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Anthropological Quarterly 77.1 (2004) 187-189

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Alexander Laban Hinton, ed. Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Anthropologists have long been silent on the topic of genocide as have scholars from other disciplines (including my own, political science). What is unique to anthropology, however, is its troubling relationship to genocide. As several of the chapters in this volume show, anthropologists have acted as contributors and participants in a range of genocidal projects. It is anthropologists, after all, who have been at the forefront of developing and deploying the very concept that has made genocide, in the modern age at least, possible—the concept of "human difference." But as this volume, edited by Alex Hinton, demonstrates, this disturbing past gives anthropologists a unique vantage point from which to assess their own discipline's duplicity and makes their contributions all the more valuable.

Indeed, the central strength of this volume is the trenchant self-critiques offered by several authors. Bettina Arnold, for example, examines the role that archaeology played in helping the National Socialist Party create a historical, material basis for a pure German race. Through specious interpretations of the archaeological record, buffeted by the discipline's own assumption that "pots = people" (Arnold, 93), Nazi ideologues were able to construct a history in which Germans "gave birth to themselves" (Arnold, 103). In a similar vein, Gretchen Schafft reveals the extent of involvement of anthropologists in the Third Reich's [End Page 187] exterminatory campaign against Jews, Roma and other undesirables. Through ongoing support of a prominent American funder, anthropologists not only engaged in research on racial classification but also served as certifiers and judges on racial boards. Schafft's evidence is damning not so much for what she finds but for what she does not find—entire files missing from both the German and Rockefeller archives and any indications of concern on the part of Rockefeller officials about the anti-Semitic policies which their funded "research" helped to legitimate and realize. Uli Linke continues the theme of duplicity by examining how the New Left in West Germany has unwittingly reproduced Nazi tropes of nature, blood, and purity, through their use of exclusion/inclusion language in protest rhetoric and representations of the naked body. Finally, Scheper-Hughes's account of Alfred Kroeber's uneasy relationship with Ishi, the so-called last surviving Yahi Indian (whom he befriended but later dishonored by allowing Ishi's brain to be removed from his body, an act of desecration that Ishi feared), illustrates how one prominent American anthropology department remains indelibly shaped by its past. As Scheper-Hughes explains, the return of Ishi's brain (after languishing for 75 years in a Smithsonian Museum warehouse) prompted a statement of acknowledgement from the anthropology department at the University of California at Berkeley, where Ishi lived his last years in a semi-carnival-like atmosphere, that fell short of formal apology.

What links these examples is the level of collective denial that persists, as illustrated by the number of present-day scholars who resist or reject outright such lines of inquiry, and their reluctance to confront their discipline's involvement in past genocidal projects and current genocidal discourses.

In addition to these self-critiques, the other key contribution of this volume lies in the insights offered about the nature of genocidal violence itself. For Nagengast, "Genocide is always a possiblity" (326) because of the multitude of symbolic forms of violence that occur, even in supposedly non-genocidal countries like the United States. For Scheper-Hughes, genocide exists along a continuum that includes the everyday forms of violence that Nagengast describes as well as the "invisible genocides" that people come to expect. An example of the latter is the treatment of Brazilian street-children by police who systematically murder them in an effort to "clean up" the streets. Finally, several authors, notably Hinton in his introductory chapter, argue, pace Zygmunt Bauman, that genocide and modernity are inextricably linked because it is modernity that offers the promise of—hence the possibility for—re-ordering society according to...