This is a video of a lecture by professor Bruce Kapferer given at the University of Manchester, England


Abstract by Bruce Kapferer

The lecture begins with a discussion of Clyde Mitchell’s network perspective, its grounding in anthropological ethnography and its connection to the situational analytic perspective of Gluckman’s “Manchester School”. Gluckman was concerned to make Malinowski’s anthropological ethnographic innovation, developed in small-scale isolated traditional societies, relevant to the analysis of social and political processes in the dynamic complex social worlds of modernity. His point is also larger: that is all social contexts no matter how isolated are enmeshed in larger global processes. Gluckman was, in this sense critical of what might be termed ‘island anthropology’ which related societies as enclosed isolated wholes. Mitchell’s approach to networks is influenced by Gluckman’s situational approach as well as his critique of that anthropology that treated of societies as isolated wholes. This had the seeds of a critique of the grand narrative approaches of modern sociological theory and their often retreat into abstraction and a losing of sight of the on the ground processes that such abstraction was given to comprehend as well as inattention to the larger fields of political and social process in which they are enmeshed. Mitchell’s network perspective extended along these lines moreover insisting that institutional analysis, for example, should be traced into detailed accounts of social processes that the network perspective was oriented towards. The lecture explores this direction and considers the importance of ideology and value in the dynamics of social networks. At this point the lecture demonstrates the similarities and differences between Mitchell and Latour’s approaches. One similarity is the movement away from the idea of society as an integrated totality. The major dissimilarity concerns the importance of value. This is stressed in Mitchell – a concern of his being the way new value is generated. Latour it will be argued stressed interconnections but without a concern for value. Furthermore in Latour the idea of network is very little other than an abstract metaphor. Mitchell is more concerned with converting a metaphor into a substantial methodological practice. The lecture more generally, and through its comparison of the Mitchell and Latour perspectives, develops towards a contemplation on the nature of a scientific understanding of the social which is the major direction and importance of Latour’s approach.