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Editorial Comments

This issue of JASHM provides readers with access to three papers of historical interest to students and teachers of the anthropology of human movement. They comprise early contributions to the field that are either not readily available or were not previously published.

     The first paper was written by the famous British anthropologist Sir Edward Evan (E. E.) Evans-Pritchard (1902–73) in 1928. Published in the first issue of the journal Africa (1[1]: 446–62, 1928), his article "The Dance" was based on the long-term fieldwork he carried out with the Azande people of the Upper Nile region, beginning in 1926 when he was twenty-four years old and a doctoral student at London University. Evans-Pritchard's Azande research resulted in a doctorate in 1927 and the publication, ten years later in 1937, of his book, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande.

     The essay on Zande dancing sought to draw the attention of anthropologists (also called ethnologists) to the important sociological functions served by moved and danced events. Evans-Pritchard recognized that adequate anthropological accounts (especially) of danced events required more than interesting descriptions of costumes, participants, and musical instruments, if they were genuinely to contribute to long-term anthropological understanding. He demonstrates though ethnographic examples how the analysis of such events could shed important theoretical light on several mainstream anthropological interests, for example, leadership, social institutions, and social organization.

     Speaking directly to his readers, Evans-Pritchard emphasizes that the structure and functions (hence, the significance) of Azande dances differ markedly from European forms of dancing. In statements that may seem unremarkable to older anthropologists today, such as "The Zande beer dance is a well-disciplined affair," he counters stereotypical assumptions about so-called primitive peoples and their undisciplined, spontaneous dancing that were widespread at the time—and not infrequently since.

     In contrast to his colleagues who tended to bypass the subject altogether with statements, like R. S. Rattray's regarding the Ashanti, saying, "and then they danced," Evans-Pritchard addresses topics such as choreographic form, spatial organization of the dance, and what he conceived to be the "muscular movements" of dancing activity under analysis. He describes the complexity of organization and planning required for these events—even a "beer dance." He identifies how these components convey important sociocultural information about gender relations, social status, leadership, family ties, and political tensions, making several points relevant to researchers today.

     Interesting historical connections exist between the paper by Evans-Pritchard and the development of the subject of the anthropology of human movement within sociocultural anthropology: that is, it was in the late 1960s while teaching American modern dance at the University of Ghana and attempting to do field research on Ghanaian dances that Drid Williams first came across Evans-Pritchard's article.1 As a direct result of a letter written to him about the Zande article, Williams found herself at Oxford University in 1971 at his invitation, ready to begin the diploma course in social anthropology.

     Meeting Evans-Pritchard in person for the first time, she recalls that E-P (as he was affectionately known) asked her if she thought she could write a thesis on the subject of the dance that anthropologists who were not dancers could understand. Saying she would try, he reminded her, "If you do, it will be the first thesis on the subject at this institution in 800 years!" (Williams, personal communication). The rest, as they say, is history . . . but the third paper in this issue is a direct result of her effort.

     The second paper "Movement and the Intellect" is also personally connected to the historical development of the field, since it was during her B.Litt. and doctoral studies at Oxford in the early 1970s that Williams also met the philosopher David Best, a regular contributor to JASHM since its inception in 1979. In the early 1970s, David Best conducted his own pioneering investigations into the philosophy of human movement at Chelsea College of Physical Education in Eastbourne, England.

     His essay "Movement and the Intellect" was first published in 1973 in the Journal of Human Movement Studies and prefigures much of Best's later work applying an anti-Cartesian philosophy proposed by the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein to conceptual confusions in discourses about human movement. In this case, it is proponents of physical education who create conceptual confusion as they seek to justify their subject matter to educational authorities. Best draws important distinctions between the words 'intelligent' and 'intellectual' that are often overlooked thirty-five years later. In his discussion, Best correctly identifies the propensity for English speakers to reify concepts labeled with a noun—assuming that there must be a 'thing'; an object or entity that is referenced. However, the human intellect, for example, is not a 'thing,' that is, "To speak of someone's intellect is a rough and misleading shorthand for alluding to his capacity for dealing with those activities which we call 'intellectual'." Cf. Williams's subheading on page 00 titled "Things and Events."

     The third contribution to this issue provides JASHM readers with a previously unpublished paper that Drid Williams presented to nonanthropological colleagues at New York University at the Symposium on Qualitative Evaluation in the Arts in July 1980. This was just after she had returned to the United States, having completed her D. Phil at Oxford and taken up a faculty position in the New York University Dance Department.

     Here Williams initiated the first and only Masters degree program in the anthropology of human movement in 1979 and inaugurated a new journal in the subject—JASHM. In this slightly revised oral presentation, she makes an elegant, philosophically informed anthropological stand against assumptions of universality in the arts. She refers to several new theoretical resources of the time that are drawn from British and French social anthropology and linguistics, as well as her own doctoral research. In so doing, she builds on Evans-Pritchard's recognition that idioms of dance (as action sign systems) are fundamentally social matters rather than individual in nature (a point also made by Marcel Mauss) and argues for a philosophical standpoint that insists upon the translation of meanings in movement from one cultural context to another. The anthropology of human movement, then, draws its inspiration from many sources. It is, in some sense, 'cross-disciplinary,' but this is the nature of sociocultural anthropology in any case, studying, as it always has, humankind.

The Editors


1 For critical reflections and reflexive treatment of her preanthropological writings from this period, see Williams's 1985 article, "An Exercise in Applied Personal Anthropology" in JASHM 3(3): 139–67.



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