Anthropological Theory (AT) since its first issue in March 2001 has flourished. It did so by achieving in varied ways the goals laid out for it in the Editors’ first editorial ‘The Six Field System’. Consequently, our vision for the journal is evolutionary; taking what has been accomplished well and improving it. We will publish in areas of anthropological thought where there is intellectual excitement and confrontation; seeking theoretical essays distinguished by their rigor, significance, and movement of intellectual debates into new domains. We will encourage theoretical analyses in realms that are not metaphysical exotica, but emerge from hurly-burley of life with the goal of ‘making a difference’ - in the sense of speaking to and improving the human condition. Clearly we, the new editors of AT, do have certain views concerning the discipline, and we would like to make these clear to readers of, and authors for, the journal
Consideration of the variety of anthropological researches leaves one struck by their sheer breadth. Anthropologists have studied people from cultural, social, archeological/historical, linguistic, and biological perspectives. They have done so in all places and all times of the human adventure. Anthropology, in this sense, is a ‘big tent’. Indeed, compared to the other human sciences, anthropology is the biggest tent. We think this is a glory. We want to encourage it, because it can allow anthropological practitioners to potentially know more about more things and, in doing so, to have greater prospects of capturing connections that narrower disciplines miss. So we will have an open door policy; welcoming all sorts perspectives, from all sides of the big tent, as long as they theorize with thoroughness.
By espousing a policy of anthropological theory for everybody, we mean two things. First, theory can be difficult to grasp, but the project is to make it accessible because theory helps people explain and transform the world. ‘Theory for everybody’ is theory written so that everybody has a chance of understanding it. It means writing clearly, precisely. We have a second understanding of ‘theory for everybody’. We want this to be a journal that situates anthropology beyond the confines and frames of the Euro-American project. Anthropological Theory is envisioned as theory made by everybody. We begin with the premise that because of past and ongoing globe-spanning unequal relations of power, people come to their understanding of the world through different entry points and multiple and differentiated positionings. These positionings are often maintained by violence and legitimized through logics of difference. An anthropology by everybody is one that simultaneously acknowledges differentiated and multiple positionings and builds from them valuable insights into commonalities of the human condition and its possible futures. Anthropological theory can only be developed as a global conversation and project.
Anthropology might be said to be characterized by a ‘toss and turn’ dynamic; that is it has taken a number of intellectual turns, which in due course, have been tossed out for other turns. A recent turn, for example, is ontological. But it succeeds interpretive, postmodern, cultural materialist, componential analytic, structural-functional, historical particularist, and unilinear evolutionary turns – each of which tended to be tossed, like decaying rubbish, onto the garbage heap of supposed wrong turns. Such a toss and turn anthropology is evidence of a vibrant debate in our discipline and of the passion to understand the world. However, there is an appalling possibility that turn-tossing simply leads scholars to constantly recycle discredited notions under new names rather than truly debate the validity of their perspectives. There has to be a better way of forging a dynamic transformative anthropology. We believe that a better way can be encouraged by yet another turn; one that is epistemological. By this we mean encouraging scholarship which seeks to understand, and improve, the conditions of anthropological knowing; so that what gets saved is robust theory or that which can be made more robust, and what gets tossed is theory that is either wrong or unknowable. We believe we can help make this turn by encouraging two sorts of scholarship. The first type of scholarship is that which explores the related questions of the nature of theoretical knowledge itself, while at the same time inquiring into the attributes of what passes for theory in anthropology. Questions here might include evaluating whether there is any form of theory that is epistemologically preferable to scientific explanation. We welcome debates on the nature of evidence and validation. The second type of scholarship is the development of particular methodologies in particular areas in big tent anthropology that solve observational problems and, in so doing, allow fuller consideration of theoretical questions. Here, of interest, might be formulation of methods that strengthen ethnographic analysis; for example, the creation of techniques that allow determination of the representativeness of ethnographic data. Of equal interest would be development of comparative, historical, archeological, linguistic, and biological techniques that allow for accurate observation for the longest periods of time and for inter-connections between different social, cultural, and biological domains of the human condition.
Theories are composed of concepts and are only as good as their concepts. We would like to encourage work that specifically examines key and emerging concepts in anthropology. This includes discussion of whether only ‘native’ terms are preferable to ‘scientific’ ones when theorizing. We would equally encourage analysis not only of more technical terms, for example rhizomes, but of ones that are important in realms of power, such as democracy. We are interested in the discussion of each concept’s ambiguities and vagueness. We are concerned to help improve concepts’ applicability; that is, to enhance the ability to know how to make observations of the observational domains covered by a concept. Further, we believe it is important to assess the relative merits of concepts. For example, many speak of Western ‘liberal democracies’, when others might apply the concept ‘oligarchies.’ Which is it?
We believe an intellectual discipline whose practitioners talk only to themselves is a pretty poor enterprise, a solipsistic cabal. Big tent anthropology thinking about a lot in different areas is a prime candidate to be at the center of conversation about the human condition. Anthropologists can contribute to inquiry in other disciplines. For example, they could have challenging perspectives in philosophy concerning questions of ontology and morality; in politics about the possibility of democratic peace or liberal equality; or in sociology into Durkheim’s view on integration or Bourdieu’s on habitus. We would encourage our authors to make excursions in these directions, and equally encourage thinkers from these other fields to comment upon anthropological endeavors.
AT has not sufficiently explored the history of anthropology. Disciplinary historical reflexivity can assist anthropologists to where they have come from and where they might want to go. So we encourage articles on the history of theories and concepts, but ask that they explore the theoretical significance of histories they analyze.
AT invites authors to engage with theories of time, crisis, and the ways in which humans continually transform the planet and themselves. There is a world to be made in a future that looms before us and yet is being made by us. The challenge is not only to speak to each other but to what kind of world we are making. Join us!
Anthropological Theory is abstracted and indexed in, among other databases: SCOPUS, and the Social Sciences Citation Index. According to the Journal Citation Reports, its 2015 impact factor is 1.044, ranking it 34 out of 84 journals in the category ‘Anthropology’.