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The Savage Slot Essay

846 words - 4 pages

Anthropology is concerned with studying human beings, both in the past and present. From another perspective, Anthropology is the study of the “Other” or of populations whose culture is different from one’s own. The questioning of these differences in prior centuries led to theories of inherent biological distinctions between Westerners and non-Westerners as well as divisions in evolutionary characteristics of their cultures. Michel-Rolph Trouillot, in a chapter of his book entitled “Anthropology and the Savage Slot: The Poetics and Politics of Otherness”, argues that Anthropology as an academic discipline acquired these theoretical outlooks before its emergence as an actual discipline. As a result, “Anthropology fills a pre-established compartment within a wider symbolic field, the ‘Savage’ slot” (Trouillot 2003:9). By utilizing the resource of Trouillot as well as Moberg, Perry, and Moore, I will illustrate that the Savage Slot and the “Savage” or “Other” are theoretical concepts fashioned with the creation of the West and consequently the field of Anthropology.
The study of the (non-Western) “Other”, defined by Trouillot as the Savage Slot, commenced before Anthropology became a discipline. Thus, Anthropology did not fashion the concept of the “Savage” or “Other” (Trouillot 2003:28). Instead, it is initially associated with the accounts of travelers and explorers and literature of the sixteenth century and seventeenth centuries. In 1516, Thomas More composed a fictional account of the island Utopia, which became “the prototypical nowhere of the European imagination” (Trouillot 2003:14). The appeal of the “Elsewhere” to Europeans was fulfilled by travel accounts that portrayed the savage, such as those of Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre, Jean Baptiste Labat, and Thomas Gage (Trouillot 2003:16). However, the construction of the “Other” by Europeans spans centuries prior, beginning with Pliny the Elder and Plinian “races” in the first century AD (Moberg 2013:47). The notion that there were various classifications of humans is associated with the notion that human societies evolved in stages. This was first proposed more than two thousand years ago by the Roman philosopher, Lucretius (Perry 2003:13). This idea was expanded during the Enlightenment by Adam Ferguson who designed the three-stage model of savagery, barbarism, and civilization to describe human societies’ evolution (Moberg 2013:60). Since all societies developed through the same three stages, existing “primitive” cultures represented early stages. By studying these cultures, Europe could understand its own past; this is known as the comparative method. This theory is mirrored in the nineteenth century with Lewis Henry Morgan’s “ethical periods” (stages) of the same name that were defined by...

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