In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Europe

  • Introduction
  • Overviews of the Subfield
  • Defining “Europe”
  • The Problem of “Culture”
  • Future Directions: Eurocentrism and Western Systems of Thought

Anthropology Europe
Damien Stankiewicz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0145


To a large degree, sociocultural anthropology was born out of European encounters with unfamiliar peoples whom they sought to understand and explain through the lens of Enlightenment philosophy and empiricism, all precipitated by the Continent’s “Age of Discovery” (and later, colonialism). As such, anthropological traditions across the world have roots that lead back to Europe, cultivated by such foundational scholars as E. B. Tylor, James George Frazer, Bronislaw Malinowski, and A. R. Radcliffe Brown in Britain; Marcel Mauss, Pierre Clastres, Émile Durkheim, and Claude Lévi-Strauss in France; Jan Petrus Benjamin de Josselin de Jong in the Netherlands; and Ludwig Feuerbach and Oscar Peschel in Germany. Yet while anthropology took seed in Europe and has bloomed into a number of established European national traditions (especially in the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Scandinavia) it is important to distinguish anthropologies in Europe from anthropologies of Europe. European anthropologists have been interested in European peoples, of course, but European and American anthropology, until the later 20th century, was decidedly more preoccupied with the study of “primitive” or “exotic” cultures—both in the margins of Europe and across the world—than they were with “modern” beliefs and ways of life. Though there are early examples of anthropologists studying Europe, an anthropology of Europe—the study of how people in Europe live and how they make sense of the world—did not really emerge as a subfield until the second half of the 20th century. It was not until the last decades of the 20th century that the subfield began to grow and coalesce, in part due to developing anthropological interest in village and peasant communities and in the wake of a critical turn in the late 1960s toward rethinking anthropology’s complicities with Western colonialism, imperialism, and exoticization of (non-Western) Others considered “simple.” Also, processes of modernization and globalization diminished distinctions between rural and urban, and the Global North from the Global South. Despite its somewhat late arrival, interest in the anthropology of Europe has grown quickly, and Europeanists have seen steady growth in their professional membership, publication venues, and attendance at Europeanist panels and conferences. Today, there is a large community of scholars, both in Europe and the United States, whose research interests in Europe range from “traditional” topics and sites of anthropological inquiry—kinship among the Roma peoples, or Islamic religious practice in the Balkans—to areas and sites that challenge and expand anthropology’s long-standing interest in peripheral and marginalized communities. What follows is a review of the historical development of an anthropology of Europe, as well as an overview of its main areas of ethnographic inquiry and theoretical development. While this article includes several non-English sources, it focuses on English-language scholarship, not only because of space limitations but also because few scholars have broad familiarity with non-English anthropological scholarship (published in German, French, Spanish, Russian, etc.) that would permit a critically informed multilingual review.

Overviews of the Subfield

The books and edited volumes below offer historical insight into the emergence of anthropology in the context of European colonization (e.g., Wolf 1982, Fabian 2000), overviews of various aspects of the contemporary anthropological study of Europe (Delamont 1995, Amit 2000), while also offering commentary on the relationship between these (especially Asad, et al. 1997).

  • Amit, Vered, ed. 2000. Constructing the field: Ethnographic fieldwork in the contemporary world. Edited by European Association of Social Anthropologists. London: Routledge.

    An edited collection exploring various methodological, theoretical, and ethical aspects of contemporary fieldwork in Europe.

  • Asad, Talal, James W. Fernandez, Michael Herzfeld, et al. 1997. Provocations of European ethnology. American Anthropologist 99.4: 710, 713–730.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1997.99.4.713

    Seven prominent Europeanist anthropologists, each with their own section, discuss how an anthropology of Europe can contribute to (but also challenge) mainstream anthropology.

  • Cuisenier, Jean. 1990. Ethnologie de l’Europe. 1st ed. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

    A review, from a French anthropological perspective, of key themes in the ethnography of Europe.

  • Delamont, Sara. 1995. Appetites and identities: An introduction to the social anthropology of Western Europe. New York: Routledge.

    Delamont reviews the once quickly growing subfield, using tropes such as “gossips of the town” and “the smokeless homes” to discuss key themes in the ethnography of Europe (e.g., gossip, peripheral regions, migration, food, religion).

  • Fabian, Johannes. 2000. Out of our minds: Reason and madness in the exploration of central Africa. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520221222.001.0001

    Fabian examines the anthropological record of exploration in central Africa, highlighting the ways that ethnographers and others produced a dichotomy between irrational natives and rational explorers.

  • Goddard, Victoria A., Josep R. Llobera, and Cris Shore, eds. 1994. The anthropology of Europe: Identity and boundaries in conflict. Providence, RI: Berg.

    This is the first study of Europe post-1989 from an anthropological perspective. Thirteen authors examine the social, cultural and political implications of European integration with particular emphasis on changing European identities and concepts of citizenship. The authors develop an agenda for future research capable of addressing developing trends in contemporary Europe.

  • Kockel, Ullrich, Mairead Nic Craith, and Jonas Frykman. 2012. A companion to the anthropology of Europe. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118257203

    An edited volume in which contributors examine social change in various European contexts, especially in light of ongoing European integration and postsocialist transition.

  • Rogers, Susan Carol, Thomas M. Wilson, and Gary W. McDonogh. 1996. European anthropologies: A guide to the profession. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.

    An introduction to the then-flourishing subdiscipline, with a listing of Europeanist scholars and resources.

  • Stocking, George, Jr. 1968. Race, culture, and evolution: Essays in the history of anthropology. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    A classic work in the history of anthropology comprising essays on anthropology’s early history, outlining its European roots and early theories of race, culture, and evolution.

  • Vermeulen, Hans, and Arturo Alvarez Roldán, eds. 1994. Fieldwork and footnotes: Studies in the history of European anthropology. New York: Routledge.

    An edited collection of essays examining the foundations of anthropology in Europe and various European national anthropological traditions.

  • Wolf, Eric R. 1982. Europe and the people without history. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    A broad and comprehensive history of European colonization, the circulation of various resources and commodities from colonies to Europe, and the social effects of colonial economics and policies.

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