Anthropology in Eastern Europe between positivism and constructivism: A case from the Czech Republic


  • Marek Jakoubek


anthropology, ethnology, positivism, constructivism, Voyvodovo


This article deals with the relationship of ethnology and sociocultural anthropology in the Czech Republic. The author argues that these discourses are different in principle and, therefore, should not be blended together or, more importantly, confused one for another. One specific ethnographic case is used to show that the two scholar discourses provide different perspectives, or more precisely, are based on various theoretical backgrounds. The ethnographic example is an issue of the collective identity of inhabitants of Voyvodovo, the only Czech village in Bulgaria, specifically their belief that they are descendants of the exiles after the 1620 White Mountain Battle. Texts of selected authors are analysed to compare the different approaches of ethnology and social anthropology. The ethnologists strive to reveal objective historical Truth, led by the principle of the positivist historiography, best characterised by Ranke’s ‘Wie es eigentlich gewesen?’ For them, if the beliefs and identities of the actors do not correspond to this objective historical Truth (as in this case), their belief and identity are incorrect or wrong; therefore, Voyvodovans are not and cannot be the descendants of the exiles of the White Mountain Battle. The author, in contrast, adopts the position of social anthropology, according to which ‘if people believe a thing to be true, then it is true;’ in this sense, the Voyvodovans really are descendants of exiles of the White Mountain Battle. On a general level, this contradiction is between the positivist approach, maintained by the (Czech) ethnologists and the position of social constructivism held by the sociocultural anthropology which has not yet been fully established in the Czech Republic.