The Manchester School, colonial and postcolonial transformations
Author: Richard Werbner

Anthropology after Gluckman places the intimate circle around Max Gluckman, his Manchester School, in the vanguard of modern social anthropology. The book discloses the School’s intense, argument-rich collaborations, developing beyond an original focus in south and central Africa. Where outsiders have seen dominating leadership by Gluckman, a common stock of problems, and much about conflict, Richard Werbner highlights how insiders were drawn to explore many new frontiers in fieldwork and in-depth, reflexive ethnography, because they themselves, in class and gender, ethnicity and national origins, were remarkably inclusive. Characteristically different anthropologists, their careers met the challenges of being a public intellectual, an international celebrity, an institutional good citizen, a social and political activist, an advocate of legal justice. Their living legacies are shown, for the first time, through interlinked social biography and intellectual history to reach broadly across politics, law, ritual, semiotics, development studies, comparative urbanism, social network analysis and mathematical sociology. Innovation – in research methods and techniques, in documenting people’s changing praxis and social relations, in comparative analysis and a destabilizing strategy of re-analysis within ethnography – became the School’s hallmark. Much of this exploration confronted troubling times in Africa, colonial and postcolonial, which put the anthropologists and their anthropological knowledge at risk. The resurgence of debate about decolonization makes the accounts of fierce, End of Empire argument and recent postcolonial anthropology all the more topical. The lessons, even in activism, for social scientists, teachers as well as graduate and undergraduate students are compelling for our own troubled times.

Richard Werbner

Chapter 5 examines the turn by A. L. Epstein, Clyde Mitchell and others to relational thought, at first primarily about ties of friendship or kinship and about the structures of these ties. Where an earlier generation of anthropologists in the 1930s had turned to science for physicists’ ideas of process theory, in the 1950s, led by John Barnes and later Mitchell, anthropologists fostered an approach to science through mathematics. After Barnes, Mitchell reformulated mathematical concepts in sociological language and brought graph theory and algebraic ideas and methods to bear on the data of interpersonal relations. Chapter 5 shows, also, how Mitchell responded when the tide of social network analysis turned in a fresh direction, sometimes called ‘The Harvard Renaissance’, and towards ‘block modelling’, in part stimulated by very much faster computers and exponentially more powerful computer programs. Of all the interdisciplinary contributions by members of the Manchester School, the ones that are best known, especially in sociology, are their pioneering parts in the development of this huge growth industry: the field of social network analysis.

in Anthropology after Gluckman
Richard Werbner

For Gluckman, fame came, at the height of his career, from success as a sociologist of conflict and as a methodologist, most notably in publicizing others’ development of Manchester’s extended case method. Such fame came at a price. This chapter documents the renewed importance that his devotion to ethnographic scholarship, continually updated, has for at least two projects – one comparative, the other transformational. His transformational project aimed to bring together science and history. His comparative project in law, politics and ritual appears all the more fruitful, given the renewed regard for comparison in anthropology, after a period of doubt, even dismissal, of the utility of certain modes as naively empirical or positivist.

in Anthropology after Gluckman
Role model, early leadership
Richard Werbner

Max Gluckman’s formative years in South Africa were highly important for his masterpiece, The Judicial Process among the Barotse, and his long-term projects as a social anthropologist. This account discloses his father’s significance as a much-admired role model, a public-spirited lawyer, a cosmopolitan and liberal anglophile, who himself fought, documented and analysed a remarkable legal and political struggle in the Bechuanaland Protectorate under colonial rule. From the fact that his father lost this struggle, Gluckman learned a lesson of vulnerability; that in becoming an anti-colonial, anti-apartheid activist and public intellectual who spoke to wider audiences through the press and radio, he had to endure failure as well as success.

in Anthropology after Gluckman
Richard Werbner

Chapter 6 carries forward some of Mitchell’s and Epstein’s ideas of networks. The approach extends the network studies method to social mobility, looking at how elites emerge, participate in interlocking directorates, generate convivial subjectivities and sustain long-term friendships. Raised on that basis are further arguments about the importance of elite friendship for the constituting of openness and public trust in postcolonial states. An account is given of a public occasion, the funeral of a prominent cosmopolitan among Botswana’s national elite, Richard Mannathoko, to reveal the actual practice observed among elites. Very broadly, the ethnography seeks through a particular case to illuminate the changeable force that public cosmopolitanism has in civic culture in postcolonial Africa. In part, the agenda is set in opposition to a toxic version of Afro-pessimism that finds Africa doomed by the kleptomania of elites, ungovernable because of the self-seeking of Big Men, and inevitably victimized by liberators who reveal themselves to be tyrants. Against that, the facts show that Botswana does have its share of wider postcolonial conflicts and predicaments, but concern for the public good is forceful. Good governance continues to be advanced through the deliberately developed and well-sustained political structures and practices of a strong state.

in Anthropology after Gluckman
Richard Werbner

Chapter 9 presents a re-analysis of Victor Turner’s masterpiece, Chihamba, the White Spirit. The ritual drama in Turner’s account is tragic; against that, the re-analysis shows another genre of ritual drama: the comedy, teasing and making fun of the subjected, while revelling in Bacchanalian moments and playful sexuality, and while allowing, somewhat muted, alternative fun backstage, gendered for women only. The expressed intent in performance is to bring well-being, personal and communal, for people drawn from many Ndembu villages. Ancestrality is eroticized and conciliated, for the sake of fertility and other mystic benefits, with mysteries of masculinity and femininity under male dominance. Turner relates specific cultural expressions to universals of the human condition, most importantly to the figure he calls ‘the ritual man’; and as the theologian/literary critic, he seeks to convince us of profound truths of the religious imagination. One outcome of the re-analysis is a question: How useful is Turner’s notion of ‘the ritual man’? His appearance may be transfigured, with very different preoccupations in unlike places and ages. The re-analysis undoes Turner’s comparison between the ‘slain god’ in Chihamba and the resurrection in Christianity; instead the argument illuminates the play of magic, tricks and lustful fantasy, as in ancient mystery cults.

in Anthropology after Gluckman
Urban perspectives
Richard Werbner

Chapter 4 turns from rural research by the home town anthropologist Colson to urban research by Clyde Mitchell, whose lack of a home town in his early life and need to pay attention to railway timetables – his Scottish father worked on the South African railway – may well have been formative for a life-long disposition towards following people newly on the move, especially strangers encountering fresh situations and innovating in towns. Arguably, Mitchell’s formative disposition appears to be dual: both an affinity with mapping, navigating and finding the way through flux and complexity, and also a fascination with empirical bits of the kind a mathematician might parse. Chapter 4 complements a review of Mitchell’s seminal urban studies, especially on the Kalela dance, by giving a full account of the fiercely controversial attack, led by the Marxist sociologist Bernard Magubane, on Mitchell’s work in collaboration with A. L. Epstein. Carrying forward the interest in Gluckman’s impact, this chapter examines the nature of Mitchell’s interdependent, if ambivalent, relation with his mentor and friend, Gluckman, from whom he learned and whom, in turn, he taught, in good measure through restatements and revisions of Gluckman’s work and ideas.

in Anthropology after Gluckman
Richard Werbner

Chapter 10 moves the focus from colonial to postcolonial Africa, asking how anthropologists have understood the postcolonial, and how their understandings relate to those of mainstream postcolonial studies. Most anthropological approaches to the postcolonial have not been underwritten by a simple narrative periodization of pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial. The colonial legacy has instead been taken as problematic and contested, to be understood in the light of deepening social inequality across postcolonial states, and in consequence sometimes freighted with nostalgia for an imaginary past of colonial or pre-colonial sociality. Thanks in part to widespread disenchantment with liberation struggles and with the postcolonial fruits of nationalism, many anthropologists of Africa have looked to the longue durée to periodize the postcolonial. Views on the general direction of change vary between the extremes of the over-optimistic Polyannas and the Cassandras, with their relentless rehearsals of disorder and apocalypse now. Their disagreement is not due entirely to differences between the postcolonies they address, but extends to opposed analyses of the local impact of global discourses on human rights and democracy, to religious movements towards grassroots ecumenism, to debates about ‘decolonization’, and beyond this to an ocean of postcolonial debate about poverty and ‘development’.

in Anthropology after Gluckman
The reasonable man and emotion
Richard Werbner

Chapter 7 considers the work on law, courts and justice by A. L. ‘Bill’ Epstein, the only one among Gluckman’s students who engaged publicly in sustained debate with Gluckman about the most cherished ideas of his mentor, colleague and life-long cherished friend. Whle he criticized Gluckman’s core arguments on the reasonable man, he and Gluckman remained on the very best of terms. They continued, also, always to make the most of actual cases, the very stuff of everyday hearings in court. Chapter 7, which discloses how they brought their case method to bear in interpretive, forensic and ethical reasoning, locates their arguments in a wider discussion of legal anthropology. Epstein made his contributions with characteristic deliberation. His moves were not only in ethnographic area – from his fieldwork in Zambia and his interest in Central African courts to his research on dispute settlement in Melanesia – but also in a turn from problems of the importance of reason and reasonableness, morality and ethics, in the affordance of justice. In this later turn, his cutting-edge exploration, bridging the anthropology of affect and legal anthropology, continues to be challenging for future research.

in Anthropology after Gluckman
Abstract only
Home town anthropologist, systems sceptic
Richard Werbner

This chapter reviews the work and life of Elizabeth Colson, Gluckman’s successor as head of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, through an intellectual history focused on her social biography. The account explains how and why her legacy, so rich in Central African ethnography, matters for coming generations of anthropologists. A main contention is that coming from a Midwestern town in Minnesota, distinguished by the uneasy coexistence of displaced Ojibwa Indians and white settler farmers, predisposed Colson towards concerns with discrimination, emplacement and displacement, egalitarianism and participatory democracy, and towards being a systems sceptic, who cast doubt on the utility of any model of a system as if it were something consistently well integrated as a totality. Her scepticism stands out against the approaches of other pioneering social anthropologists; so too does the creative legacy of travelling theory in her transatlantic role. Early in her long career, she introduced to British social anthropology approaches from American sociology. Her breakthrough regarding cross-cutting ties in conflict resolution called into question the utility of the mainstream structuralist model of segmentary opposition and lineage theory. This account documents the intense networking, the broad critical reviewing, and the sustained international collaboration that she accomplished.

in Anthropology after Gluckman