Book Review: In the Event: Toward an Anthropology of Generic Moments by Lotte Meinert and Bruce Kapferer.

JurisdictionDerecho Internacional
AuthorHare, J. Laurence
Date01 September 2016

Meinert, Lotte, and Bruce Kapferer, eds. In the Event: Toward an Anthropology of Generic Moments. New York: Berghahn Books, 2015. vi + 180 pages. Paperback, $27.95.

If data represent the principal currency of conventional social science, then one might say that patterns are the chief commodity. As we well know, it is usually seen as the mission of the social scientist to muster loose conglomerations of facts and figures and weave them into new generalities that inform our understanding of human beings and societies. Yet what happens when the social scientist abandons the search for the overarching and instead becomes fixated on the details? What are the implications of adopting such an approach as a fundamental principle of disciplinary theory? These are precisely the questions at work in Meinert and Kapferer's In the Event, which is a well-constructed anthology written by a team of eleven anthropologists from Australia and Denmark. Their work attests to the high quality of anthropological research in these two countries, but its lessons are applicable across the social sciences.

At issue in this volume is the "exploration of events and situations" (p. 1), which in most instances would form the specific data points carefully observed and recorded as part of an ethnographic field study. Events are, in other words, typically the means to an end for the anthropologist seeking to uncover new knowledge about a given culture. This volume seeks to turn that reasoning on its head by moving away from seeing specific events as "exemplary, as demonstrating general patterns... as illustrations" (p. 5), and towards viewing them as "central to anthropological analysis" (p. 1). In truth, such an approach is not novel, but represents an embrace of the theories of the so-called Manchester School led by the anthropologist Max Gluckman (1911-1975). While the authors do not always agree with Gluckman and his colleagues, they nevertheless similarly advocate for a more fluid notion of cultures and a renewed emphasis on the disruptive nature of events. This puts them on the forefront of contemporary social science even as it sets them at odds with traditional approaches.

Each of the book's nine chapters includes a case study that explores in depth a given event or situation and attempts to draw conclusions that either affirm or modify theories about the centrality of events in ethnography. The title of the book alludes to "generic moments," but this strikes me as...

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