It is a common dysfunction of scholars, particularly medieval historians, to fear grand syntheses and all-encompassing explanations. This is less frequently a disease among anthroplogists, and in fact in anthropologists of a structural bent there is no reticence whatsoever, but positive delight in the big, the general, the quasi- and the just plain theoretical. And in the best French tradition they often construct their models per ecartant les faits. Kirsten Hastrup is a structuralist more influenced by Levi-Strauss than Evans-Pritchard; she is also a trained anthropologist. This is both good and bad news. The Icelandic materials are as well suited as any to historical ethnography and anthropological analysis, especially given the convergence of Icelandic and anthropological obsessions with genealogy and kinship. The types of questions anthropologists tend to ask, with the solid focus they usually bring to their materials, are just what Old Icelandic studies need. Literary scholars and traditional historians can only benefit from the methodological cross-fertilization. Kirsten Hastrup's new book will serve the dual purpose of introducing scholars of medieval Iceland and Old Norse to anthropological literature and anthropologists to the world of the medieval Icelanders.
Miller, William I. Review of Culture and History in Medieval Iceland, by K. Hastrup. Scandinavian Stud. 58 (1986): 183-6.