Department of Social Anthropology
Annual Lecture

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2023: Harvey Whitehouse

The title for this year's lecture is "Against Interpretive Exclusivism"

The Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture
The invited speaker for the Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2023 is Professor Harvey Whitehouse at the University of Oxford.
/Illustration: Nina B. Dahl Photo: Nina B. Dahl

Main content

We are happy to announce that Professor Harvey Whitehouse, University of Oxford, will give the Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture 2023.

Against Interpretive Exclusivism

This Fredrik Barth Memorial Lecture argues against interpretative exclusivism – the dogma that we can only understand cultural systems by interpreting them, thereby ruling out reductive explanation and scientific methods. I will argue that the costs of interpretive exclusivism are heavy and the benefits illusory. Even though inclusivism is neither easy nor cheap, it is arguably the only way Anthropology can hope to realize its intellectual potential as a discipline.

I will show that the work of Fredrik Barth has served as a beacon for those seeking to develop an inclusivist approach by providing a rich foundation of theoretical ideas on which to build. Inspired by such figures, Anthropology would be less concerned about policing its borders or worrying about whether authors or their work should be counted as ‘anthropological’. Instead, it would be more open to methodological pluralism and intellectual diversity. It would contribute to interdisciplinary knowledge creation by providing much needed data for use in comparative analyses. It would maximize its practical relevance by embracing rather than excluding scientific methods. And a desirable by-product of this would be improvements to the long-term prospects of Anthropology as a discipline. 

About the lecturer

Harvey Whitehouse is currently the recipient of an ERC Advanced Grant to test and develop his theory of “modes of religiosity". The modes theory proposes that the frequency and emotionality of rituals influences the scale and structure of religious organizations: low-frequency, highly arousing rituals bind together small but very cohesive groups of participants; high-frequency, less emotionally intense rituals create large anonymous communities that are more diffusely integrated. In recent years, Harvey Whitehouse’s work has expanded beyond religion to examine the role of rituals of all kinds in binding groups together and motivating inter-group competition, including warfare. This research has become increasingly global in reach with ongoing data collection now established at field sites in Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, Vanuatu, Brazil, USA, Spain, Cameroon, and Libya. His publications include: The Ritual Animal: Imitation and Cohesion in the Evolution of Social Complexity (2021) and From Conflict to COVID: How Shared Experiences Shape Our World and How They Could Improve it (2021).