ÜIn the current post-colonial debate, hardly any other academic subject is more slandered than ethnology. The fact that she allowed herself to be put in the service of colonialism is blamed no less than her exoticism. In fact, however, German-language ethnology in particular began to critically examine both sets of topics in the 1970s, long before today’s Woke movement with its radical moralism was even to be thought of.
Fritz Kramer played a central role in this. In 1969 he received his doctorate in Heidelberg with a dissertation on the Central American Cuna, which was still in the conventional style. The former member of the Heidelberg SDS owed it to the left-wing students of the newly founded Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences that he was occupied against the resistance of the only professor at the institute at the time.
Clarifications of the history of the subject
You were not disappointed. Within a short period of time, Kramer succeeded in gathering an ever larger circle around him with his seminars on anti-colonial salvation and subversion movements in Africa and Asia, on the resilience of akephalic segmentary societies and similar topics. Visitors to his courses soon included not only prospective ethnologists, but also sociologists and political scientists, historians of religion and Judaists. As far as the number of his followers was concerned, he was certainly able to compete with the two other greats in the department at the time, Klaus Heinrich and Jakob Taubes.
With his habilitation, which was published in 1977 under the title “Ververte Welten”, he then turned to a completely different topic. This treatise was about the prehistory of the subject he represented, his birth from the romantic spirit of Friedrich Creuzer and Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Jakob Bachofen and Adalbert von Chamisso, which brought the tireless traveler Adolf Bastian to his rescue ethnology, his worldwide search inspired by the people and elementary thoughts of mankind in the so-called primitive peoples. It was the basis of the German ethnology founded by Bastian, and with it he also influenced Franz Boas, whose cultural anthropology shapes the subject in the United States to this day.
The connection to the exoticism of the artists
However, Kramer did not just stop at such intellectual-historical searches. His special approach consisted above all in the fact that he placed the beginnings of his discipline in its contemporary cultural context and related it to the exoticism of artists such as Paul Gauguin, Emil Nolde or Max Pechstein, who set out on their journeys to the South Pacific with this in mind to escape forever from the constraints of civilization. With his study of the “imaginary ethnography of the 19th century” he anticipated many of the theories and theses with which the Palestinian-American literary scholar Edward Said founded the research direction of postcolonial studies in his book Orientalism, published in 1978.
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