Historical and pedagogical anthropology

Historical anthropology investigates the cultural formation of existential areas of human being in their historical process of transformation. It creates connections to e.g. questions of history of mentalities and of every day life and its research is carried out within individual specialised fields. Educational Sciences plays a special role in this context, as pedagogy and education are oriented on implicit views of human nature that are necessarily based on anthropological assumptions. The research carried out in Historical Anthropology highlights the radical historicity and culturality of object and investigation, is trans-disciplinary, requires a variety of methods, and generally assumes the openness of history, which is also always related to the present.

The development of anthropology is at first connected with the rise of medicine as a natural science during the Renaissance. Until the first half of the 20th century, it concentrated amongst others on (brain) anatomical research from which a biological view of human nature was derived. This anthropology was then permeated by psychiatric teachings on degeneracy and the associated Darwinian Theory of Natural Selection as well as by race theories of the 19th century. (Sources)

The image of humanity as a natural, immutable given resisted stubbornly despite the differentiation that took place since the end of the 18th century into physiological and pragmatic anthropology with emphasis on the historic-cultural character in association with the civilisation and cultivation of humanity. It was only following the paradigm shift in the second half of the 20th century that the mysteriousness, complexity and sociality of human life, and also its endangered nature, increasingly took centre stage. (Sources)

With this shift of perspective, normative anthropologies lost their importance, allowing the constitution of a dynamic, open and continually developing research field that does not attempt a complete interpretation of humans but rather integrates their heterogeneous aspects. In this context, there is a series of investigations from pedagogical anthropology as a field of work for general Educational Sciences. (Sources)

Pedagogical anthropology and historical anthropology are closely linked (see publications), to the extent that one can write of a historical pedagogical anthropology whose starting point is a historically arising, mutual relation between pedagogy and anthropology: assumptions of pedagogy and education have always been bound to anthropological concepts, and anthropological assumptions must be related to developments effected by pedagogy, education and socialisation. A central focus in this context is childhood in its historical transformation as well as the mutual relation of social constructs of childhood and real childhood experiences. These levels of relation have been investigated from pre-modern times till the present in their dependence on transformation processes of parenthood, social policy assumptions and economic developments. (Sources)

A further field of research is the corporeality and the body in its various cultural codifications and accentuations. The underlying concept of a  corpus absconditus can only be considered in its contexts. Due to its complexity and the complexity of the abstraction and visualisation processes, the human body cannot, in the final analysis, be fully comprehended. This increases the importance of the question of representation and the performative nature of social and cultural actions or of practical knowledge of exposed bodies. (Sources)

With the introduction of the ethnographic approach to culture and history, the anthropological fields of research obtain a new quality, for example with regard to the relation of “the other” and “the own”, of alterity and cultural diversity. This tension can be illustrated through the example of the relation between man and mountain. It offers the perspective of an experience, which is paradoxical and therefore difficult to translate. In the best case, one encounters the materiality of the mountain as embodied mind, and this strong concept of human presence is grounded in self-expenditure. This is an anti-economic attitude that – in light of the real presence of a mountain and for one’s own safety – would first have to be connected with an economy of restraint for the reconstruction of the relation between nature and culture. (Sources)

Furthermore, the medicalisation process of corporeality is a central subject that treats the normalisation of the body, sexuality, birth, dying and death by modern medicine as a normative discipline. The complex relational system of magical imaginations, religion and natural science continues to be a guiding factor for the cultural structuring of these areas in Modernity. (Sources)

Helga Peskoller

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