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Section: [3]
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Section 3

JD: Did you think of yourself then as an anthropologist or as a philosopher?

EAG: Both. The difference between the agranian reiigious world and thc industriai scientific one has always been for me absolutely central to understanding the wonld. I think it can only be approached jointly by critical social science, of which anthropology springs to mmd as an example, and philosophy. But in fact I remained in the sociology department for 30 years and got a personal chair which was called a chair in philosophy. When Gmnsberg woke up to the fact that I didn't share his view that Hobhousean evolutiànism was the ultimate truth, he opposed my promotion and wrote a Ietter to the dommittee which was considering my personal chair, saying in effect that although this man may or may flot be any good he shouldn't be a professor in this department because sociology was strictly reserved for Hobhouseans. Hc didn't put it in quite those words, but that was what it amounted to. The committee took the view that his objection would be met if they called it a Chair in PhiIosophy with Special Reference to Sociology. So I had this rather cumbersome title, really, by courtesy of the committee.

JD: And then after 30 years you moved to philosophy of science and then five years later to Cambridge.

EAG: Yes.

JD: Why?

EAG: Well, there are always multiple motivations, but the first and simplest one is snobbery. The glamour of Cambridge. The idea of living in a small town where everything was available was also an important factor: it is a good place for one's old age. Also I do actually very much prefer teaching anthropology to teaching philosophy. I like doing philosophy, but I have doubts about it as a teaching subject because it's inherently unprofessionalisable. In philosophy important ideas are everything and techniques are generally irrelevant or spurious. Professionalisation means pretending the opposite. So I get embarrassed about this. I occasionally enjoy teaching philosophy to a student if he's got something interesting to say, but philosophy does seem to me inherently unprofessionalisable. Anthropoiogy is quite different in that anybody with a reasonable even if flot outstanding level of ability and goodwill and intellectual conscientiousness can do something useful. Many students are outstanding, but it also makes sense to teach others. So you can teach students with emotional satisfaction. Oxford and Cambridge deal with the philosophy problem in quite different ways. Cambridge has a rather small philosophy school. Oxford incorporates philosophy in a kind of omnibus degree; either Greats in the old days or in modem days PPE, which is taken by people who are going to do any old thing and study this on the assumption that it improves their minds, which is dubious. Neither of these solutions I particularly approve of, so I actually prefer teaching anthropology. Prefercnce for a small town, plus preference for teaching anthropology oven teaching philosophy, plus the glamour; consequently the move.

JD: To some outsiders, you arriving in Cambridge is like you coming home at last after 30 years. Is that how it feels at all?

EAG: No; no. I've never felt fully incorporated in anthropology, to my regret. And then administration at Cambridge is dreadfully participatory, and I prefer administration being done by professional administrators who like doing it and who let dons get on with teaching and thinking and writing. That seems to me a better system; so the over-involvement in administration leaves me less than fully happy in Cambridge, and I would have preferred to have been totally inside the tribe; but I'm glad to be tolerated, which is what it feels like.

JD: You left Prague in 1945 on indefinite leave. In the '70S you begin to publish articles explaining what is going on in Soviet Marxist anthropology [c.g., 1973, 1975, 1980, 1985]. You start off as an intermediary explaining what is going on, how people face up to certain kinds of intellectual problems posed by the society and by disciplinary traditions. Did you plan to do fieldwork there, or was mediation a phase which more or less came to an end when you began to do fieldwork?

EAG: I spent a year in Moscow precisely to immerse myself in the real world as much as possible. One of the motives is very simple: everyone wants to do more than one society. Having done the Muslim one I wanted also to do a Marxist one. It is also the way the world has developed: it has become increasingiy difficult for somebody of my background to work in the Muslim world, whereas the opposite development has taken place in Eastem Europe: it has become more easy so far as I can foresee at the moment. So I switched. I did want to study at least one other world. Islam initially intrigued me because of its unintelligibility, given certain European assumptions. Then I toyed with moving to the Hindu Buddhist world, and I went in fact to Nepai quite a f ew times and did a few articles on it, but I'm forbidden from pursuing that interest for family Oedipal reasons—my son is an Indologist and Nepalist, and if I worked in that field I'd breathe down his neck and embarrass him by my superficiality. And the fact is that the Marxist world has enormous interest and importance and that I have the equipment to do research on it: that's what I am doing, although it's both push and pull. Islam I think I understand; this may be a terribly presumptuous thing to say, but on top of Uiat it has been rather difficult to work there, and the Soviet Union was both fascinating and now perhaps becoming relatively easy to work on. The account of Soviet thought certainly hasn't come to an end. It's my main academic, intellectual research interest at present, and it looks as if it will continue to be so. In the Muslim world I really only gained access to the folk level. My knowledge of the world of the urban mind is second-hand, from secondary material. The relationship between the folk world and the world of the scholars who carry high Islam is absolutely central to understanding Islam, and certainly is absolutely central to anything I have written about Islam. But most of my knowledge of the world of Uic scholars is based on secondary material. One simply doesn't have time to do everything; I wish I had, but.... Partly because of the time and partly for other reasons I've never pursued this. Now I have switched to the Marxist world for a number of reasons. I began by studymg Soviet Marxists simply because they are relatively accessible, and the material is there on your desk and Uiat's Uic kind of stuff you can do very quickiy. But I in no way want to restrict myself to that.

JD: So fieldwork in Moscow in 1989 and '90: what happened there? You were attached to the Soviet Academy of Sciences. You lived in the suburbs; you visited and talked with the ulama. Did you do folk-level ethnography?

EAG: No. When I went there this was my intention, and I thought of finding a relativeiy isolable community, say, an apartment block or a village near Moscow or something like that, and doing fieldwork. However, when I got there this was the year in which it really swung over from Uic relatively modest early perestroika to an intellectually completely open society. The story of perestroika on the economic level is that it has achieved nothing. On Uic moral, intellectual, level it has achieved everything. You can now say in Moscow openly—not only Uiat, you have to say—Stalin was a bastard, but you can say Lenin was a mistake and Marxism was a mistake, and you can say it and not lose your job. This was Uic year of the great transformation. Having got there, to do formal fieldwork would have been like arriving in Paris in 1789 and deciding to study some village in the Lie de France. These things were going on, and to you with formulas. I simply accepted all contacts, fully aware that my data might be totally unrepresentative. They were flot in any way a statistical sample, but I don't think this matters. You just think about the society as a whole and note that your first-hand data are selected by being what you are. So I did a kind of totaily informai fieldwork which I think of merely as the base for further work, as something which gives me some sort of feeling of how the society works, without itself being a good base for any good empirical generalization. But no one else has these data either, because nobody really knows what the average Russian worker thinks.

JD: Your contacts were in the Institute of Ethnography?

EAG: No, it was more. The significant station is the Akademicheskaya, where a large number of institutes are. The equivalent to it would be if Russell Square tube station renamed itself Bloomsbury and University. In the building itself there are the archaeologists and two histories, the history of the Soviet Union and general history; I had contacts with the historians. Nearby there are the main documentation centre INION, various economic institutes, and so on. I just went to all meetings that I managed to hear about, fairly informally, and kept a decent diary and thought about it. My contacts were in no way restricted to the Institute of Ethnography. For instance, the people who are the closest equivalent to British anthropologists tend to be found more in the Oriental Institute than in the Institute of Ethnognaphy. Well, the intellectuais cluster in certain parts of North Moscow, in Islington, so to speak. I lived in Morden. For some reason the Islington Metro Station is called Aeroport. And a lot of intellectuals live by the river in the equivalent of Chelsea. There is no good metmo station there; it's a rather nice walk from Kiev Station. Chelsea and Islington were the evening contacts. What other metro stations did you get off at?

EAG: Well, the intellectuals cluster in certain parts of North Moscow, in Islington, so to speak. I lived in Morden. For some reason the Islington Metro Station is called Aeroport. And a lot of intellectuals live by the river in the equivalent of Chelsea. There is no good metro station there; it's a rather nice walk from Kiev Station. Chelsea and Islington were the evening contacts.

JD: Ginsberg once said he wasn't sure whether the next revolution was going to be on the left or on the right but he was sure that wherever it came from the first person to be shot would be Gellner.