anthropology and other disciplines

Gudrun Dahl (Gudrun.Dahl@TELE.SU.SE)
Wed, 21 Feb 1996 12:34:21 +0100

Response to thread from=20
From: "Victor J. Galan" <vgalan@COMP.UARK.EDU>
Subject: Re: Anthropology and Sociology

Viewpoints from the Swedish arena (where archaeology, physical anthropology
and linguistics are defined as different disciplines and anthropology means
social and cultural dito)

Anthropology is the study of those aspects of human life which depend upon
shared, socially learned meanings or meanings which have been derived from
common experiences which have been evaluated in and through the interaction
with other people.

Anthropology, in my opinion, is definitely not dealing with that which is
independent of time and place. If holistic, it is holistic in the sense that
people build meaning from their total life experience. Life experiences, the
social learning of meaning, the common interaction whereby cultural
phenomena are reproduced or changed in interaction with others, are always
situated in time and space ("cyberspace" in our case!). Only by locating
them thus can we honour people=B4s rights to agency and voice and respect=
as fellow human beings rather than as cultural robots.

What distinguishes anthropology from other disciplines are certain
traditions of reading and method. Our study field however overlaps with that
of other disciplines, and it is important that we go into dialogue with
their representatives. Creativity is born from meetings of ideas.

Shared systems of meaning are better studied with non-statistical methods,
but statistics may be more efficient in looking at what people actually do
(rather than say they do) once you have got their categories right. There is
no morally better way of doing things as long as the methods serve the
purpose of the particular project: and in practice statistics/non-statistics
is no longer a valid point for distinguishing sociology and anthropology.
One can possibly argue that it is more efficient if each develops the
methods he or she knows best, but our common goal is after all understanding
the human being as a social and cultural entity: so even with such a
division of labour, communication is a must - dogmatism a sin.=20

In regards to history,=20
a/ historicizing is always necessary to put our findings into context and to
avoid the pitfalls of cultural essentialism.

b/ If we only can get access to material that offers us insight in to the
meaning systems and practices of people long dead, they should of course be
of interest to anthropologists too. And in fact there are a lot of people
who practice such "historical anthropology" in the world.

c/ Neither is history only about conquerors, nor should anthropology be only
about conquered people, as one commentator suggested

Anthropology should above all recognize that we are all essentially the same
kind of human beings, thus essentially equally valid study objects whether
we are emperors or underdogs, whether urbanites or peasants, whether Kurds
or Inuit, whether crooks or saints. It is not anthropology=B4s task to
represent somebody in particular, but to argue that every category of people
may have something interesting and valid to look at and listen to, and that
each category=B4s voice could be worth to hear when we describe their
life-situation, actions or beliefs.=20