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Europe: An Anthropological Perspective Essay

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Updated: Mar 5th, 2020

Thesis statement

Ever since the end of WW2, when race-related discourse in the field of European anthropology became largely delegitimized, world’s well-established anthropologists had realized that there were put at liberty of discussing anthropological matters within the boundaries of only two conceptual approaches, which can be generally categorized as ‘socio-economic’ and ‘ethnographic’.

In its turn, this explains why the bulk of recent anthropological research in Europe (especially in Eastern Europe) has been conducted primarily along both approaches’ methodological lines. That is; whereas, socio-economic anthropologists proceeded with executing their professional duties within the procedural framework of ‘modernity vs. ethnography’, ethnographic anthropologists continued to research the matters of ethnography as such that remain largely unaffected by objective realities of living in today’s Europe.

Unlike socio-economic anthropologists, who insist that the concept of cultural/ethnographic identity should be evaluated through the lenses of political economy, most ethnographically minded anthropologists assess the concept of ethno-identify through the lenses of cultural relativism, which automatically implies that the conclusions of their research-studies could be best described as utterly subjective.

This, however, does not prevent some academicians from implying that anthropological subjectivity needs to be ‘celebrated’. For example, while referring to the book L’Afrique Fantome by French anthropologist Michel Leiris, in his article How many centers and peripheries in anthropology, Archetti (2006) states: “ L’Afrique Fantome is a powerful book precisely because it is centered on the explicit recognition of the subjectivity of the ethnographer” (2006, p. 121).

We do not subscribe to this point of view, simply because the subjectivity of scientific research is being usually perceived as the proof of such research’s fallaciousness. This suggestion; however, does not imply the methodological framework of socio-economic anthropology as being only the appropriate one.

The foremost weakness of both anthropological approaches appears to be the fact that their practitioners do not seem to realize the dialectical nature of a relationship between the notion of ethnicity, on the one hand, and the notion of progress, on another – whereas, socio-economic anthropologists idealize environment, ethnographic anthropologists idealize psychology.

In this paper, we will aim to provide a set of rationale-based arguments, in defense of our thesis, while pointing out to the fact that the strength of one’s willingness to think of its existential identity solely in terms of tribally defined ethnicity, is the foremost indication of such individual’s lessened eligibility to be referred to as European, in traditional sense of this word.

Analytical part

Throughout the course of 20th century and the first decade of 21st century, the essence of socio-political and cultural dynamics in Europe never ceased being defined by two mutually exclusive tendencies: 1) The process of European countries growing increasingly industrialized, resulting in ethno-related discourses in these countries being gradually deprived of their acuteness, 2) The integrity of European socium becoming undermined from within by the rise of ethno-separatism in many Europe’s countries.

The validity of this suggestion will become self-evident, once we admit that, throughout the course of 20th century, the pace of technological progress in Europe had attained clearly-defined exponential subtleties, and once we compare the contemporary political map of Europe to what it used to be prior to 1914, and prior to 1991, respectively. How was it possible for these mutually exclusive tendencies to simultaneously affect continent’s geopolitical status and its geopolitical landscape?

In order for us to be able to answer this question, we will have to briefly outline the basics of Europe’s anthropological history. Around 6000-5500 BC, Europe experienced an invasion of Aryan tribes, the representatives of which were able to quickly assimilate what today’s anthropologists refer to as Europe’s ‘relict’ populations. However, in Europe’s mountainous/island regions, the assimilation process did not proceed very smoothly, due to the lowered geographical accessibility of these areas.

In its turn, this explains why the descendants of Europe’s ‘pre-Aryan’ tribes, such as Celts, Basques, native Corsicans, Southern Slavs (Bosnians), Carpathians (Ukrainian Hutsuls) and Caucasians-proper, were able to preserve their ethnolinguistic, and the most importantly – behavioral identity. After all, even the names of corresponding regions sound phonetically similar – Scotland, Escara (country of Basques), Corsica, Kosovo, Carpathia, and Caucasus.

The findings of most recent genetic research-studies on geographical distribution of haplotypes in Europe, confirms the validity of this hypothesis – the presence of relict chromosome Y-1 in the blood of male populations from Europe’s mountainous regions accounts for as much as 50%-70%.

In its turn, the presence of this chromosome in one’s blood, defines the extent of individual’s endowment with certain ‘relict’ psychological traits, such as intellectual inflexibility, tendency to indulge in violence, a hypertrophied sense of kinship (communal mindset) and an acute sense of ritualistic religiosity.

The study Religious aspects of the social organization of a Castilian village, in which Freeman (1968) discusses the existential mode of Spanish (mountainous) Valdemora del Castillo village’s residents, contain a following description of a particular psychological trait (violence-mindedness) that villagers consider the most virtuous: “The most admired personality (in the village) is the one who “shows temper” and thus “defends himself” successfully in social interaction.

Assertiveness is valued above timidity” (1968, p. 42). In the same article, author emphasizes the fact that villagers are being endowed with a strong sense of religiosity: “…attendance at mass approaches 100 percent of the villagers and is considered important by men as by women” (1968, p. 43). It is not simply by a coincidence that the most notorious head of Spanish Inquisition, Thomas Torquemada (ethnic Basque), was simultaneously religious and physically violent.

In his study Converts and consanguinity: The social organization of Moslem Slavs in Western Bosnia, Lockwood (1972) provides us with an insight onto the fact that, in terms of behavioral assertiveness, Bosnians can be well compared to Spanish highlanders: “Highland peasants (in Bosnia) are regarded as country bumpkins; the members of a particular village are known as rough-and-ready fighters. To some degree at least, these stereotypes are real” (1972, p. 56).

The same can be said about Bosnians’ endowment with a communal spirit – just as it is the case with the rural inhabitants of Spain’s mountainous regions, most Bosnians think of interests of a community as such that surpass their personal interests: “Even the elected village head is relatively powerless without the backing of his fellow villagers.

Similar effects of social pressures within the village are felt in various other context” (1972, p. 65). The reading of this particular article leaves very little doubt as to the fact that the communal mindedness represents Bosnians’ foremost existential trait.

Rurally based Europeans with a substantial amount of ‘relict’ blood running through their veins, are also known for their intellectual inflexibility, sublimated in these people’s unwillingness to adjust to the ways of modernity. In her article Bioregulation and comida caseira in rural Galicia, Spain, Roseman (2004) points out to the fact that, after being asked by European Commission to observe additional safety regulations, the rural producers of Spanish traditional food comida caseira took it as an insult.

Apparently, nothing could shake these people’s belief in rurally produced food as being of necessarily higher quality than the food, produced and consumed by ‘city slickers’: “Among members of the rural and urban working classes in Galicia, there is an often interrelated and equally longstanding essentialistic discursive contrast drawn between the healthfulness and social rootedness of “home-raised food” vis-à-vis externally produced and consumed commodities distinguished as being of questionable quality and even as constituting ‘vices” (2004, p. 13).

Apparently, the factor of intellectual inflexibility, reflected by people’s irrational adherence to ‘tradition’, never ceases to define the workings of rural psyche, even when food-related issues are being discussed.

As it appears from reading Halpern and Kideckel’s (1983) study Anthropology of Eastern Europe, even as recent as in eighties, the anthropological discourse, regarding Eastern Europe, was primarily concerned with assessing Eastern Europe’s demographical dynamics within the conceptual frameworks of ‘modernity vs. tradition’ and ‘ethnicity vs. another ethnicity’.

According to the authors, it is namely the fact that Eastern Europeans (especially the ones from region’s mountainous areas) have traditionally been known for the strength of their genetically predetermined tendency to proceed with trying to adjust their lives to purely formalistic religious and social rituals, which accounts for Eastern Europe’s social, political, economic and intellectual backwardness: “East Europe’s experience as political-economic periphery not only promoted ethnic sentiment but, in corollary fashion, was also a chief factor in the region’s underdevelopment” (1983, p. 389).

In their article Europeanization, Borneman and Fowler (1997) had a made a perfectly legitimate point, while stating: “The multiethnic, autocratic East-Central European states have been at a permanent disadvantage vis-‘a-vis their West European counterparts” (1997, p. 492).

As Hegel had once put it – Slavs occupy on Europe’s map more space than they do in Europe’s history. This explains why people from Europe’s Nordic countries have traditionally kept Eastern Europeans in low regard. In his article Cultures and communities in the anthropology of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Wolfe (2000) states: “…a number of commentators have “written off” Russia because of its essentially “Eastern,” communal, and slavish mentality” (2000, p. 201).

Thus, there can be few doubts as to the fact that the qualitative essence of one’s mentality cannot be thought of as merely the reflection of a variety of different environmental factors that had affected the process of his or her upbringing – the way in which people address existential challenges is being biologically rather than socially predetermined.

The soundness of earlier statement is best illustrated by contemporary particulars of EU’s functioning as a quasi-state. In his article Identity and borders: An anthropological approach to EU institutions, Abélès (2004) had gone a great length, while pointing out at the reasons why, within today’s boundaries, EU can never exist as a stable geopolitical entity, based upon the ideals of secularism and science-based rationale (the existential virtues of clearly Nordic origin).

According to the author, the rationale-driven mentality of North Europeans is being simply inconsistent with the passion-driven mentality of Southern Europeans: “…there is often a north/south divide in the (European) Commission… countries generally in the north would be Britain, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Luxemburg… those in the south would include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal” (2004, p. 18).

Whereas, most citizens in Nordic countries think of EU as a ‘common house’, meant to equally provide various benefits to all of its residents, in exchange for these residents actively contributing to house’s well-being, many citizens in Southern and Eastern European countries regard EU as somebody else’s rich household, the owners of which are being obligated to share riches with less-fortunate ones, in exchange for nothing.

This is the reason why recent years saw the emergence of a so-called ‘euro-skepticism’ within EU, which is best defined as citizens’ growing awareness of the fact that the continuous existence of EU is its present form might actually be pointless.

In her study The boundaries of Europe: Deconstructing three regional narratives, Leontidou (2004) says: “European integration, even as incomplete as it started, was once a major event, but now euro-philia gives way to euro-scepticism in several regions and member states, as often shown in plebiscites” (2004, p. 610).

The rise of ‘euro-skepticism’ is also being concerned with the process of EU’s socio-political policies growing ever-more absurdist. As it was pointed out in Shore’s (2004) article Whither European citizenship?: “Each year the EU spends over Euro 500 million on its cultural policy, which aims to promote the richness and diversity of Europe’s ‘shared cultural heritage’” (2004, p. 33).

Yet, it is highly doubtful that either of European Commission’s high ranking bureaucrats would be able to comprehensively explain why it is necessary to spend money on promotion of ethnographic diversity within the Union, if the values of such ‘diversity’ directly confront the officially proclaimed purpose of EU’s creation – the building of a secular society, where details of society members’ ethnocultural affiliation would cease to represent any importance, whatsoever.

The actual reason why the ‘celebration of diversity’ had attained an official status in EU is simple – without being given a legal instrument of exploiting society in which they live, Europeans endowed with ‘relict’ mentality and ‘Europeans’ that had recently immigrated from a Third World, would have turned Europe into the battleground of everybody against everybody long ago.

The fact that they are fully capable of doing it is being illustrated by the phenomena of Basque/Irish/Corsican terrorism, and by racial riots (initiated by representatives of racial minorities) that now break out in large European cities on almost daily basis. The irony lies in the fact that, if anybody – it is namely the members of Europe’s ‘relict’ ethnicities that are being more psychologically ‘equipped’ to resist the process of Europe’s continuous Islamization, as compared to what it is the case with ‘proper’ Europeans.

The reason for this is simple – even though Nordics leave enemy no chance, when it comes to engaging it at a great distance, they do realize themselves quite powerless, when it comes to engaging the enemy at ‘close range’, especially when being required to play by enemy’s rules.

For example, Switzerland has traditionally been taking pride in having one of the strongest armies in the world, capable of defeating just about any enemy imaginable. Yet, as of today, the population of Muslims in Switzerland accounts for 600.000.000 – in other words, the invading army of foreigners is already inside the Switzerland, while Swiss military continues to remain on lookout for the enemy from outside.

When being confronted by Muslims, ‘proper’ Europeans retreat, while striving to appease uninvited guests. The same cannot be said about ‘relict’ Europeans, whose psychological qualities allow them to successfully confront communally minded and violent invaders at ‘close range’ by proving themselves being even more communally minded and violent.


Even today, the subject of anthropological research cannot be discussed outside of euro-centrism as the intrinsic worldview, professed by even those Europeans who do not understand the actual meaning of this term. And, the manner in which euro-centric mind perceives surrounding reality is best described as dialectical – that is, such mind never ceases searching for the links between causes and effects.

Therefore, it would only be natural for European anthropologists to strive to combine ethnography-based and socio-economy-based methodological approaches into a single one, which would be concerned with anthropologists taking into account both: the particulars of a studied populace’s biological constitution and such populace’s place on the ladder of socio-cultural and scientific progress.

It is only when anthropologists will recognize that biology does matter, within the context of defining people’s ability to act as facilitators of progress, that anthropology will once again attain the status of ‘useful science’.


Abélès, M. 2004, Identity and borders: An anthropological approach to EU institutions. Web.

Archetti, E. 2006, How many centers and peripheries in anthropology. Web.

Borneman, J. and Fowler, N. 1997, Europeanization. Web.

Freeman, S. 1968, Religious aspects of the social organization of a Castilian village. Web.

Halpern, J. & Kideckel, D. 1983, Anthropology of Eastern Europe. Web.

Leontidou, S. 2004, The boundaries of Europe: Deconstructing three regional narratives. Web.

Lockwood, W. 1972, Converts and consanguinity: The social organization of Moslem Slavs in Western Bosnia. Web.

Roseman, S. 2004, Bioregulation and comida caseira in rural Galicia, Spain. Web.

Shore, C. 2004, Whither European citizenship? Web.

Wolfe, T. 2000, Cultures and communities in the anthropology of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Web.

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