Anthropology sans science?

Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education posted an article on the removal of the word ‘science’ from an American Anthropology Association planning document (Glenn 2010). For example, where a previous draft described anthropology as exploring “the science of mankind,” the next referred to “the public understanding of humankind.”

It’s been a few years since I attended the AAA, and I was surprised how homogeneous the 2010 meeting in New Orleans had become. There were a few Anthropological Sciences sessions, but everywhere else there was little sign of archaeology, linguistics, let alone more ‘recent’ fields like cognitive or evolutionary anthropology. Even historical approaches were missing. Though many of the mainstream presentations were interesting, it was sometimes difficult to see how I could ‘use’ any of the information.

But I’m not ready to abandon the AAA mainstream, and be a part only of the Society for Anthropological Sciences . My focus is human societies and cultures, and I’m clearly not an archaeologist, biologist, nor a linguist – by method of elimination, I must be a sociocultural anthropologist. However, based on what I saw at the AAA, there were clearly differences between me and the AAA mainstream. At the risk of giving socioculturalists the same short shrift Barkow argues they give ‘us,’ the differences appeared to be negative – what ‘we’ do that ‘they’ do not: a qualified belief in objectivity. Generalizable theory. Quantifiable data. PowerPoint. Perhaps the difference is even – dare I say it – ‘cultural’?

Besides, the tensions between different facets of anthropology aren’t new. As Glenn pointed out, even in 1904 Boas was predicting the fragmentation of Anthropology. Today, we’ve the benefit of a century of very productive conflict; it would be a shame to abandon the longest-running experiment in interdisciplinarity since disciplines were invented.

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