The anthropological sensibility has often been seen as growing out of opposition to Enlightenment universalism. Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) is often cited as an ancestor of modern cultural relativism, in which cultures exist in the plural. This article argues that Herder’s anthropology, and anthropology generally, are more closely related to Enlightenment thought than is generally considered. Herder certainly attacks Enlightenment abstraction, the arrogance of its Eurocentric historical teleology, and argues the case for a proto-hermeneutical approach which emphasizes embeddedness, horizon, the usefulness of prejudice. His suspicion of the ideology of progress and of associated theories of stadial development leads to a critique of cosmopolitanism and, particularly, of colonialism. But a comparison with a central Enlightenment figure like the natural historian Buffon (1708-88) reveals shared anthropological assumptions: human beings are characterized by the flexibility of their relationship to their environment, and by their ability to transmit and receive social knowledge. Herder’s critique of progress is thus an unstable one: culture [Kultur] as the process through which humanity develops can also be called Enlightenment [Aufklärung]. Herder’s definition of culture is much closer to a unitary Enlightenment model of civilization than is frequently suggested. Herder’s relativism is thus open to question: he holds on to certain universal criteria for transcultural judgements. This reassessment of Herder’s place in Enlightenment anthropology raises questions of contemporary relevance regarding cultural relativism on the one hand, and modernization and globalization on the other.
Edited by George W. Stocking, Jr.
History of Anthropology is a new series of annual volumes, each of which will treat an important theme in the history of anthropological inquiry. For this initial volume, the editors have chosen to focus on the modern cultural anthropology: intensive fieldwork by "participant observation." Observers Observed includes essays by a distinguished group of historians and anthropologists covering major episodes in the history of ethnographic fieldwork in the American, British, and French traditions since 1880. As the first work to investigate the development of modern fieldwork in a serious historical way, this collection will be of great interest and value to anthropologist, historians of science and the social sciences, and the general readers interested in the way in which modern anthropologists have perceived and described the cultures of "others." Included in this volume are the contributions of Homer G. Barnett, University of Oregon; James Clifford, University of California, Santa Cruz; Douglas Cole, Simon Frazer University; Richard Handler, Lake Forest College; Curtis Hinsley, Colgate University; Joan Larcom, Mount Holyoke College; Paul Rabinow, University of California, Berkeley; and the editor.