Rites of Passage or Exploitation? Teaching Social Anthropology, Class Relations and Institutional Change in Two British Universities

  • Robert Gibb


In this paper I discuss my experience of teaching and researching in two different British universities in the late 1990s in order to develop a number of arguments about the place of teaching in the making and un-making of professional / academic anthropologists. Not all of the issues I raise, however, can be formulated as questions of ‘boundaries’ or ‘identities’ (in the way the title and rubric of this panel suggest [2] ), although for some of them this is indeed appropriate. Thus, while it is true that the nature of disciplinary borders and identities emerge as key concerns, my material also draws attention to contemporary employment and managerial practices in higher education, as well as to the reproduction of various forms of social division (notably along class lines). As the rubric of this panel recognises, it is in fact the re-organisation of sets of hierarchical social relations characterised by domination and exploitation which often lies behind current changes in higher education (as in other social fields). In my view, the boundary concept is not the most useful tool with which to analyse such processes, and in particular the power relations and structural inequalities involved. For this reason, I will refer instead to social divisions and status hierarchies in the section of the paper that deals with these wider issues.

Author Biography

Robert Gibb
Robert Gibb was the Leach / RAI Fellow at the University of Edinburgh in 2001-2002. He is currently working on a research project funded by the British Academy entitled ‘Spontaneity’ and ‘Organisation’: Anti-Racist Mobilisation in France During and After the 2002 Presidential Elections. Previously he worked as a ‘tutor’ while completing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, and then as Lecturer in Sociology and subsequently European Studies at a ‘new’ university in the north of England.