Sunday, August 24, 2008

Short Rant

A side-note on a minor diversion among anthropologists:

Postmodernism: ‘the open acknowledgement that an observer brings his or her own background into a scientific question

It has meant that some of the new generation’s cultural scholars regard the time-honoured ethnographies of the past with scepticism. One health result has been an increase in the importance of ethnographies written by scholars of colour, especially those who are from the culture they study.’

p 11, Craig Stanford, John S. Allan, Susan C. Antón, 2006. Biological Anthropology, Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey

I was somewhat taken aback by this statement. I was looking through some newer references while completing my paper on the ‘Pre-History of Bargaining’ for the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE) conference in Rome 3-6 November. You can see I sometimes cross from Economist's Land in to Anthropoloy Land, and even stranger lands beyond that.

Nevertheless it still stopped me in my tracks.

Especially the prospect alluded to in the text that anthropology may split into two clear sections, one, ‘biological’ (‘empirical’, ‘hypotheses testing’, and ‘scientific’) and the other ‘cultural’ (‘interpretive’, in the ‘light of power, gender and ethnicity’).

Well, the split may be inevitable and it may or may not be beneficial. Who knows? I am not opposed to such divisions on grounds of principle; they abound in economics and, for example, I am not comfortable with the policy consequences of neo-classical economics, but a division within a discipline that seems to be based on skin pigmentation and not science is a horrifying idea by any measure.

If some people have a view that their subject should be treated in a specific context, even by people who believe that their experiences within that context gives them an edge over outsider ‘number-crunchers’ – who may well be deeply immersed in the cultures they study - that is fine by me.

I am all for context, as Lost Legacy makes clear on a regular basis. If their results prove of lasting value, they will achieve the necessary credibility; if they don’t they won’t, and no harm done.

I would have thought that the subject range of anthropology precludes finding people who lived among the first farmers (11,000 years before the present), or the first migrants out of Africa (60-40,000 ybp), or the first human residents of California, which automatically precludes the need for people with ‘hairy-coats’, ‘white males’, ‘people of colour’ and those females ‘deeply immersed in gender politics’, who would be more 'correct' or whatever, than those moderns who were properly-trained anthropologists, with specialist expertise across the discipline, irrespective of their colour, who sift the evidence of the past with forensic passion.

The tenor of the article (‘A Paradigm Split in Anthropology’) smacks of a step too far of the insidious extremes of political correctness.

End of Rant.


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