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Social Anthropology and the ‘Bantu Expansion’1

  • Adam Kuper and Pierre van Leynseele

The debate on the ‘Bantu expansion’ has been notable for the relative absence of contributions by social and cultural anthropologists. Murdock's rather extravagant contribution (1959) has assumed a quite inordinate significance, as the only direct attempt to discuss the sociology of large linguistically defined areas. This anthropological silence is particularly noteworthy in view of the close collaboration between anthropologists, linguists and archaeologists in the Americas. It is fair to say that nothing in the Africanist literature approaches the sophistication of, say, Dyen and Aberle's Lexical reconstruction: the case of the proto-Athapaskan kinship system (1974). Studies like that are the outgrowths of a living tradition stemming from Boas and Kroeber and Sapir. There is nothing comparable in Africa—H. Baumann, the only candidate, lacked sociological interests and did not systematically relate his findings and hypotheses to those of the linguists. Yet it is surely obvious that an anthropological contribution is needed here, if only in a critical role. The present paper outlines a few of the ways in which social and cultural anthropologists might contribute; and begins with a critique of traditional ‘culture area’ approaches, since these are generally thought of as the kind of thing that anthropologists can do, however poorly.

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  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
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