Decline of Anthropology?
- Sherry Ortner- 'Theory in Anthropology since the Sixties', the discipline to be theoretically 'a thing of shreds and patches' (1984:126)
- the discipline is 'self destructing' (Knauft 1996:1).
- Marshall Sahlins warns that '“Culture”…is in the twilight of its career, and anthropology with it' (1995:14).
- Eric Wolf deplores anthropology's 'general retreatism' (in Friedman 1987:116).
- Clifford Geertz prophesies that the discipline will disappear in about fifty years (in Handler 1991:612). Knauft states that such opinions appear 'widely shared' (1996:296)
- James L. Peacock (1997:9) “The Future of Anthropology,” : set forth three possibilities for anthropology in the coming century: “extinction,”
“hanging on as [a] living dead,” or a “ﬂourishing redirection of our ﬁeld into a prominent position in society.” Focusing on this latter scenario, he argued that we must direct our efforts toward a renewed emphasis on anthropology’s relevance to wider publics.
- Think about models in kinship and economics. Common to assume that theory is the most abstract level of truth. Theories are instead "what if" models of what might be - tools of analysis, not ideologies, not being "thought police".
- Selection bias - early anthropologists using selected facts from often incomplete or in their own way biased sources.
Traditions and Themes
- Levels of theory - Robert K. Merton
- Nature of Anthropological Knowledge - Green 2009 Doing Development... "Anthropological representations of the discipline within the discipline itself seek to deny the extent of disciplinary framing, or at the very least to imply that openness to other kinds of knowledge and knowledge from other times and places opens up the relevance of anthropological knowledge both to other knowledge and to itself. This has two related consequences – first, the possibilities of criticism, and second, the undoubted creativity of the discipline which can and does render new networks and relations possible (Scott, 1999; Strathern, 2006a). But these attributes also contain the parameters of the inapplicability of anthropology – its escape from frames makes it difficult to corral and render useful, in the sense of useful knowledge."
- The Other - Anthropology as the systematic study of the other - invest the other with scientific and not merely moral or historical status. - anthropology as elevated the adaga 'travel broadens the mind' to level of scientific theory and method. - Certain success in this but to divest the other from its moral significance is more difficult. - Adams 1998: 3 : no more possible for anthropology than for philosophy to objectify the Other, because it is not possible to objectify the self - thus a residue of morality. - the confrontation between a civilised self and a primitive Other remains unresolved - to compare is always to judge. ; Kuper 1988. Invention of Primitive Man : primitive man is a constructed Other of the Western imagination.
- Objectivity : Kant in Critique of Pure Reason (1781) was important in establishing the term 'objectivity'. Megill (1994) provides a point of entry into current discussions of it. These tend to be heated. One reason for this is that the term is so polysemic that people employing it are often oblivious to what others mean by it. Cunningham (1973) remains useful for unraveling the term's meanings. Fabian has considered (1971) and re-considered (1994) the analysis of objectivity in anthropology. He believed 'discussions' of the term were absent in 1971, and that twenty years later they were still 'disappointing' (ibid.: 81, 85). O'Meara (2001) discusses the prospects for objectivity in anthropology.
- The epistemological meaning of objectivity is the making of observations that exhibit 'independence of awareness' and/or 'impartiality of judgment' (Mautner 1996:298-9) 4. Objectivity is desired because otherwise there is bias that can produce untruths. A study of people that observes only men exhibits gender bias and would be likely to produce unreliable judgments concerning women. Objectivity does not mean that either science or scientists are value neutral. Scientists have their biases. However, scientists who seek objectivity pursue an epistemic tolerance by suspending, as much as is possible, ego centrisms, phallocentrisms, and ethnocentrisms. They do this by creating validation procedures that eliminate, where possible, such centrisms.
- 'embodiment' (Csordas 1990, 1994). Embodiment theory is phenomenological and tends to ignore neuroscience. For example, Andrew Strathern's work on the topic mentions the brain on only one page in the index (1996). Merleau-Ponty, a phenomenologist to whom the embodiment theorists frequently refer, wrote that 'It would conform better to the facts…to consider the central nervous system as a place where an overall “image” of the organism is developed' (1942:22). Here Merleau-Ponty indicates that those interested in embodiment should 'consider' the CNS.
- Natural Law doctrine - unbroken since antiquity - see Anthony Pagden. 1982. The fall of natural man : the American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology
- Psycho-biological Functionalism - Bronislaw Malinowski
- Structural-Functionalism - A. R. Radcliffe-Brown
- Process Approach Manchester School - Victor Turner
- Marxism - Change and contradiction
- Structuralism: systems of thought
- Progressivism - culture superior to nature, the present a better time. the mainstream of all Western social thought - see Robert Nisbet. 1969. Social Change and History. progress a 'natural process that is scientifically observable. See Van Doren, The Idea of Progress for overview ; progressivism as a philosophy of history ; link to modernism ; progrssivism as self-congratulatory, all propononents place themselves at the pinnacle. ; Adam Ferguson. 1767. An Essay on the Hiostory of Civil Society - 'savagery, barbarism, and 'civility - used by Morgan.
- Primitivism - 'nature lover' - repelled by complexities of civilisation. - noble savage. nature superior to culture. the past a better time. historical and cultural primitivism
- German Idealism - cultural particularism in the US carried by Kroeber and Lowie, and Boas. In UK by Tylor.
- American 'Indianology'
- American Historical School of Anthropology - Boas - influenced by German idealism; cultural particularism, cultural relativism, historical outlook, emphasis on diffusion.
Hermeneutics and 'current' theories
- Clifford Geertz's conjectural hermeneutics, especially as presented in Works and Lives (1988) and After the Fact (1995). (critique in Reyna 2002:25, comment in Marcus & Fisher 1986)
- Practice Theory - Pierre Bourdieu - Logic of Social Practice (1990) (critique in Reyna 2002: 32)
- Lévi-Straussian, including the original version offered in Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949) and a variant developed by Sahlins in the rebarbative How 'Natives' Think (1995) (critique in Reyna 2002: 39)
- Gramscian Idealism - Jean and John Comaroff Of Revelation and Revolution 1991
History of the discipline
In the 19th century when anthropology really came into being as a discipline it purported to fill the gap in the explanation of human history between evolution before man became man (zoology) and the invention of language (history). The four-fields approach of anthropology was intended to cover this period (Archeology, Physical (or biological or evolutionary) anthropology, linguistics, and Social (or Cultural) anthropology). The assumption behind this role for anthropology was that all human societies evolved in a linear fashion, the basis for unilineal evolutionist theories that became so popular.
A fairly prominent critique against unilineal evolutionist theories comes from what has been called diffusionism, (and later found an expression in such influential theories as symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology). It claims that human societies, as opposed to animal kingdoms, learn from each other and have the ability to pass on knowledge and information. Human lives are shaped through contacts and culture, and cannot even be said to exist outside socially constructed realities. Societies thus do not progress along a single line. History, not evolution, determines our destiny.
For anthropology, aimed at explaining a specific evolutionary period, this was, at first, an almost fatal blow. Diffusionism, and its corollary quest for the construction of the individual, led to the obvious point that also the western modern man should be divulged or analysed in its historic specificity and not as the pinnacle of an evolutionary process. With the notion that "everything is culture," diffusionism seemed to discredit the idea that there are any innate human capacities or traits of a general character at all. With such a position, grand theories of humankind became theoretically impossible, and the core of anthropology was swept away.
However, although diffusionism was substantially correct, it was surreptitiously extended into claims that culture is detached and "floating free" of nature, especially human nature. For Maurice Bloch for instance this claim is too far-reaching. He advocates an anthropology that works together with cognate disciplines such as cognitive science and psychology to discern the relationship between culture and human nature. And thus diffusionism can be said to enrich rather than discredit anthropology. Symbolic interactionism also opened up new areas ripe for research, providing anthropologists with more than enough material to work on. The debate continues.
Un des débats phares dans l’anthropologie, et dans les sciences sociales plus large, est l’ethnocentricité. L’ethnologie en particulier, avec son passé des études très développées de « l’autrui » dans les pays sous-développés, a été le cible d’une critique forte de ce genre. Ce débat suscite autant plus de tension comme il est lié à des questions de race, et à une question essentielle de ces temps d’essayer de réconcilier l’universel et le particulier. Pour pallier cette tendance de une connaissance occidentale imposée sur le monde, il y a plusieurs philosophes africains qui tentent de « africaniser » les sciences sociales afin que les savoirs sure les sociétés africaines soient produits par les africains eux-même – entre eux : Paulin Hountondji, Marcien Towa, Stanislas Spero Adotevi, V.Y. Mudimbe, Souleymane Bachir Diagne.
Social anthropology has not worked out logically from basic theoretical proposition a higher order theory. Rather it has formulated a series of propositions on a first level based on direct observation. Whereas in e.g. natural sciences such observations and propositions are cumulatively brought together in higher level theories, Social Anthropology has not put together all-embracing laws in a similar fashion.
- R. K. Merton and levels of theory - distinction between manifest and latent functions, analysis of social roles
- Adam Kuper, Anthropology and Anthropologists (Routledge, London, 1983).
- George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (U of Chicago Press, 1980).
- Adam Kuper (ed) Conceptualising Society (Routledge, London, 1992).
- Robert Layton, An Introduction to Theory in Anthropology (CUP, 1997).
- A Barnard, History and Theory in Anthropology (CUP, 2000)
- T H Eriksen & F S Nielden, A History of Anthropology (Pluto, 2001)
From evolution to function
A Kuper, 1988 The invention of primitive society. Transformations of an illusion J Urry, 1998 "Making sense of diversity and complexity" in A Herle & S Rouse (eds) Cambridge and the Torres Strait George W Stocking, 1984 ‘Introduction’ in Stocking (ed) Functionalism historicized (also R Jones, Smith & Frazer) B Malinowski, 1944 A scientific theory of culture (CUP) B Malinowski, 1929 Sexual life...in Northwestern Melanesia (chapter 1)
F Engels 1891 The origin of the family, private property & the state R Lee 1982 ‘Politics sexual & non-sexual in the Kalahari’ in E Leacock & R Lee (eds) Politics and history in band society (CUP) R Lee 1982 ‘Politics sexual & nonsexual in an egalitarian society’ in E Leacock & R Lee eds Politics and history in band society (CUP) H Moore 1988 ‘Kinship, labour & household’ in Moore, Feminism and anthropology (chap 4) T R Trautman 1987 ‘Generalizing Iroquois’ in Lewis Henry Morgan & the invention of kinship L Josephides 1985 The production of inequality. Gender & exchange among the Kewa
Structuralism: systems of thought
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1976). Edmund Leach, ‘Anthropological Aspects of Language: Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse’, in E. H. Lenneberg (ed.) New Directions in the Study of Language (MIT Press, Cambridge MA., 1964); also in W. A. Lessa and E. Z. Vogt (eds.) Reader in Comparative Religion 4th ed. (HarperCollins, London, 1979). Edmund Leach, Lévi-Strauss (Collins, London, 1970/1996). John Sturrock (ed.), Structuralism and Since (OUP, 1979). Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Jealous Potter (U of Chicago Press, 1988). Marshall Sahlins, Islands of History (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1985).
Culture as language - culture as text
Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures. (Basic Books, New York, 1973). Sherry B. Ortner, Sherpas Through their Rituals (CUP, 1978). James Clifford and George E. Marcus (eds.), Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1986). P. Steven Sangren, ‘Rhetoric and the Authority of Ethnography: "Postmodernism" and the Social Reproduction of Texts’. Current Anthropology, 29/3 (1988).
Individuals, transactions, agency
A Giddens 1979 Central problems in social theory (Macmillan) B Malinowski 1935 ‘Introduction’ Coral Gardens & their magic (George Allen & Unwin London) F. Barth 1983 Sohar. Culture & society in an Omani town (F. Barth 1959 Political leadership among Swat Pathans) (and/or: F.G. Bailey 1970 Stratagems and spoils) Edmund Leach 1977 Custom, law and terrorist violence (and/or Leach Political systems of highland Burma) M Strathern ‘Agency’ pp 21-25 & J Nash ‘Gender attributes & equality’ in M Strathern (ed) 1987 Dealing with inequality