This article argues that anthropology may represent untapped perspectives of relevance to social theory. The article starts by critically reviewing how anthropology has come to serve as the ‘Other’ in various branches of social theory, from Marx and Durkheim to Parsons to Habermas, engaged in a hopeless project of positing ‘primitive’ or ‘traditional’ society as the opposite of modernity. In contemporary debates, it is becoming increasingly recognized that social theory needs history, back to the axial age and beyond. The possible role of anthropology in theorizing modernity receives far less attention. That role should go much beyond representing a view from ‘below’ or a politically correct appreciation of cultural diversity. It involves attention to key theoretical concepts and insights developed by maverick anthropologists like Arnold van Gennep, Marcel Mauss, Victor Turner and Gregory Bateson, concepts that uniquely facilitate an understanding of some of the underlying dynamics of modernity.
- Anthropology, differentiation, imitation, liminality, schismogenesis