Friday, December 10, 2010

Anthropology in the NY Times

Nicholas Wade reported on the AAA mission statement change in yesterday's NY Times. Interestingly Daniel Linde comments in a PLoS Blog on what Wade reports and largely argues that everyone is making mountains out of mole hills. He states that the mission statement was supposed to be just "internal" and not a public affair. He argues that changing the mission statement just means that we are "moving forward" and that it is just recognizing the previous role of colonialsm. Its a puzzling argument. Why does removing science from a mission statement simply "a field moving forward?" He seems to have fallen into the trap of equating our colonialist ancestors (and their science mission) with science itself. That's just bad logic and sloppy thinking.

To end his blog he quotes, Catherine Lutz who is "most definitely a critical anthropologist" (suggesting that they are the "real" anthropologist and thus the authority on what is and isnt anthropology). She states that "Most departments of anthropology happily work together each day with a diversity of members, some of whom take more humanistic approaches and some of whom take more scientific ones. All of them aspire to rigor and rarely disparage either their colleagues in biochemistry or their colleagues in French literature for not understanding the worlds that they choose to study…"

It's unclear, of course, from where her data for "most departments" comes. At best, I would argue that Departments live under a kind of detante. At worst, the situation consists of a majority rule of one form or another with a disgruntled minority. I suspect true respect is fairly rare given the competition for resources and the vastly different products that come from a "humanities" based anthropology versus any form that seeks a science based discipline. The most happy departments Ive seen have simply opted to pick one area for their focus rather than try to squeeze in such disparate goals.

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