الأنثروبولوجيا والفكر والأدب / Anthropology as Vocation



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أبو زيد, أحمد; Abou Zeid, Ahmed; ﻏﺰﻭﻝ, ﻓﺮﻳﺎﻝ; Ghazoul, Ferial

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Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

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[In an interview with the foremost anthropologist in the Arab World, professor Ahmed Abou Zeid of Alexandria University, responded extensively to questions on anthropology and literature, his intellectual itinerary, his views on the Self and the Other, and on the relation between Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa. The following are translated excerpts from the complete interview published in the Arabic section. "My acquaintance with Anthropology was accidental. It was made possible by the general cultural ambiance of Egypt in the forties, which allowed me and my generation broad and varied knowledge of different cultures. Egypt, and especially Alexandria, was a center where many intellectual and artistic currents intersected. Egyptian cultural periodicals used to publish discussions by Egyptian and other Arab intellectuals about contemporary schools of the West and the heritage of the East. From the onset, I was interested in both Greek mythology and philosophy as well as ancient Indian epics and thought. Although I majored as an undergraduate in Philosophy, I was fascinated by Sociology which was dominated then by Durkheim and Lévi-Bruhl. Reading Freud's Totem and Taboo and Frazer's The Golden Bough also directed me to "primitive" thought. I read Malinowski by chance, even before the arrival of Radcliffe-Brown in Egypt. I believe I was the first to use the term "anthropology" in Arabic, when I wrote two articles about myths and primitive thought in 1946." "Narrative constitutes an important element in both academic anthropology and literary writing. Each tells a "story" based on elements drawn from reality, but arranging them differently; in one case to fit the goals of scientific research, and in the other that of creative fiction. Both the anthropologist and the novelist go beyond concrete reality and attempt to interpret human experience-each within the conventions of his/her field and according to a specific personal worldview. The works of the early anthropologists and some later ones-such as Evans-Pritchard and Lévi-Strauss-provoke and enrich imagination. In fact, the fieldwork of an anthropologist is a unique and exciting experience. I remember when I visited for the first time indigenous groups in East Africa how fantastic the set-up seemed to me. On the other hand, fiction presents what may happen and depicts characters representing types while an anthropological study reports real events and presents real individuals even if identified by pseudonyms." "The fact that colonial governments made use of Anthropology does not mean that Anthropology was constituted perforce to serve colonialism. This fact should not detract from Anthropology just as the atomic explosion in Hiroshima should not detract form Nuclear Physics. Postcolonial anthropologists in Africa have studied their own cultures from perspectives different from those of earlier Western anthropologists-at least their priorities were different. They study, for example, the impact of Western culture and the penetration of colonial powers into theirs, and consider not only the present but also the options for the future. They have extended their object of study from the small local group to wider regions and at times to the entire national culture." "The State's attitude in Egypt to its Bedouins has mostly been unsympathetic to their needs. In fact, it has been so lacking in understanding and heavy-handed in their control, that the Bedouins distinguished between themselves and the "Egyptians," meaning the inhabitants of the Nile Valley. Only recently, one can observe an awareness of the desert as the only outlet for population explosion and thus the need to develop it. The "development" on the northern shore in the form of tourist villages will necessarily break the isolation of the Bedouins. Such projects of construction will bring benefits to some individuals and companies, but only occasionally to the Bedouins themselves."]

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