The Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory

Find out more about all the debates since the Group was founded in 1988.

There may be a debate in 2021, circumstances permitting. 

Founding phase

The Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory (GDAT) was founded by Tim Ingold in Manchester in 1988. Sponsored by the Association of Social Anthropologists, it was set up as a forum in which leading social anthropologists could meet to debate a motion at the heart of current theoretical developments in their subject. In the traditional format, each debate has four principal speakers: one to propose the motion, another to oppose it, and two seconders.

With its unique debate format, GDAT addresses issues that are currently at the top of the theoretical agenda, which register the pulse of contemporary thinking in social anthropology. The debates have proved very popular with a wide range of professional anthropologists, as well as postgraduate and undergraduate students who are not only introduced to the different sides of every argument, but are challenged to join in and to develop informed positions of their own.

The first six of these debates, spanning the period from 1988 to 1993, were published as Key Debates in Anthropology, edited by Tim Ingold (Routledge, 2003).

  • the first debate addressed the disciplinary character of social anthropology: can it be regarded as a science, and if so, is it able to establish general propositions about human culture and social life?
  • the second examined the concept of society;
  • the third debate, the spotlight was on the role of culture in people’s perception of their environments;
  • the fourth debate focused on the place of language in the formation of culture;
  • the fifth took up the question of how we view the past in relation to the present;
  • finally, in the sixth debate, the concern was with the cross-cultural applicability of the concept of aesthetics.

Second phase

GDAT’s next phase of activity was organised by Peter Wade and ran from 1995 to 1999 (with a hiatus in 1998). It continued to be supported by the Association of Social Anthropologists. The debates were:

Third phase

From 2008, the debates were coordinated by Soumhya Venkatesan and sponsored by Critique of Anthropology, which also published the proceedings, except for the 2012 debate which was published in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. The debates were: