Exhuming the ancestors: A reassessment of Fabian’s critique of allochronism

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The article critically reassesses Joahnnes Fabian’s contention that anthropology reveals, in its history, an overall tendency to create in discourse a temporal distance between the observer and the observed—as between the West and the rest—that contradicts ethnography’s basic epistemological condition of sharing the same time. The article sustains that the overbearing attitude of actively searching the “faults” of classical anthropology, while not admitting the legitimacy of its vistas, generates historiographic distortions that strongly affect the way anthropologists relate themselves, both politically and heuristically, with their discipline’s past. The article explores, first, the ways in which the language-centered components of the Americanist tradition may contradict Fabian’s thesis; secondly, it identifies comparable uses of the vernacular record in other anthropological traditions; and finally, it addresses the ethical and intellectual predicaments of rejecting pre-colonial studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-477
Number of pages20
JournalCritique of Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Americanist tradition
  • critique of anthropology
  • ethnography
  • History of anthropology
  • Johannes Fabian


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