For an anthropology and archaeology of freedom

by David Wengrow

24 Aug 2022
Journal of the British Academy, volume 10 (2022)
Digital Object Identifier
Number of pages

Abstract: ‘Freedom’ has been characterised as a ‘weird, Western concept’ of little relevance to a broader understanding of human societies. Accordingly, it is sometimes suggested that anthropology, and its sister discipline of archaeology, have had little to say about freedom. Drawing on a collaboration with the late David Graeber, and reflections on the anthropology of A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, I will argue to the contrary that an ethnography of freedom – with its main locus in the colonial milieu of 17th-century North America – lies close to the disciplinary foundations of anthropology, and also has something to say about the modern development of our supposedly weird, supposedly Western concept.

Keywords: Native American history, Indigenous critique, Age of Enlightenment, anthropology, freedom.

Radcliffe-Brown Lecture in Social Anthropology, read 7 March 2022.

Sign up to our email newsletters