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Excursions in Realist Anthropology

A Merological Approach

Author(s): David Zeitlyn, Roger Just

Book Description

Realism has become a dirty word in some social sciences, yet, despite fashionable new approaches involving multiple ontologies and the like, when anthropologists actually produce ethnographic accounts they are, still, indulging in realism in some form. Perhaps this is why ethnography, too, is unfashionable. Given the authors’ background as anthropologists committed to fieldwork, this book provides a theoretical grounding to justify and explain the sorts of accounts that anthropologists produce as the result of ethnographic research.

The book’s approach starts from an acceptance that understanding is always incomplete, always improvable. This sort of partiality is viewed throughout the book as a strength. The challenge of anthropology is that it involves forms of translation: often across languages, but always between the unstated and the explicit. Accepting provisionality and incompleteness in the resulting translations provides ways of finding a middle ground between extreme versions of positivism and relativism. As such, this book argues for moderate realisms in a dappled world.


ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-6403-9
ISBN-10: 1-4438-6403-X
Date of Publication: 01/10/2014
Pages / Size: 160 / A5
Price: £41.99


David Zeitlyn is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Before moving to Oxford in 2010, he taught for fifteen years at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK. His main fieldwork is in Cameroon where he has been conducting ethnographic and sociolinguistic research with Mambila people since 1985, and more recently with studio photographers in West Cameroon. He has also carried out some work on how people use technology in research, and has supervised a wide range of PhD topics.

Roger Just is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK where he taught for ten years after having been a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne, first in Modern Greek Studies, and subsequently in Anthropology. He undertook research in the late 1970s and early 1980s in rural Greece, and for three years was Assistant Director at the British School at Athens. He has also carried out work in Indonesia, and on artisan fishers in both Australia and East Kent.