Re: American Anthropologist (long, argumentative)

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Wed, 21 Feb 1996 11:16:53 -0500

I couldn't possibly render my judgements of AA (and AAA for that matter) in
anything matching Mike's eloquence and certainly fairness. I dropped my
subscription and membership about three years ago. The reasons were: (1)
blatant sexist orientation in their book review section. The
selection should be gender blind. (And No, I will not mention the
particular case in point for fear of retribution). (2) A membership fee
structure which
seemed to include a hefty fee for something called Biology Section which
netted nothing of use; (3) a clear editorial policy completely at odds
for anything and everything I regard as essential in anthropology.
(4) A growing sense that what was being published had no relationship to
what I perceived anthropology to be. (5) An abandonment of what makes
Anthropology important, it's holism.
Some of you might recall when I came on this group last year asking
guidance regarding the four-field approach, because my Department was
electing to get rid of any and all requirements for graduate students who
were social/cultural with regard to physical, archaeology, and
lingusitics, which we had lost years before, and indeed Columbia did lose
its Linguistics department earlier through, some would say, benign
I was being told that our s/c students were so damn fine that they
were getting jobs without any trouble with no background in the 4 or 3
subfields. The only example I ever found any solid evidence for was one
of my students teaching an intro to cultural course, and another cultural
student who I had taught Human Evolution teaching Intro to Physical! ( I
realise this is an unrealistically small sample, but then the job
situation is rather... stark... isn't it?).
Furthermore, taking a course in Physical or Archaeology did not provide
expertise in those subjects, so why take them? Why include this albatross
around their necks?
My subdiscipline colleagues were not attempting to provide expertise,
merely EXPOSURE, but then the argument became that exposure was
unnecessary. Thus it was put to a vote, and as usual in an anthropology
dept where the ratio of cults to others is about 8-10 -to-one, we got rid
of any subdiscipline requirements. I will not bother you with all the
juicy political details regarding loyalty oaths, resignations, untenured
vs tenured fears, as you already know that stuff cold. In the same
breathe the leadership wanted to put on the Centennial Celebration of
Franz Boaz, and I goddamn for sure could hear his molecules go into a
frenzy of spinning in the grave. This is not the whole story, of course.
Some cult colleagues wanted exposure to say, physical, but a sort of
physical that was more in concert with their own agendas, such as
perceptions of the body, etc. The main point was simply that given this
historic juncture and given all of the socioeconomic realities of academe
and anthropology in particular, a major center for holism took the plunge
and let its graduate students dictate the requirement policies because it
was clear that postmodernism and literary criticism had become major
focal points in graduate training. Then the chair person resigned and
went on leave, a major proponent of getting rid of the 4-field approach
has resigned for greener pastures, we are somewhere 'twixt major
reincarnation and receivorship, and with just about all of the senior
faculty on leave, admitted 33 new graduate students into the "program"!
Not one of them in archaeology or physical anthropology.
Some of you on this list were kind enough to respond to my query
about the four fields and holism in anthropology. I got about a dozen
responses and of them were in favor of continuing the four fields,
most claimed that when their depts hired, they looked for breadth, etc., etc.
Put it all together and it spells out a message that Anthropology has
lost its identity, in particular it's holistic way of looking at
humankind, and that it's flagship journal is an accurate reflection of
the postmodern and literary criticist disease that is making the social
sciences largely irrelevant and not even worthy of pedanticism.

I still prefer the way Mike explains it...
Ralph Holloway, curmudgeon physical anthropologist...