Thursday, December 9, 2010

The former science of anthropology

Economics is a social science, dedicated to studying human beings as they interact with each other. It isn't the only social science, we keep company in that regard with political scientists, sociologists, some kinds of psychologists and historians, and of course, anthropologists. But that "of course" is misplaced, following the recent decision of the American Anthropological Association to drop "science" from parts of its self-description: Anthropology A Science? The Experts Disagree

"Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan.

"The decision has reopened a long-simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines — including archaeologists, physical anthropologists and some cultural anthropologists — and members of the profession who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights."

Of course, science by any other name could still be scientific, and scientifically inclined anthropologists will still go about their business. The first paragraph of the Association's statement says
"The purposes of the Association shall be to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects. This includes, but is not limited to, archaeological, biological, social, cultural, economic, political, historical, medical, visual, and linguistic anthropological research.  The Association also commits itself to further the professional interests of anthropologists, including the dissemination of anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation."

Update, Dec. 13: The Times reports Anthropology Group Tries to Soothe Tempers After Dropping the Word ‘Science’
"On Monday, the association issued a statement of clarification, saying it recognizes “the crucial place of the scientific method in much anthropological research.”
""There has been a longstanding cultural gap within the association between the evidence-based researchers, who include some social anthropologists, and those more interested in advocating for the rights of women or native peoples. The new long-range plan, approved last month, inflamed these differences. "

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