Anthropology and Science

A recent Inside Higher Ed article, “Anthropology Without Science”, discusses the American Anthropological Associations recent changes to its’ “vision” (not definition for some reason) of Anthropology. I tried work a definition or two of anthropology into Chapter 2, and where I thought I’d really messed it up, it turns out others are having just as tough a time,

“More fundamentally, the dispute has brought to light how little common ground is shared by anthropologists who span a wide array of sub-specialties, said Elizabeth Cashdan, chair of anthropology at the University of Utah. For example, some anthropologists might mine the language and analytical tools favored by such humanities as literary criticism, while others may be more likely to deploy statistical methodology as befits social science. Still others might rely on the biological metrics, hard data and scientific method used by natural scientists. “This is reflective of tensions in the whole discipline,” said Cashdan, a bio-cultural anthropologist who described herself as “very dismayed” by recent developments.

Hugh Gusterson leaves a great rebuttal, pointing out that the new definition does not dismiss science and that the entire debate has been blown out of proportion,

“… The old wording said “The purposes of the Association shall be to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects, through archeological, biological, ethnological, and linguistic research; and to further the professional interests of American anthropologists; including the dissemination of anthropological knowledge and its use to solve human problems.” The new wording says, “The purposes of the Association shall be to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects. This includes, but is not limited to, archaeological, biological, social, cultural, economic, political, historical, medical, visual, and linguistic anthropological research.” The document goes on to make numerous references to “anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation.” Fair-minded people will recognize this as a modest change and will see that science is still there in the mission statement (after all, what are biology and archeology if not sciences?) even if the wording has been slightly changed. You would think from some of the hysterical statements here that the AAA had issued a statement condemning science. “

The new emphasis on “public understanding” is interesting given the critiques I’ve read arguing that anthropology needs to engage itself in public debates, and that the “science” of anthropology has played a role in limiting its’ ability to engage itself beyond a select, expert, audience (who happen to depend on its’ success for their livelihood).

In other news, the thesis has moved to Google Docs, (wooops, apologies to readers, here I mean, MY thesis draft), and it is open to edits and comments from anyone online. Printed draft by Monday? It is going to end!! incredible really.

See also,
“The Joy of Pseudoscience”
http://nodivide.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/the-joy-of-pseudo-science/

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