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Social Anthropology

JRAI - my statement as incoming editor


A statement from the incoming editor [published here]

Reading past statements by incoming editors, one finds two themes returning with great regularity: one is the commitment to following the example of predecessors in upholding the continuity of purpose of the discipline’s oldest extant journal. The other is the introduction of innovations of form and content. These two themes are also the heart of the editorial you are reading now. The implicit logic of these appeals to continuity and change however, should not be misunderstood. No more than my predecessors, am I invoking incremental change painstakingly wrested from the teeth of tradition, or on the contrary, a continuity strenuously retained despite inevitable changes. Rather, the point lies in a paradox which will come as no surprise to readers of the JRAI: replication is the engine of difference; change is the stuff of continuity.


Thus, like previous editors, my main commitment will be to uphold the central purpose of the JRAI, namely publishing rigorous, empirically grounded articles with a broad theoretical purchase. While the terms are general, there is a minimal but quite specific aesthetic implied in this juxtaposition of the empirical and theoretical. This is an aesthetic which readers of our journal – in any period, and under any of its many historical names – will recognise: JRAI articles should convince specialist readers in their particular region or sub-field of the discipline, and they should also raise clear arguments which will speak beyond this to a general anthropological readership. This general formula, while indicating a fundamental continuity, is nothing if not a placeholder for change. Quite obviously, the theoretical interests of the discipline are under constant transformation, while the shape and form of what counts as empirical is changing too. The editor’s role in this respect, is not – in my view – consciously to seek to direct such broader trends. Rather, it is to strive to keep the above formula stable as the discipline itself is changing: to keep publishing the best of anthropology, irrespective of area, topic or theoretical proclivity. This will ensure the JRAI continues to be what it has always been: an instrument for registering and fostering the ongoing transformation of anthropological knowledge.


If a certain kind of stability is the engine of change, changes can also be ways of ensuring continuity. One of the JRAI’s historical claims to a specific voice, has been its ability to speak across the subdisciplines of anthropology writ large: socio-cultural anthropology, biological anthropology and archaeology. The expansion of the editorial board to include associate editors for archaeology (Fiona Coward) and biological anthropology (Simon Underdown) will help to keep this tradition alive, while also ensuring that ‘interdisciplinarity’ does not get confused with lack of discipline, or with a search for one-size-fits-all theoretical solutions. Rather, the addition of associate editors reflects the JRAI’s historical commitment to respecting and upholding anthropology’s internal diversity of modes of enquiry and epistemic regimes. This in turn is a prerequisite for enabling open discussions, debates as well as innovative collaborations across inter- and sub-disciplinary boundaries.


To make a space for such discussions, and others, I will continue to build on the trend, over the past three editorships, increasingly to diversify the range of content carried by JRAI alongside its core, peer-reviewed articles. This trend was initiated by Glenn Bowman, who encouraged the submission of letters, comments and ‘shorter notes’, and pursued by my predecessor Matthew Engelke’s innovation, the ‘What I’m reading’ essays. The expansion of the reviews section to include a broader range of formats of review and comment, which is addressed in more detail below by our incoming reviews editor Tom Yarrow (see the head of the reviews section), represents both a new departure and a consolidation of this trend.


Finally, to many readers the most visible change to appear under this editorship will be the launch of the JRAI’s dedicated website. As my predecessor Matthew Engelke rightly observed, the JRAI has a certain physical distinctiveness: we are ‘the yellow one’. And indeed, that yellow shelf is staring down at me as I type these words. The challenge, as that shelf has been increasingly extending its tendrils online in recent years (for instance through the introduction of virtual special issues under Simon Coleman), is how to maintain ‘our distinctive yellowness in the e-world we now inhabit’ (Engelke 2011). The new JRAI website will provide a single, distinctive – and yes, yellow – gateway to the journal’s current and historical content. In time, it will allow for expansions of the range of ways in which the JRAI can connect up to its readership (new spaces for discussion and comment, supplementary visual and other material attached to articles, and so forth) – please do write to me with any thoughts and ideas in that direction. But at its heart, the yellow site will be the yellow shelf, by other means: built around the same core format which ensures the journal’s coherence, focus and substance at a time of increasing fragmentation of discourse and attention, while nevertheless expanding its reach by connecting it up to some of the new online contexts and forms of anthropological scholarship and debate.




Engelke, M. 2011 ‘A statement from the incoming editor’ JRAI 17:1 p1