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African American Studies

The Discipline and Its Dimensions

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Nathaniel Norment, Jr.

African American Studies: The Discipline and Its Dimensions is a comprehensive resource book that recounts the development of the discipline of African American Studies and provides a basic reference source for sixteen areas of knowledge of the discipline: anthropology, art, dance, economics, education, film, history, literature, music, philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology, political science, science and technology, sports and religion. African American Studies defines bodies of knowledge, methodologies, philosophies, disciplinary concepts, contents, scope, topics scholars have concerned themselves, as well as the growth, development, and present status of the discipline. African American Studies validates that African American Studies is a unique and significant discipline—one that intersects almost every academic discipline and cultural construct—and confirms that the discipline has a noteworthy history and a challenging future. The various bodies of knowledge, the philosophical framework, methodological procedures, and theoretical underpinnings of the discipline have never been clearly delineated from an African-centered perspective.

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4. African American Anthropology

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CHAPTER 4

African American Anthropology

Epa “Handcuffs” Symbol of law and justice, slavery, and captivity

The African Antecedent

It is difficult to arrive at any concrete articulation of an “anthropological” tradition in the African past. As is the case in many of the European disciplines, there is a discernible contrast in terms of how intellectual exchanges are carried out. There are at least two clear differences in terms of how anthropology is conceptualized, which places it at variance with a broad view of Africana intellectual traditions. The first is its philosophical underpinnings. The second is the role anthropological inquiry has come to play since its inception in the mid- to late 19th century.

As with most disciplines in the Western academy, anthropology flows from a foundation in European philosophy. William Y. Adams traces these philosophical ideas from the flowering of Progressive/Enlightenment philosophical thought to the present permutations of Western philosophy.1 He argues that anthropology is but an extension of these various conversations. While there are instances of philosophizing or what Jacob Carruthers has called “deep thought” in Africana societies, much of them differ from Enlightenment ideals, calling into question the existence of an anthropological tradition based on Western modes of thinking.2 The role of anthropology in Western society has been conceptualized in a number of ways. While the scholars who comprise the actual practitioners of the discipline view their work as contributing to an understanding of humanity,...

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