The Zero Anthropology Project

“Anthropology will survive in a changing world by allowing itself to perish in order to be born again under a new guise.”–Claude Lévi-Strauss, quoted in Lewis (1973, p.586). Anthropology “is...

“Anthropology will survive in a changing world by allowing itself to perish in order to be born again under a new guise.”–Claude Lévi-Strauss, quoted in Lewis (1973, p.586).

Anthropology “is a discipline that should strive for its own liquidation.”–Johannes Fabian (1991, p. 262).

“[there are] the general questions of anthropology, which exist irrespective of anthropology departments. In fact, I would consider that all human beings are anthropologists….It’s very possible that anthropology departments will disappear, there’s no reason why they should continue existing.” — Maurice Bloch, 2008.

“It is not easy to escape mentally from a concrete situation, to refuse its ideology while continuing to live with its actual relationships.”–Albert Memmi (1967, p. 20).

“Anthropology needs its own anthropology if it is to be more than a mere epiphenomenon of larger societal processes”– Jonathan Friedman (1994, p. 42).

“Anthropology: a room filled with white people, talking about non-white people.” — Maximilian C. Forte (2009).

Anthropology of Empire

An anthropology against empire, and after empire. The anthropology of imperialism is a non-existent field within the academic discipline. On the other hand, imperialism is too important to be left to anthropology alone: this is one of the reasons why the approach here is about undoing and transcending the disciplinary divisions created by 19th-century European social science. Topics covered under the heading of the anthropology of empire include: neocolonialism and decolonization; regime change; PsyOps; militarization; securitization; neoliberalism; and, critiques of liberal humanitarianism and Eurocentrism.

The larger concerns we have are with the global system of inequality, the diffusion of social injustices, permanent war and imperial domination, and cultural colonization that work together to maintain an unsustainable system of mass consumption and an anti-democratic system of corporate domination.

Why “Zero Anthropology”?

This project originally stemmed from a project about anthropology, but has transcended narrow disciplinary concerns. Fitzgerald and Gould, writing about U.S. intervention in Afghanistan over the past 30+ years, state: “It is therefore appropriate to think of Zero line as the vanishing point for the American empire, the point beyond which its power and influence disappears.” The same should be said about anthropology after empire, one that needs to devour its own waste before imperial anthropology can vanish, and one that needs to concern itself with contemporary imperialism.

Anthropology after empire is one built in part by an anthropology that is against empire, and it need not continue, defensively, as a discipline laden with all of the orthodoxies from which it suffers today. Indeed, the position taken here is that there can be no real critical anthropology that is not simultaneously critical of (a) the institutionalization and professionalization of this field, and (b) imperialism itself.

Anthropology, as we approach it, is a non-disciplinary way of speaking about the human condition that looks critically at dominant discourses, with a keen emphasis on meanings and relationships, producing a non-state, non-market, non-archival knowledge.

The name itself was also chosen, in part, as a tongue-in-cheek play on what was anticipated from the first moment: the many persons, trained in the hegemonic traditions of Anglo-American anthropology, who seek to claim the entire world of all anthropologies for itself, would cast doubt on the authenticity of other anthropologies. It was thus clear that some would be motivated to conclude, “there is zero anthropology here.” There most likely is “zero” of the kind of anthropology in which some of you were indoctrinated in school, and we see that as our strength, our purpose, and our promise.

This site was first called “Open Anthropology” (2007-2009), until other sites in an effort take control and redefine the meaning of the concept, decided to take the name for their own sites. It’s not a coincidence that those sites are controlled by Anglo-American anthropologists, eager to contain any destabilization of their professional identities.

A Zero of a Manifesto

Zero Anthropology in its most basic sense is a project of decolonization, growing out of a discipline with a long history and a deep epistemological connection to colonialism. The aim is to transform anthropology into something that is neither Eurocentric nor elitist. The inspiration behind this effort was, at least in part, the work of the New World Group–see for example:

Zero Anthropology arises from a dissatisfaction with the state of knowledge in contemporary and classical anthropology, and is meant to significantly restructure and move anthropology beyond its current confines, beyond the constraints of professionalization and institutionalization, transcending the very “disciplinariness” of a discipline that has often foundered on its own shoals since its inception as “anthropology.”

Zero Anthropology is about unthinking anthropology altogether, getting past it, while pursuing certain avenues of inquiry that resemble what has been developed in some quarters of the old discipline, freely combined with elements of history, philosophy, the fine arts, political economy, literature, sociology, cultural studies, media studies, communication studies, area studies, and ethnic studies. Ultimately, and in the long term, “anthropology” may no longer be a fitting label for such an endeavour, or, it could encompass and redefine all of the social sciences and humanities, in a post-disciplinary era to come.

Zero Anthropology is also about opening up anthropology in two ways: by encouraging academic engagement in social transformation beyond the walls of the university while working on the transformation of university practices with respect the production of knowledge; and, by opening up the discipline to the broader, independent, non-institutional forms of anthropology that already exist in the world. The idea is neither to attempt to “go native,” nor to bring “the native” back home for inspection and familiarization, but to restructure the epistemologies and practices of institutional anthropology so that it can act as a conduit for ways of thinking, knowing, and being that have currently only been objects of study.

If anthropology claimed the world for study by Europeans and Americans,Zero Anthropology is (also) about “the world” reclaiming anthropological knowledge for its own self-understanding, self-expression, and self-identification, or better yet, recognizing that it always had “anthropological” knowledge of its own.

Zero Anthropology roots itself in the following principles:

  • Transdisciplinary fusions: an end to disciplinary confinement, and an openness to the other social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences, in a way that helps to erode the structures of knowledge instituted in 19th century Europe. Hence, it locates itself within the Open the Social Sciences “movement.”
  • Respecting Difference: a critique of the hierarchy of knowledge expressed in the dichotomies of professional vs. lay, scientific vs. folk, emic vs. etic, and so forth. In other words, a new openness to otherness in its own terms. Most importantly, to respect difference in the face of, and in deliberate spite of Eurocentric cultural imperialism, neo-liberal cosmopolitanism, and various other Western imposed manifestations of universalism that work to heighten Westerners’ sense of self worth while diminishing that of others. This is especially critical at a time when new narratives of savagism have regained considerable ground in Western mass media and official commentary.
  • Selective Collaboration: knowledge production that is fully collaborative, integrative, that lays bare the bases of its own production, that is conscious of itself as knowledge, and that constantly incorporates thinking of its own knowledge production as part and parcel of the process of knowledge production; and engaging with partners in a consensual remixing and commentary on each other’s productions.
  • Disturbance and confrontation: actively seeking out and engaging other persons and groups, especially non-anthropologists and non-academics, to confront and challenge the contemporary reproduction of imperialism and colonialism.
  • Open source ethnographies: this is about ethnographic ways of seeing, thinking and approaching public, online cultural artefacts and interactive commentaries, that are not elicited or brought to light by a researcher. In other words, it is about working with and commenting on materials that were primarily designed for public consumption, that were not excavated by the researcher and then revealed to wider audiences. In line with the previous principle, it can also involve making use of media and government materials online, and deliberately reshaping them in acts of resistance that invert institutional goals and reveal their hidden meanings and aims.

Dissent, Disturb, Disrupt

If it doesn’t disturb the established order of dominance in this world, and the sentiments that are aligned with it, then it’s probably not an anthropology worthy of the name. Our aim is to make anthropology toxic to power. The first step is decolonize and deimperialize anthropology. The second is to build relationships with partners outside of anthropology, and outside of academia, and to involve more young anthropologists in transforming the discipline so that it will no longer serve as a tool of opportunists sucking up to power, to mercenaries, and to imperial strategies of domination and cultural control. We favour mixed media, and communication and expression are our first priorities.

When this site first took shape it was written as part of an ongoing critique of institutional and disciplinary anthropology, insofar as it has or may continue to support, justify, participate in, or abide by imperial projects. The central interests have been ongoing colonialism, recolonization, anti-imperialism, indigenous rights, Caribbean culture, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and discourses of liberation and social transformation. Tied up with those is an interest in “public anthropology,” and “radical anthropology.” The theme is usually a fairly consistent one. We write against the conservative “professionalization” of ideas, the way that knowledge is compartmentalized and “disciplined,” and the way that print and other media capitalists have monopolized knowledge dissemination in the most anti-democratic fashion. The larger concern is with a global system of inequality, the diffusion of social injustices, permanent war and imperial domination, and cultural colonization that work together to maintain an unsustainable system of mass consumption and an anti-democratic system of corporate domination.

This site makes no special effort to answer to a community of professional anthropologists who take their discipline for granted, or who use the Internet to promote it uncritically, nor does it make a special effort of cementing links with the online “community” of “blogging anthropologists.” In this and other senses, this is not an academic and anthropology “blog” like others.

Beyond Public Anthropology

Keynote address by Maximilian C. Forte delivered by video to the 8th Annual Public Anthropology Conference, “(Re)Defining Power: Paradigms of Praxis,” American University, Washington, DC, 14-16 October, 2011. You can download the paper from and the conference program from

About Maximilian Forte

Anthropologist focusing on imperialism, neoliberalism, militarization, "humanitarian intervention," decolonization, Indigenous movements, and other topics in Political Anthropology. In addition, he teaches courses on visual anthropology, media ethnographies, and cultural imperialism. He is a full Professor in the Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal. Please direct comments and inquiries to