The Spindlers and the setting of an American canon for anthropology of education

There is justification for stating that the "anthropology of education" as a subfield was constituted through the 1954 conference the proceedings for which were edited by George Spindler (1955). Other earlier and later dates are important and the full history of the institutionalization of the subfield remains to be written.

Of greater importance in shaping the subfield were the series of seven edited volumes, four of them edited by Spindler (1963, 1974, 1982, 1987). By examining the table of contents of these volumes one can trace the emergence of a minor canon of persons and issues that, for better and worse, established the 'default' field at the very moment when professionals in fields outside anthropology came systematically to adopt anthropological interests ("culture") and methods ("ethnography") as particularly promising for the development of their own interests in pedagogy and reform.

There is however a fateful aspect to the shaping of this dialogue between a particular kind of anthropological and educational research. The concerns of those who attended the 1954 conference are clear and prefigure the concerns that remain dominant: personality development, the improvement of American schools on Progressive principles, the opening of schooling to a broader population, and the relationships between all these--particularly the difficulty of achieving the political goals. Other concerns, or the exploration of other ways of dealing with similar concerns were not so much ignored as made peripheral within the canon; Compare for example Lundquist's extensive bibliography in (1971) to the list of monographs in Spindler ().

This is the context that may partially explain what drove anthropologists in the 1970s and 1980s to focus above all in the relationship between culture (language) and achievement across populations.


Calhoun, Craig, F. Ianni, eds.
  • 1976 The Anthropological Study of Education. The Hague: Mouton.
Ianni, Francis, Edward Storey, eds.
  • 1973 Cultural relevance and educational issues: Readings in Anthropology and Education. Boston: Little Brown and Company.

This volume brings together both early writings from the 40s and 50s not included in the Spindler anthologies and contemporary pieces illustrating some of the dominant issues.

Spindler, George, ed.
  • 1955 Education and anthropology. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • 1963 Education and culture. NewYork: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • 1974 Education and cultural process. NewYork: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
  • 1982 Doing the ethnography of schooling: Educational anthropology in action. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • 1997 Education and cultural process. Third Edition. NewYork: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Spindler, George, and Louise Spindler, eds.
  • 1987 Interpretive ethnography of education at home and abroad. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.
Wax, Murray, S. Diamond and F. Gearing
  • 1971 Anthropological perspectives on education. New York: Basic Books.

This book includes a huge bibliography (close to 80 pages) of works relevant to anthropology of education in all ethnographic areas. Check also the review by John Herzog, Teachers College Record 1972.



March 18, 2002 [9/28/2000]