic branch (Irish Gaeilge, Scots Gaelic, and Manx in the Goidelic subfamily, and Welsh, Breton, and restored Cornish in the Brytthonic subfamily); the Italic, or Romance, branch (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Romanian); the Germanic branch (High German, Low German, Yiddish, Swabian, Dutch, English, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic; although geographically Iceland is not part of Europe, Anderson [1971] included it culturally); Greek; and the Balto-Slavic branch (Russian, Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Lithuanian, and Latvian). Some smaller groups would include Romani and Basque; the latter is a linguistic isolate found in the Pyrenees border region between Spain and France that may have its origins in the late Pleistocene. In 1818, 32 years after James’s discovery, Rasmas Rask painstakingly compared the grammatical structures of the languages of Scandinavia. In 1822, folklorist Jakob Grimm (who, with his brother, Wilhelm, is best known for collecting and collating Grimm’s Fairy Tales) developed a set of laws to show how shifts in phonemes occur regularly between related languages. With these developments, historical linguistics was born, and research since has pinpointed the origins of the Indo-European language family to be in either the southeastern Ukraine or in eastern Turkey.

In the mid-19th century, writers such as Herbert Spencer and Sir Edward Burnett Tylor tried to explain society and social differences more scientifically and less philosophically. Indeed, Marvin Harris, in his The Rise of Anthropological Theory (1968), cited Spencer’s Descriptive Sociology, which laid out a design for the collection of ethnographic data, as the forerunner of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s classic field research guide, Notes and Queries on Anthropology. Despite their pioneering work, Harris argues that racial determinism was the form in which the culture sciences emerged from the industrial capitalism of the 19th century, an unfortunate offshoot of which persisted into the 20th century in the form of Nazism’s polemic arguments for the development of a “master race.”

One comes away from the late 19th- and early 20th-century authors with the impression that, although some wrote about life in Europe, they wrote about Europeans as a hypothetical control group to compare with non-Western cultures about which they had collected data. Nonetheless, in 1908, Belgian theorist Arnold van Gennep published Les Rîtes des Passages, in which he compared the rites and ceremonies of Europeans to those of non-Western cultures to determine what constitutes the patterns of liminal passages between the various stages of life. Van Gennep cited the authors of various ethnographic studies of extant societies around the world, including Europe.

However, in Sex and Repression in Savage Society, Bronislaw Malinowski, the father of participant observation, took Sigmund Freud to task for just such armchair theorizing in Freud’s 1914 Totem and Taboo, for which the 19th-century early evolutionists, such as Spencer and Tylor, were accused. Following Freud’s successes in the psychoanalytic field, he had become interested in the relatively new discipline of anthropology. Freud wrote several papers, which were well received, but his magnum opus as an anthropologist was to be Totem and Taboo, in which he explained the origins of the incest taboo, the Oedipus complex, and totemism. Freud’s hypothetical control group of mid Europeans and his presentation of a hypothetical parricide within the primal horde (a term he borrowed from Charles Darwin) as facts led the anthropology community to become disenchanted with him. Yet Malinowski himself compared his ethnographic data on the Trobriand Islanders to just such a hypothetically described mid European culture in his critique.

Also, prior to World War I, Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure began to view the functional meaning of language as a synchronic system (la langue) separate from its changing, diachronic usages in speech (la parole), and he began his search for the underlying rules and grammar that form the unconscious “deep structure” of the language. Saussure broke up language into phonemes (sounds), which can be combined to generate monemes (words) that signify concepts. What allows this system to operate is the pairing of opposites, or binary oppositions. Saussure’s binary paradigm was used by Roman Jakobson of the Prague School of Linguistics in studies of the linguistic consequences of brain damage.

Development of European Anthropology

Physical Anthropology

Physical anthropology in the early 20th century was heavily concerned with osteometry, anthropometry, and the establishment of racial categories. Some notable figures conducted other types of research, such as Hungarian psychological anthropologist Geza Roheim, who made early laboratory ventures into primate studies, but by and large the determination of racial physical types was the order of the day. Franz Boas attempted to dispel the prevailing ideas about race at that time by demonstrating that, among Europeans, the supposedly long-headed (dolichocephalic) Mediterranean race and the supposedly roundheaded (brachicephalic) Alpine race could occur within the same biological family, depending upon whether one were born in Europe or North America. Boas (1940) measured the cephalic index (the width of the head at its broadest point divided by the length of the head at its longest point, multiplied by 100) of Jewish immigrants from Europe, and then he compared them to the same measurements from their children who had been born in America. Boas found the European parents to be members of the Mediterranean race and their American children to be members of the Alpine race. Boas claimed that the differences were based on diet, not race, and he believed that he had disproven the claims about various races in Europe.

Nonetheless, the anthropometry of racial categorization continued. One of the more prominent proponents of this type of racial anthropology was Carlton Coon, who studied under Earnest Albert Hooton at Harvard. In 1929 and 1930, Coon conducted a study of Albanians that laid the groundwork for a number of his later works, such as his 1939 opus, The Races of Europe. Racial categorization was abused in the 1940s and rapidly fell out favor following the Nazi atrocities of World War II. In 1951, this led Sherwood L. Washburn to call for an end to racial categorization in his proposition for a “new physical anthropology” that concentrated on genetics, primate studies, and fossil evidence.

Sociocultural Anthropology

Some of the earliest modern ethnographic research conducted in Europe was done by Alfred Haddon in Ireland in 1892, after the first Torres Straits expedition. Haddon also included anthropometric research in his study. Earnest Hooton and Wesley Dupertius also conducted anthropometric studies in Ireland in 1932 as part of Harvard University’s anthropological survey of Ireland. Two other young Harvard anthropologists were involved to conduct an ethnographic account of Ireland: Conrad M. Arensberg and Solon T. Kimball. Arensberg’s and Kimball’s pioneering work had its inception when they both served as research assistants under W. Lloyd Warner in his American community study of “Yankee City” (Newburyport, Massachusetts). Warner then accompanied Arensberg to Ireland in 1932, but left to be replaced by Kimball. Arensberg’s and Kimball’s Family and Community in Ireland is considered by many to be a foundation work not only in community studies but also in the ethnography of Europe. Indeed, Thomas M. Wilson, the current president of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, refers to it in several of his works as a “sacred text,” to which other contemporary authors (especially those writing about Irish culture) feel compelled to measure their own work seven decades later.

Arensberg and Kimball conducted their study less as cultural anthropologists and more as social anthropologists in the tradition of Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, who had influenced Warner and whose structural-functionalism heavily influenced their work. Among their main contributions were their observations about the “stem family” and how rural inheritance patterns were integrated with marriage patterns, family structure, emigration, and careers. (Because of impartible inheritance and arranged marriages, some offspring never could marry and, thus, were stems off the family tree that never would bear fruit unless they left their rural homes.) The National University of Ireland-Galway recently (2001) published a third edition of Family and Community in Ireland, sponsored by the Social Science Research Council, with a major introduction by Anne Byrne, Ricca Edmondson, and Tony Varley. Anne Byrne also recorded the reactions of Arensberg’s and Kimball’s key respondents’ descendents to her reading to them of Arensberg’s actual field notes (Byrne, 2006).

World War I

During World War I, some American anthropologists were believed to have acted on the behalf of espionage agencies to spy on German citizens in Central America (the reader may recall that this was the era of the Zimmerman telegram, which exhorted Mexico to invade the United States on behalf of Germany). This group of anthropologists is believed to have included Arthur Carpenter, Thomas Gann, John Held, Samuel Lothrop, Sylvanus Morley, and Herbert Spinden, according to David H. Price (2001).

In reaction to the alleged espionage against German citizens by American anthropologists, Franz Boas, the father of American Anthropology, who himself had immigrated to the United States from Germany, wrote a letter to The Nation in 1919 condemning four unnamed anthropologists for spying. In reaction to Boas’s letter, the American Anthropological Association voted to censure Boas that same year. Price quotes a letter from Leslie Spier that indicates that although Boas was sympathetic to Germany, he believed both sides to be mutually culpable and mutually justified in the war. Spier argued that Boas’s motivations were in the interests of disinterested (not necessarily uninterested) science, not “Germanophilism.”

World War II

World War II halted much of the ethnographic work in the European theatre that had been begun in the previous decades, but certain studies continued under the leadership of Margaret Mead. During the war, much ethnographic work was virtually impossible because of political restrictions and actual danger, but under Mead a group of anthropologists and other social scientists served as part of the U.S. war effort in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency on the Culture at a Distance national character project. Mead (who, herself, was married to an Englishman—the anthropologist Gregory Bateson) had conducted a study to determine why there were so many shotgun weddings between American servicemen stationed in Britain and young Englishwomen who lived near the military bases. She determined that, despite a common language and the former British colonial status of the United States, the two nations were, in fact, two very different people, and that what the American boy took to be lighthearted playfulness, the English girl took to be a proposal of marriage. Lectures were given and town meetings were held that helped to avert what could have turned into a very unpleasant international incident with the United States’ closest ally. The Office of Strategic Services was so impressed by Mead’s handling of the situation that she was put in charge of the national character project that was to help the United States work more effectively with its allies and learn its enemies’ weaknesses in order to defeat them. Mead led Conrad Arensberg, Sula Benet, Ruth Benedict, Rhoda Métraux, David Rodnick, Geoffrey Gorer, and John Rickman, among others in the assignment.

Because of the war, ethnographic data were gathered on the cultures to be described by reading novels, magazines, and newspapers; watching popular films; and interviewing diplomats, merchants, military personnel, recent immigrants, and prisoners of war from the cultures in question. Among the studies relevant to the ethnography of Europe, Conrad

Arensberg described the culture of east European Jews, and Sula Benet wrote about Poland; in 1951 she published her work as Song, Dance, and Customs of Peasant Poland (1951/1996). Ruth Benedict researched Rumanian culture. Rhoda Métraux described France and later collaborated with Mead on Themes in French Culture (1954). David Rodnick was assigned Czechoslovakia. Geoffrey Gorer studied France and Great Russia with John Rickman, and their study (1962) resulted in the controversial “swaddling hypothesis,” in which, to put it colloquially, the Russians were “wrapped too tightly” (psychologically) as adults because they were wrapped too tightly (literally) as infants. Gorer and Rickman collaborated on The People of Great Russia in 1948. The description and some of the results of their projects were published by Mead and Métraux after the war as The Study of Culture at a Distance (1953). The national character approach to ethnography began to fall out of favor in anthropology by the 1960s, when it began to be seen as prejudicial.

Mid-20th Century

In the mid-20th century, French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, influenced by the linguists Saussure and Jakobson, produced anthropological structuralism, in which he provided a model of the human mind (not the biological organ, the brain) based on binary oppositions. He also was influenced by binary computer codes. Lévi-Strauss believed this to be a universal organizing system based on linguistic thought input. Thus, “primitive” thought is not primitive at all, but is based on the same set of logic as is “civilized” thought, leading Lévi-Strauss to reject Eurocentric interpretations of non-European cultures and mental statuses.

Post–World War II

The post–World War II era also brought a rise in the number of anthropologists, thanks in part to so many people in uniform having seen parts of the world that they never would have hoped to see before, and to the GI Bill, which afforded them the chance to earn a university education. It was in this period that more ethnographies of the folk cultures of Europe began to appear. One should note that for the most part these are the product of North American and British authors. One reason for this is that ethnographic research in European folk communities tends to be the domain of folklore specialists in Europe, rather than anthropologists. Hungarian ethnographer Tamás Hofer’s 1968 article in Current Anthropology makes the case that, in Europe, scholars who study European folk societies are considered very different from those who study folk societies in non-Western cultures, and he quotes no less a figure than Claude Lévi-Strauss (1966), who asserted that anthropology is a science that sees cultures from the outside. (As contradictions to this view, one might point out the work of Igbo anthropologist Victor C. Uchendu and Kikuyu anthropologist Jomo Kenyatta, or Chinese anthropologist Martin C. Yang.) The European looks at the historical process of folk ethnography on a national scale, not the deep ethnography of a single community in the American tradition, other than when it has been practiced by local, amateur scholars. Robert T. Anderson argued in his 1973 Modern Europe: An Anthropological Perspective that, in the 1950s, anthropological literature on contemporary European cultures was so sparse that “it could be covered in a month or so” (p. 3).

Susan Parman composed a list of some of the classic English language articles and chapters relevant to European anthropology as part of her groundwork for a session titled “American Perspectives in the History of the Anthropology of Europe” at the 1994 national meetings of the American Anthropological Association held in Atlanta and for the benefit of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe. She chose articles and chapters that she deemed “to illustrate the history, paradigmatic shifts, cultural context, and future of the anthropology of Europe.” (Parman’s list is available from the SAE’s Web site on H-net at Although Parman suggested a rather lengthy list, those items relevant to the 1950s were J. A. Barnes’ 1954 Class and Committees in a Norwegian Island Parish, E. Estyn Evans’s 1956 The Ecology of Peasant Life in Western Europe (although, we note, Evans was an geographer, not an anthropologist), Charles H. Lange’s 1957 Acculturation in the Context of Selected New and Old World Peasant Cultures, Julian PittRivers’s 1958 Ritual Kinship in Spain, and Robert Redfield and Milton B. Singer’s 1954 The Cultural Role of Cities. Ronald Frankenberg suggested that classic monographs also should be included in the list, such as his 1957 Village on the Border and his 1965 Communities in Britain, a suggestion seconded by Anthony Galt. We would add Lawrence Wylie’s 1957 monograph, Village in the Vaucluse.

In the 1960s, ethnographic monographs on the European culture area began to become more common. The author of this entry suggests that some of the classic ethnographies of Europe were produced during this decade, including Julian A. Pitt-Rivers’s The People of the Sierra, published in 1961. East European peasant conferences also were held during the 1960s and 1970s. It was during the 1960s that George and Louise Spindler became the editors of a monumental ethnography project that was published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston (many of their titles were republished by Waveland Press in the 1980s and 1990s and republished again by Thomson Wadsworth in the 2000s). The Spindlers’ project involved the publication of a series of ethnographies from dozens of authors, including such classroom classics as Joel Martin Halpern and Barbara K. Halpern’s 1967 A Serbian Village in Historical Perspective, Ernestine Friedl’s 1967 monograph Vasilika: A Village in Modern Greece, Jeremy F. Boissevain’s 1969 Hal-Farrug: A Village in Malta, and John C. Messenger Jr.’s 1969 Inis Beag: Isle of Ireland.

The 1970s continued this trend with Hugh Brody’s 1973 Inishkillane: Change and Decline in the West of Ireland, John Friedl’s 1974 Kippel: A Changing Village in the Alps, Robin Fox’s 1978 The Tory Islanders: A People of the Celtic Fringe, and Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ 1979 Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. It was during this decade that Europeanist anthropologists began to concentrate less on the harmonious, traditional nature of European folk societies that guided

Arensberg and Kimball’s functionalist portrait of Luogh, County Clare, and more on the changing nature of European folk culture and the dysfunctional fit of the old ways with the late 20th-century world. This was the decade of Margaret Mead’s 1970 Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap, in which she argued that at no other time in human history could one know almost instantly what was taking place on the other side of the world. Mead wrote that this led to a gap in the way that people born before and after World War II experienced history and that younger people of the late 20th century—on a worldwide level—were more aware of what was going on the other side of the globe than their parents may have been aware of what was going on in the next country. Thus the old ways of life seemed dysfunctional in the changing world—including in the rural cultures of modern Europe.

The 1970s also included two classic survey works by Robert T. Anderson, who, with his then wife, Barbara Gallatin Anderson, had conducted field research in both Denmark and France. (The Danish experiences were humorously described in her 1990 book, First Fieldwork: The Misadventures of an Anthropologist.) Robert Anderson’s surveys were Traditional Europe: A Study in Anthropology and History (1971) and Modern Europe: An Anthropological Perspective (1973). In Modern Europe, Anderson argues that European subsistence-farming peasants had become market-oriented commercial farmers over the previous century and that many elements of the transformation were the result of a “silent revolution” brought about by the new availability of mass-produced goods and the new ability to purchase them. Anthony Galt recurred to this theme in his 1990 case study, Town and Country in Locorotondo, the research for which was completed in the 1970s and early 1980s. Galt credits the availability of construction and manufacturing jobs during the rebuilding of Europe with having transformed occupational, social, residential, and domestic life in rural southern Italy.

The Late 20th Century and the Society for the Anthropology of Europe

According to current Society for the Anthropology of Europe president, Thomas M. Wilson, and the former editor of MAN, Hastings Donnan, in their comprehensive survey text, The Anthropology of Ireland, anthropologists and other social scientists began to influence government policies in the late 1980s in the Republic of Ireland by way of economic and social partnerships with the government. As noted above with regard to Conrad Arensberg, Solon Kimball, John Messenger, and Nancy Scheper-Hughes, anthropology had been the province of nonnative researchers, frequently North Americans, who analyzed remote rural populations. The change from this pattern to that of the late 1980s makes the input of anthropologists into government policy a noteworthy contribution that helped to forge the “Celtic Tiger” economy prior to the recession of the late 2000s. Now anthropologists are assisting the Irish government to understand and deal with divergent cultures following the influx of new ethnic minorities—especially Poles, Latvians, and Nigerians—and American-trained anthropologists, such as Chris Curtin at the National University of Ireland, Galway, are heading up social science departments in the country.

In 1986, the Society for the Anthropology of Europe (SAE) was envisaged as a section of the American Anthropological Association. An organizing letter went out to colleagues stating the purposes of the organization, including (among other things, according to the SAE’s Web site on H-net) the enhancement of the visibility and legitimacy of Europeanist anthropology and reinforcement of a set of national and international connections among Europeanists. In the fall of 1987, SAE’s organizers held their first elections. Susan Carol Rogers was the founder and served as the first president of SAE. James Taggart served as the first SAE program chair, in 1986 and 1987. At the 1986 breakfast roundtable that Taggart led, Stanley Brandes spoke on “Religion, Folklore and Ideology”; John W. Cole addressed “Class, Culture and Political Economy”; Ernestine Friedl discussed “Sex and Gender”; Jane Schneider looked at “Historiography and Anthropology”; and Katherine M. Verdery talked about what was to become a major topic in the news in the following decades: “Ethnicity and Regionalism.” Taggart was followed by William Douglas in 1988 and by Linda Bennett in 1989. The 1989 inaugural Distinguished Lecture was presented by Ernest Gellner and was titled “The European Roots of British Anthropology.” The previous year had had no Distinguished Lecture but rather several major addresses, including one by Carlo Ginsberg titled “The Inquisitor as Anthropologist” and another by Laurence Stone titled “Money, Sex, and Murder in 18th Century England: A Story and Its Meaning.” Further breakfast roundtables followed in 1987, 1988, and 1989 with participants whose names form a “Who’s Who” of Europeanist anthropologists, including, among others, Ruth Behar, Linda Bennett, George Saunders, Nancy ScheperHughes, and Jeremy Boissevain.

The 1990 SAE program chair was Ellen Badone, known for her 1989 study of Breton death imagery, The Appointed Hour: Death, Worldview, and Social Change in Brittany.

The 1990s continued the SAE tradition of Distinguished Lectures and breakfast roundtables. The 1990 breakfast was led by Lawrence Taylor, known for his studies of Catholicism and salmon fishing culture in County Donegal, Ireland, but the topics shifted to the changing, post-Communist Europe with Katherine Verdery’s presentation titled “National and Ethnic Issues in the Eastern European ‘Transition to Democracy’” and to migration within the continent with Caroline Brettell, known for her study of illegal Portuguese immigration in France (We Have Already Cried Many Tears), speaking on Migration in Europe. Brettell also served as president of the SAE in the mid-1990s, and she was followed by Peter Allen in the later 1990s. In the 1990s, the focus also shifted to southern and eastern Europe, where rapid political changes made for rapid social and cultural changes, and in his 1998 presidential address, Peter Allen commented not only on the influence of Brown University scholars on the SAE but on how many of them were Greek or other

Mediterranean specialists, including former SAE presidents Michael Herzfeld and Jill Dubisch. Allen then pointed out that, since the fall of the Iron Curtain, it was time to consider a merger of the SAE with the East European Anthropology Group in light of contemporary political realities.

Other topics in the 1990s were the new nationalism in Europe, political activism, the reemergence of a European Right, the rise of the suprastate European Union (EU), the location of the boundaries of the European culture area, and east-west differences within the culture area—if it even existed. During this period several authors, including John Messenger, Ernestine Friedl, George and Sharon

Gmelch, Joel Halpern and Barbara Kerewsky Halpern, Susan Carol Rogers, Nadia Seremetakis, Regina Bendix, Susan Parman, Caroline Brettell, and Stanley Brandes allowed their fieldwork slides to be reproduced for sale to members to be used for pedagogical purposes, a practice which, sadly, ended in 2005.

In what we consider to be one of the most important statements on the anthropology of Europe in the last decade—Susan Parman’s lengthy 2000 presidential address to the SAE at its meeting in San Francisco—Parman reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to a four-field approach to the anthropology of Europe. In her address, Parman pointed out that anthropologists are willing to discuss issues and ethnic groups that frequently are ignored by practitioners of other disciplines, such as historians, political scientists, and economists. She cited a 1973 text by geographer Terry Jordan, The European Culture Area, in which Jordan referred to the European culture area as though it were a homogenous, Christian, Caucasian conclave of healthy, well-educated urbanites (an image that some Europeanists have to battle with within the ranks of American anthropology itself) and ignored the Jews, Gypsies, Turks, and Muslims who also were responsible for creating what we see as the Europe of today.

Now these other groups are being studied in the fourfield manner peculiar to American anthropology that includes archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology or ethnology, and linguistics, along with its (ironic for a four-field approach) “singular way” to study Europe. Archaeologically, we can gain a perspective on the relatively late emergence of Europe as an important player on the world scene. The author of this entry suspects that this is a perspective that may be lacking in the other disciplines noted at the beginning of this paragraph. Biologically, anthropology can dispel unsubstantiated beliefs in racial superiority. In Parman’s own words, the “American anthropology of Europe has tended to focus less on race and place and more on understanding centers of power that generate identities.” With regard to linguistics, she notes the irony that now English is becoming Europe’s new lingua franca. (One recalls John Messenger’s lectures in graduate school in the late 1970s, when he would comment on the near universality of English usage in Denmark at the expense of Danish.) Finally, Parman argues, the American cultural perspective’s tradition of pragmatism and empiricism, as revealed in ethnography, allows the ethnographer to describe cultural fact, while it allows the readers to come to their own conclusions. This four-field ethnographic pragmatism, Parman maintains, is distinctively American and contrasts with European theoreticism. It is for this reason that we have concentrated on the American perspective in European ethnography in this entry.

We would note, also, the role of American biological anthropology and archaeology in uncovering and demonstrating instances of ethnic cleansing in Europe. Following the Balkan tragedies of the 1990s, forensic anthropologists and archaeologists aided authorities in providing evidence of the reported genocidal atrocities in the former Yugoslavia. Jon Stereberg, a forensic archaeologist, has substantiated proof of gas attacks that occurred in 1992 from examinations of the victims’ clothing, while another forensic archaeologist, Clyde Collins Snow, has conducted research into Bosnian burials.

Anthropology of Europe in the 21st Century

In his 2002 SAE presidential address, David A. Kideckel, an Eastern Europeanist, described Europe as an “anthropological laboratory of globalization” because of the influx of Kurdish, Turkish, Vietnamese, Chinese, West Indians, and North Africans who were transforming the social and cultural landscape. Kideckel sees a European backlash (post–9/11) to strengthen its borders and cleanse its ethnicity concurrent with the expansion of the EU and waves of immigration, which we find to be analogous to the waves of European immigration to the Americas a century ago (see Ireland in the 1990s, above). Kideckel views this as a rich ground for study by anthropology, especially in the rapidly transforming states of Eastern Europe, and he believes that anthropology should be prepared to prevent its misuse for purposes of nationalistic racism recurrent to the 1930s.

Likewise, Anastasia Karakasidou, SAE president from 2006 through 2008, concurs with Kideckel that an understanding of the globalizing events in Europe is key to understanding the changing theoretical orientations of anthropology. Thomas M. Wilson, known for his work in Ireland and with the meanings of borders, is the 2008– 2010 president of the SAE.

European Ethnography Today

At the 2008 SAE roundtables at the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco, the presentations included such diverse topics as Amy Ninetto’s “Intellectuals, Cosmopolitanism, and Internationalism in Europe,” in which she argued that intellectuals have been seen as the “culture producers” in the past but that now they are redefining what it means to be European from a cosmopolitan vantage point that may conflict with the perspectives of others. Jack Murphy’s “A Culture of Lawlessness? Juvenile Criminality in Europe Today” noted the rise in crimes committed by minors in Europe. Murphy examined two opposing perspectives on the problem: a “youth culture of criminality” and gang mentalities versus racial, ethnic, or class divisions in criminal behavior. Emanuela Guano discussed “Practicing Citizenship in Contemporary Europe” and how people steer their courses through the various entitlements and responsibilities that come with citizenship. Douglas Holmes explored the new identities that people are creating for themselves in Europe as the EU tries to be diverse in some ways, but homogenous in others at the same time. Levent Soysal surveyed European Difficulties, European Accolades with regard to the EU and its effect on the ethnography of Europe. Krisztina Fehervary looked at the explosion of communications technology in Eastern Europe and its creation of transnational communities in formerly isolated areas, as well as the transformation of our positions as ethnographers. This has been a constant theme in the teaching of the author of this encyclopedia entry—that through the use of the communications revolution (as well as with some “boots on the ground” familiarity with the culture in question) we are capable of conducting virtual ethnography in a 21st-century modification of Margaret Mead’s World War II Culture at a Distance project. We believe that this can have a transformative impact on the discipline of anthropology in this century.

Future Directions

Some of the areas for future research in European anthropology that might be considered would include the effects of the current worldwide recession on the Celtic Tiger economy now that Ireland is seeing a return to the unemployment and economic implosion that characterized it in the past, and the effects of the recession on European unification—might there be a secessionary trend among some states that find themselves worse off now than before they joined the EU? How will the failure of the Lisbon treaty affect the balance of power when Brussels demands a new referendum in Ireland, the only country that could legally vote on it, despite Irish law? Other areas for investigation might include the economic transformation of the former Iron Curtain countries and the rise in racist ideologies with a return to the recessionary politics of ethnicity of the 1930s that the 1990s Balkan tragedies show us are not that far in the past.


This research paper has explored the subject of European ethnography as a subject of anthropology, rather than folklore, as it is done in Europe. The author chose to look at it from a historical angle so that the reader might develop a sense of the processes whereby the anthropology of Europe has come to the state in which we find it in the early 21st century. First we looked at a justification for an anthropology of Europe, which is every bit as worthy of investigation as other areas of the world.

A brief definition of ethnography was followed by a review of the origins of the ethnography of Europe in ancient and medieval times. The rise of Europeanism in anthropology in the 19th century was mainly from the viewpoint of biological anthropology and racial classification. This led to a consideration of the atrocities of World War II. In the 1930s, a major pioneering study was conducted in Ireland by Conrad M. Arensberg and Solon T. Kimball that became a standard for the measurement of other European ethnographies for the rest of the century. Margaret Mead’s World War II Culture at a Distance project produced several ethnographies of the European culture area, and George and Louise Spindler’s Case Studies in Anthropology series introduced several new generations of students to the ethnography of Europe. The segment on the later 20th century and the creation of the SAE led into the anthropology of Europe today and topics for future research.


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