Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dear AAA Executive Committee...

An open letter from Dr. David Cheetham, one our CSULB lecturers in archaeology and an IIRMES researcher. Dr. Cheetham recently completed his PhD at Arizona State University.

Dear AAA Executive Committee,
I am a relatively young scholar, having recently finished my Ph.D. at Arizona State University. I am also a long-standing member of the AAA---or at least I was until today (I will not be renewing my membership). The current flap with respect to your collective (I assume) move to extirpate science from the mandate of the AAA is an alarming indictment of the profession as it currently stands. My only hope is that some faction within the executive body will speak out against this pending amendment and, if unsuccessful in preventing its activation, will resign in protest and build support from without.
Under the false premise of betterment and backwards (empirically baseless) activism, you are sowing the seeds of the discipline's demise. Perhaps you should take a close look at what the shunning of the scientific paradigm and move to "postmodernism" has done to anthropology in France; it has made it irrelevant and therefore dispensable. If we as anthropologists follow your proposed mandate and never assume an objective stance (as science strives to do), by default we incorporate a "plurality of voices," or "multivocality," or whatever (insert alternate fad/buzz-word here) on all matters cultural. If the cultural world is not knowable from a scientific standpoint, then what purpose does the discipline serve? What has happened to the discipline of anthropology that the very essence of science is completely cast aside for non-empirical perspectives? Of course there should always be room for different paradigms---as there is in any healthy, contributing discipline---but to remove what is arguably the most fundamental of them is, in my opinion, tantamount to a rejection of all. Knowledge is built through the interplay of paradigms and ideas that spring from them, not through avoidance of paradigms that activist elements find objectionable for reasons they cannot properly articulate. That a collective, representative group of anthropologists would even consider such a move is mind-boggling---It saddens me, although it comes as no surprise. I may have chose the wrong profession, but as long as I am in it, I will continue to be guided by what you consider objectionable.
David Cheetham, Ph.D.
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