Monday, August 04, 2008

Jackson, John L. "Anthropology: the Softest Social Science." CHRONICLE BRAINSTORM July 29, 2008.

Why are people sometimes so dismissive of anthropology? In the era of Franz Boas and Margaret Mead, anthropologists were public intellectuals of the highest order. They wrote for popular magazines and challenged Americans’ too-quick assumptions about the hard-wired ‘nature’ of social life. But that was then. Now, anthropologists seem mostly relegated to the very back of the line when it comes to assessments about the value of social-scientific attempts to make sense of contemporary issues. . . . Anthropology often gets characterized as a 'postmodern' cesspool, a discipline that wallows in pseudo-theoretical (even literary) waters, embraces the most solipsistic form of navel-gawking introspection, and has recanted most of its earlier commitments to ‘objective’ outsiderism. At the same time, economists are thought to occupy a firmer space much closer to the normative benchmark that is the natural sciences, crunching numbers in ways that purport to eschew the ideologically-driven meanderings of those softer social sciences. There is a general pecking order in the social sciences. We all know that. It moves from economics down through the likes of political science and psychology, finally landing in the realm of sociology and anthropology. The closer one gets to serious mathematics as constituitive of the center of the discipline’s exploits, the higher one’s salary, the less diverse one’s colleagues (in terms of categories such as race or gender), and the more powerful one’s academic department. There are exceptions to this formulation, but it holds true quite a bit of the time, no? . . . Read the rest here:

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