Lajos Boglár and the “Boglár school”

Lajos Boglár and the “Boglár school”


We face a lot of challenges, intellectual
challenges, too, and we have to live up to them. The Cultural Anthropology
Department is one of those which expect of
students to perform well. Not in a strict, Prussian education style,
but in a rewarding and inspiring way. This is a special department
within the Hungarian education system. Should
I say anything else? I first came in contact with
anthropology after the regime change when I was a student. I started university in 1992 and there were two decisive experiences
which led me on to anthropology One of them is that first, I was
admitted to History specialization Around the time of the regime change, a lot of suppressed
prejudices came out into the open, and I really didn’t like it. Then I found out that there is a Cultural
Anthropology specialization since 1990. There were already people who graduated there,
so it is possible to learn something like that. And it was like, if you got admitted to a specialization, you
could simultaneously apply for a basic, one-year programme of
another specialization among which there was anthropology, too So one afternoon, at about 6 pm. I went to
Department to register, and Boglár was in. He was the head of department,
he was the one who envisioned and put through the whole Department,
and he as there that day. And he invited me in and
we started a conversation. What I found the most exciting is that he didn’t just tell
me about the Department , and that it represented the science
of tolerance and cultural relativism , that we have to go among
people to do fieldwork, but he also wanted to know
what I was interested in. So he communicated a relation of
partnership from the very beginning. These were the things he would tell us in almost
every class, and which were very important for me. Along the fact that we do
research in living communities. That there is a science like that,
which goes to real communities ; it doesn’t just stay in the library or the Archives, but it
really gets to know the processes and the people of its interest Besides this, he would tell us that
anthropology is a profession and a cause, too. It is a profession, since you have to
learn the methodology, the theory, but the whole thing doesn’t stop there. You
also have to go and experience the field. So you have to go into people’s communities, you have to communicate,
experience, and you can only learn this profession by doing it. So I liked this a lot. And he also said this was a cause, because we will have peace in society and we
will be without bigger conflicts or prejudices or at least, with some moderate prejudices, only if we get a deeper
understanding of each other. I was born in Brazil. My father was a diplomat in São Paolo from 1927 to 1942, for 14 years,
and I was born during this time. My father wanted to visit Central Brasil , meet with Indian people, so in 1939 he took my older
brother and sister with him. They reached the Araguaia river, and on the river island named Bananal they met with three tribes under
adventurous circumstances, as I found out from their
stories and pictures. They came back with great amount
of ethnological material. All these objects were
displayed in our home for months so that any diplomat,
journalist friend or relative could see them when they came to visit. Our house was filled with the
smoky smell of Indian lodges So I got prepared for my first field. I started working among the Nambiquara. I soon became sick with
malaria and dysentery so I had to stop working too soon. We had a group with which we
made several short films. I wanted to do form games, so I
made two films of this kind. One of them was Rondo, , which built upon a picture that I saw in Geographical Magazine, where Indians
with lip plates were looking at the Geographical Magazine, holding it upside down. I then said, this is my
subject, it shows two worlds. So I made Rondo with two parts; one from the perspective of the
Indians, upside down, and then, I turned it all back to normal. It was a 5 minute long movie, with the
music of Bartók playing in the background. Later, in 1967-68, when I went to the Piaroa Indians to
Venezuela, it became essential from the literature, too, that the mitical songs were
present in every-day life. They basically regulate people’s behavior. So it was obvious to me that I had
to concentrate on this subject. When the Cultural Anthropology
Department was founded in 1990, we were already self-conscious
about organizing courses. There were Video technology, Theories of
visual anthropology and Filmmaking courses. This was done by Ernő Kunt,
János Tari and Judit Csorba. There was a time when I
would also hold courses. For us, the fieldwork is a sanctity. None of the other universities
consider this as important as we do. It isn’t a coincidence that at the very beginning, we settled that no
one would receive a diploma who hasn’t finished 130 days of fieldwork. Among this, they would, of course, receive training
in visual anthropology, methodology, techniques, etc. So this is the most important for me, that all but two of the
106 people wrote their dissertation based on a fieldwork. When we say that fieldwork is incredibly important,
that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t read. But I would like to say that the books
do not level off the fieldwork. So you can have a theoretical preparedness, some kind of orientation in your head, but you first
go to the field and evaluate it, and then you read what has been written about the subject. Knowing the literature is also essential. The participant observation
requires empathy and tolerance. So I could say we teach tolerance as well. As of now, it is still valid that we don’t accept a dissertation which is not based
on fieldwork, even if it discribes all the theoretical and historical background. The openness to cultural antropology
of the Department is of American kind, because when we launched it, this was at its foundation, that it would be an
American style anthropology, which always emphasized the holism, the relativism. I explain Boglár’s foundation
of a school with that of Boas. I like to say that he
also created something. This is a difficult question by the way, wether or not there are any schools,
do all the fish swim in the same direction, or all of this is outdated. Anyone who was open enough to talk
with Boglár, had the opportunity. We had beers or we stayed at the
Department and we would just talk. He wanted to know where we stood with our
research, if he had the chance, he helped, even by getting ahold of aquintances who could be contact
persons or who were specialists in a given subject. So he managed all the professional
matters in order that we could progress, but he was constantly tracking
the human dimensions of it, too. Basically, he was our friend, our father
in a way, and our master at the same time. And it was good that he was somehow
guided by openness and love. These sound like big words,
but it really was like this. So his biggest value was this.
Plus that he was authentic. His courses were built so that along the theoretical knowledge he would
always talk about his own fieldwork experiences, and also about his mistakes. He was really honest about these mistakes. So all of it made sense. And it happened that I was on
the field and I was exhausted, and I just called him. Once, I called him from Israel, because I was in a
bad shape, and he encouraged me. ’You’re there. Why are you there? Think about it. Stop whining,
and continue the work’, and this meant a lot. We always had someone to turn
to, and this is very important. Some of the people now teaching at our Department
belongs to this generation, Boglár’s circle. Some of them, András Gergely, Kézdi
and Sárkány were his collegues, but most of those who do the daily work here – we aren’t many –
were students of Boglár: Prónai, Bogi Bakó, Sába and myself. The next generation only
knows Boglár through us. Partnership and equality is very important for us, too, the fact that we
don’t treat our students as if there was a status difference between us. We treat them as co-workers, collegues, equal partners
whith whom we can think together about their research. Just because someone is a professor and has been
working in the field for a longer period of time, or because the student is just starting to work in it, there
needs to be no difference between them. This isn’t what matters. It only matters that we want the same thing, and we have to help each
other to achieve it. And yes, we can learn from our students, too. We are a comunity, we belong together, and
it is so good that we love each other. It doesn’t matter that science has nothing to do with
the fact that we love each other, because we still do. This Department is like this. Here
all the teachers love each other. This is the legacy of Boglár, I can say. For us, this is at least as important as the
scientific belonging to a schools or who is right This is why it could work in
the past and it can work now. And this works for the students as well. The children are like their parents, the
students are like their professors. This is our own example. Why? Because our attachment to
Boglár is personal and is about love, not just about science,
and then this is his legacy. We have never wrote this. This was
invented right in this conversation So this is the bottom line of the Boglár
school, that people love each other. And guess what, this can be
applied in the field, too. Boas, and all the
anthropologists had a very good friend, and that is why
they could do great work. You can’t do good fieldwork if
you hate those people. I don’t know, maybe this is the bottom
line of anthropology, too. This Department is the
best in the world. The best guys are all here, also
the smartest ones. No, actually. Wipe away those tears. It’s a great bunch of people. I
love my teachers and my collegues, and I feel I can evolve here. For example, Miklós is one of our teachers. Anthropology is the most valid
among the social sciences, and this is the closest one
to the way I see the world. The whole ethos, the
anthropocentrism of the discipline is very sympathic for me,
and that is why I’m here. The Department is pretty good,
too, I mean, we have good books, and there is a good collegial
relationship between the people here, between the
students and professors. This relationship is based on a good
cooperation, we can help each other, and generally speaking, you can
work much better in such community, than if you worked in an
unpersonal, official environment. This is one of its
beauties, that there are a lot of ways in which you
can do anthropology. But this free, informal
fashion of work is what produces the best results
and the best morale. It’s better than beeing told that
’this here is the methodology of anthropology and you have
to do it just like this’.

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