John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 8 Jun 1994 10:17:18 JST

John O'Brien writes,

"The rhetorical question I am asking across the board is simple . . . what
possible and conceivable advantage for the collective good of academics
and society as a whole can be gained from limiting the number of available
positions in any academic discipline, from reducing the number of available
jobs in any academic discipline, from prohibiting people from pursuing their
chosen professions if they have established their qualifications and abilities,
from generating rancour among entire categories of people over diminishing
resources, and from restricting education opportunities for anyone?"

As someone who is privileged to be able to examine this discussion from an
outsider's perspective (not having to make my living as an academic), I can't
help wondering what happens to the question if we substitute, say, "buggywhip
makers," "keypunch operators," "party cadres," or "Tibetan (Buddhist) lamas"
for "academics." What is the advantage of limiting the number of people in
any occupational category?

This question is not an attempt at a put-down. (What would I possibly gain
from that?) It does, however, point to something very much on my mind since
I've been challenged in the seminar I'm teaching by a very bright, very
serious, female business major who says, "I don't see why we're reading all
this anthropology stuff. All these guys do is argue endlessly about what you
can't do..." I think her response is extreme, since I personally find that
reading Geertz, Turner, etc., gives me a lot of ideas about what I can do
in making up ads and marketing strategies, but I have to deal with the fact
that her question is real and seriously motivated.

So I ask my own question: What do anthropologists have to offer in the
intellectual marketplace that other types in (to borrow Dan Foss's term)
$@o (Jthe
Explanation Industry) don't. And why should anyone else want to pay for it?

I suspect that the answer lies somehwere in the direction John Perry Barlow
points in a recent issue of WIRED. Barlow argues that in a world inundated
with more information than anyone can ever hope to process, what people will
pay for is _perspective_. His example is Esther Dyson (the famous computer
industry analyst) speaking to a meeting of industry people that includes the
likes of Bill Gates and Steven Jobs. Everyone in the room has access to all
of the information Esther is talking about. Why are they there? And paying a
thousand bucks a day apiece to be there? _To see that information through
Esther Dyson's eyes_.

Arguably, anthropologists develop unique perspectives on the world. As Dan
Sperber notes in _On Anthropological Knowledge_ a few hundred people have
enjoyed the extraordinary privilege of doing anthropological fieldwork. We
have ventured outside our tribes and from our personal vision quests we have
brought back something that may be valuable...It's valuable to us because, if
nothing else, of all the work we put into it. What we need to debate is why
and how it's valuable to others. Put crudely, that's our marketing issue, and
if we fail to solve it we shall, as an intellectual species, disappear from
the face of the Earth.

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)