Views from the ANThill: The Anthro as Science Redux

I mentioned, in my last Views from the ANThill post, my attendance at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meetings, and offered a perspective on changes made to the AAA long-range plan mission statement, specifically about the removal of the word "science". At the time, I was unaware that this removal of the word "science" would spark a firestorm on the internet, and I was even more surprised to find that my post was being used to characterize an anti-science, postmodern, "fluff-head" bloc of cultural anthropologists supposedly out to rid the world of science and allow myths and religious beliefs to take their rightful spot in driving human progress. The coverage has continued for over two weeks now.

Daniel Lende over on Neuroanthropology has kept pace with a number of posts updating coverage, and offering critical, constructive, and even humorous follow-ups. Lende's first post,"Anthropology, Science and Public Understanding" remains the most complete list of coverage of the issue and includes a brief commentary, some early summary, and a regularly updated list of links to others. My post first came up in an early article on Inside Higher Ed, and commentary on the issue has since reached CNN, two pieces in the NY Times (first & second), and the Brian Lehrer Show (listen below), where Hugh Gusterson, executive board member of the AAA, and Peter Peregrine, president of the Society for Anthropological Sciences attempt to talk through what has often been described as a split in the discipline.

Listen to Gusterson and Peregrine on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC

I'm not going to recap the events surrounding the issue, as that has been done by Daniel Lende in his post, "Anthropology, Science, and the AAA Long-Range Plan: What Really Happened". This piece also includes a handful of interesting and useful comments by members of the executive board of AAA and others. Interestingly, AAA did release a statement on the issue, and publicized a new statement, "What is Anthropology?" Certainly, much of the debate that has played out on various forums around the internet has focused on a dichotomy that some perceive in anthropology, primarily a scientists -vs- anti-scientists split, an us -vs- them characterization. Another great post by Lende, "Anthropology, Science, and Relativism", tackles this characterization, while also expanding on many of the ideas brought up in my original post.

In the end, I think this "controversy" was probably blown a bit out of proportion. As many people have noted, the number of anthropologists who are anti-science are few and far between. In fact, there haven't been any explicitly anti-science responses from an anthropologist to any of the numerous articles and posts that I read through. In fact, the split between science and anti-science in anthropology doesn't actually seem to exist. What has become evident however, is a certain fear - held by many scientists (anthro and non-anthro alike) - that appears to arise from the idea that science may not be the only valid way of understanding the world around us. It can be argued that this fear has resulted in much of the harsh and aggressive backlash against what has been poorly constructed as an anti-scientific position. As seen in many arenas of public life, engaging with others who are coming from a position of fear is difficult at best, and oftentimes hopeless.

But I won't end on a note of hopelessness. As I mentioned earlier, I don't believe this divide is as great as has been characterized. All of the diverse subfields of anthropology have integral pieces to offer in the understanding of being human. Our picture would not be close to complete without all of these contributions. I offer, again, a portion of my response to comments on my original post on the topic:

I consider myself an applied medical anthropologist, and I utilize a theoretically informed scientific approach to my anthropological research. I also recognize the importance and value of a 4-field approach. My work with indigenous populations has allowed me to witness different ways of approaching and knowing about the world around us, ways that have not arisen out of the Western scientific worldview, yet have also been successful in maintaining human populations.
With this position established, I invite you to return to Views from the ANThill where I will continue to establish and expand on the value of various forms of indigenous knowledge.
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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:36 PM

    Well, that was patronizing.


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