Fredrik Barth is one of the world's best-known social anthropologists, and he can thank him for the University of Oslo. That's where he got his doctoral dissertation rejected, so he had to deliver it in Cambridge instead. He has filled his anthropological work with field studies because he has for years believed that encounters with people of other cultures tell more about both people and cultures than the dogmas of structuralism or Marxism.
Emphasizes the empiricism
Barth has an unofficial world record in the number of field studies, and that is linked to his longstanding insistence on empiricism, before possibly presenting a theory. Therefore, he was not very popular with anthropologists who insisted on a structuralist or Marxist understanding of society as such. Barth has distanced himself from both general and specific determinations of what characterizes society. According to Barth, society is a consequence of the fact that several individuals who all have different specific wills and projects come into contact with each other.
Just as anthropology abandoned the notion that race and physiology were determinants of behavior, Barth wants social anthropology to abandon dogmatic desk theories on how various characteristics of one (or more or all) culture (s) determine behavior: People have different opinions and projects in Norway, and everywhere else!
With open mind
Boken We humans summarizes in an interesting and surprisingly easy-to-understand way what has been Barth's motivation, principles, and not least what he has learned, during his field trips to Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Oman, Sudan, the Middle East, Bali, Bhutan and New Guinea.
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