The Anansi position (Respond to this article at



At least since the left-wing critique of positivism and the radical student movement some decades ago, it has been a fairly widespread view that anthropology and the other social sciences should be engaged. Habermas even wrote, in 1968, that the social sciences have an intrinsic ‘emancipatory knowledge interest’. This article is sympathetic to this view, but argues that an engaged anthropology is at its most efficacious when it refuses to take part in a polarized discourse with fixed positions. Instead, anthropological interventions in the broader public sphere should take on the role of Anansi, the trickster of West African folklore, whose unpredictable and surprising moves enable him to confound and defeat far more powerful adversaries. Using examples largely from the Norwegian public sphere, where anthropologists are visible and active, it is shown how anthropology can simultaneously be both destabilizing, subversive, critical and liberating, precisely when the anthropologist takes on the liminal trickster role; neither fully inside nor fully outside.