Issue 13.1, February 1998

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Essay Excerpt

The attack launched in December of 1941 by the Japanese armed forces on the military base at Pearl Harbor is renowned for having led to U.S. intervention in World War II. It is less well known that this war between nation-states provided the background for the first chapter in the history of anthropology in which nations were explicitly taken as objects of analysis, for, at the same time as the United States entered the war, the "culture and personality" school began studies of "national character."

The object of this article is to analyze certain dimensions of this chapter inthe history of anthropology, which unfolded in the United States in the frame ofthe school of culture and personality in the period approximately between the beginning of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War. Contrary to current representations of studies of national character, which for the most part are limited to accusations of theoretical "poverty" or "ideological" flaws, we think that the examination of the conditions under which these studies were formulated, and of the content of their theoretical and methodological proposals, can serve as a contribution to some important debates in contemporary anthropology: the analysis of the rise of nations and international relations as objects of anthropological study; the discussion of the possibilities of and limitations on anthropological knowledge of our own societies; and the debate about the place of the history of anthropological thought within the present-day framework of the discipline (p. 56).

From: Neiburg, Federico and Goldman, Marcio. "Anthropology and Politics in Studies of National Character." Cultural Anthropology 13.1(1998): 56-81.