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Report from the Field

In response to:

Insult & Injury from the July 18, 1974 issue

To the Editors:

I was abroad when the issue of the NYR of July 18, 1974, reached Britain, so did not see it. Colleagues of mine in the USA have drawn my attention to what they knew to be a quite untruthful statement made in that issue about me by Dr. Bob Scholte of the New School for Social Research in New York City. In the present climate of opinion in anthropology that untruthful statement may well be libelous in law. Here is the true version of what happened.

In your issue of July 18, Scholte was replying to a review in NYR, April 4, by Professor Edmund Leach of D. Hymes, editor, Reinventing Anthropology (New York: Pantheon, 1973)—a review in which Leach was scathing about the book in general and especially about Scholte’s contribution to it. I am not here concerned with Leach’s review or with the main part of Scholte’s reply, but only with the following passage which contains the lie about me. He wrote: “What is so ludicrous about Leach’s argument is that many British anthropologists have willfully suppressed…their often active role in sustaining, or even formulating, British colonial policy. These past involvements are simply denied. Gluckman’s comment during a lecture on imperialism and anthropology I delivered at Manchester last year is perhaps prototypical. I [i.e., Scholte] paraphrase: ‘The moral problems you people have over there [that is, in American anthropology] never arose when I had the privilege of serving in His Majesty’s Government.’ ”

I, Gluckman, could never have made this alleged statement because I was never a member of His Majesty’s Government when I was working as an anthropologist in Northern Rhodesia. I was employed by the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute of Social Studies in British Central Africa. The Institute was established under legislation as an independent public charity (like almost all academic institutions in the West). It was governed by a Board of Trustees with a minority of Government members: the Board controlled finances and similar matters, and were consulted on research plans, with which they did not interfere. Neither did they interfere with research: the test is that they did not scrutinize in advance anything written by members of the staff, any more than do the governing bodies of universities. A fortiori, nothing written by any member of the staff was subject to Government’s approval. Were Scholte a scholar, instead of a crier of slogans, he would have known that all publications by Government officials require to be passed for publication; and that they should contain a statement that they do not represent Government policy. Had he checked our work, he would have found no such statement: for example, there is no such statement in the path-breaking work of the late Godfrey Wilson, first Director of the Institute on Economics of Detribalization in Northern Rhodesia, Rhodes-Livingstone Papers Nos. 5 and 6, 1939 and 1940. Its findings, and its implied recommendations, ran counter to government policy. Nor is there any such statement in any of my writings, or those of any other member of the Institute’s staff.

Scholte made up that alleged statement attributed by him to me, and equally he fabricated the statement that “many British anthropologists have willfully suppressed…their often active role in sustaining, even formulating, British colonial policy.” Personally I know that very very few Government officials read anything I wrote, so that most could not even have been indirectly influenced, in any direction. As it happens, my own politics are publicly known to be left-wing: I was actively engaged in the resistance to the imposition of Central African Federation on Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland and in the movement in Britain towards independence for Britain’s African territories, so that I number African presidents, vice-presidents, prime ministers, and ministers among our guests and friends; and therefore I ended by being cut off from my research field until Zambia became independent, and by being refused permission by the Australian National Government to visit New Guinea when in 1960 I was Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University.

Nevertheless, let me make clear that I do not consider that the British record, given the facts of the expansion of Europe’s frontiers into what is now called the Third World, was 100 percent wicked. It was not that by any means. The actual situation was much more complicated, and historically has to be studied by careful and balanced research, and not handled by mere shouting of slogans as Scholte does. This applies also to the role of anthropologists in the situation: our understanding of anthropologists’ achievements, difficulties, and doubts is not clarified by fabricating lies as Scholte has done here. He then extends the statement he puts in my mouth to cover my British colleagues.

How did Scholte come to make up this statement? He read to us from proofs (I think the proofs of the paper so severely criticised by Leach) a paper on a new so-called “radical anthropology.” My colleagues and I criticised it very severely, for its lack of intellectual content and scholarship, and to his astonishment, we were actually applauded by our students; and students very rarely applaud comments on papers. Scholte was so severely shaken, according to Dr. Paul Baxter, that after they had dinner together, Scholte said to him: “I hope you will invite me to Manchester again, and I shall be able to begin by saying, ‘I was here a few years ago and said some very silly things.’ ”

Scholte tells a different tale now; but I have plenty of witnesses. What did happen, was that after the seminar we took him to our Refectory for a drink. There I was telling what I thought were amusing stories about “When I was in His Majesty’s service as a private in the Northern Rhodesia Defence Force—actually paid 3 pennies an hour when on duty!”—for, I repeat, I was never in that service in Northern Rhodesia as an expert anthropologist. Scholte in his daze has a dim memory of that statement about “His Majesty’s service” and has completely falsified what I said and its context. He has changed his tune because he is no longer isolated in an atmosphere of questioning and criticism as he was in Manchester, but is back in New York with fellow-believers who work in a welter of anachronistic emotion, without intellect or scholarship. It is one of the most interesting cases of this kind of circular reinforcement of belief and faith I have ever met, or indeed read about. It confirms the findings of L. Festinger, H.W. Riecken and S. Schacter in their When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956), about members of a sect that believed a new Flood was due and that they, the elect, would be saved by flying saucers. When the prophecy of a Flood failed, isolated members lost their faith; those who were in company with others found secondary elaborations of belief to explain the failure.

Max Gluckman

Department of Social Anthropology

University of Manchester,


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