Anthropology Mediterranean
Dionigi Albera
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0212


The Mediterranean does not occupy a central position in the symbolic geography of anthropology. This field of regional specialization was established rather late and not without difficulties. It was in Anglophone milieus that the institutionalization of this branch of studies manifested itself most coherently. This development rested on the growth of “modern” ethnographic research in this area, where “modern” stands for research done using the intensive fieldwork method established in the first decades of the 20th century for university-trained scholars in British and American anthropology. Ethnographic work in the Mediterranean region experienced a growth since the 1950s and was articulated with the development of comparative approaches especially in the 1960s and 1970s. In spite of the complexity of this endeavor, several efforts were made to establish a circum-Mediterranean perspective, partially under the shadow of Braudel’s chef-d’oeuvre. Among different possible frameworks (national states, southern Europe, Middle East, or some portions of those wholes), a circum-Mediterranean perspective was without doubt the larger one, probably the most ambitious—and also the vaguest, as several critics would put it. A crisis took hold progressively beginning in the 1980s, when the field of Mediterranean anthropology was shaken by a number of severe criticisms, in debates provoked by some attempts (themselves in some cases rather polemical) to more explicitly define the contours of a social and cultural anthropology of the Mediterranean. Moreover, the crisis of the Mediterranean as a category of regional comparison in anthropology was part of a general epistemological conjuncture that undermined the efforts aimed at establishing comparative frameworks also in other parts of the world. Since the 2000s there has been a renewed interest in a Mediterranean level of comparison in anthropology. A new epistemological space has been opened that is not a simple return to the past. The effort to avoid fragmentation of research and to realize a renewed comparativism implies an enlargement of perspectives via a conversation with national traditions of research that remained marginalized for a long time and by means of a closer dialogue with other disciplines, most of all history. Some works have revisited Mediterranean anthropology, often uniting anthropologists of the “metropolis” and researchers from Mediterranean countries. Several authors recognize the necessity of avoiding particularism in research and of developing a cumulative perspective that critically acknowledges the resources of knowledge established in the past, arguing that the Mediterranean basin offers a fruitful context to examine the reverberations of the process of globalization in situations both contiguous and different from social, cultural, and economic points of view.


In the absence of a peer-reviewed journal specifically devoted to Mediterranean anthropology, some interdisciplinary Mediterranean-studies journals such as the Journal of Mediterranean Studies, Mediterranean Studies, and the Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée also publish anthropological contributions.

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