John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 20 May 1995 08:24:43 JST

Robert Thornton writes,

"In fact, it seems to me, it is the other way round.
Getting an advertising product out the door is a relatively simple
'task' because the steps are well known, the hierarchy to manage it
is in place, and the goal, resources available, demands and limits
are also well known. Under these conditions it is easy (or easier)
to delegate tasks and to work in teams. It is the same in the
physical science for most 'normal science' (Kuhn) tasks since all of
the parameters are known except for the experimental variable --
which is in most cases also known within a certain degree or
precision or reliability. Moreoever, for the most part, the steps to
get to more precision or better reliability are well known.
This is not the case with doing anthropology since the variables
are all complex, the 'variables' so far as they are known have many
degrees fo freedom and are generally relatively unreliable. What is
required is a creative mind that can integrate large amounts of
diffuse and confusing data, think laterally as well as linearly,
think narratively as well as analytically. As is well known,
committees do not invent good horses. Novels are not (or rarely)
written by committees or even by teams of two, and I would say that
the same is true for good ethnography."

I offer in reply a quote from Judson (author of _The Eighth Day of
Creation_) that I used, oddly enough, just a few days ago in
describing the advertising process.

"What the book conveys that is probably most valuable is simply
how uncertain it can be, when a man is in the black cave of
unknowing, groping for the contours of the rock and the slope of the
floor, listening for the echo of his steps brushing away false clues as
insistent as cobwebs, to recognize that an important discovery is
taking shape. Can it be done at all? Is it as worth doing as we've told
ourselves? Why hasn't it been done already? Where's the way in, the
vulnerable point? Out of what we think we know, what's unreliable?
What's irrelevant? These are the scientific as opposed to the personal
circumstances, and they evoke sometimes the mood of the brink of
terror, which in good part may explain why such monstrous self-
confidence is demanded."

What also emerges from the book, and this is the point I wanted to
emphasize is not the organization of work in large teams, but rather
the importance of critical pairs of workers, Watson and Crick, Junod
and Jacob, for example, who argue incessantly about whatever it is
they think that they have perceived in their data, each provoking the
other to fuller, more precise explanations that spiral upward in
quality. The notion that "real"[sic] scientists are white-robed
automatons parceling out the work on a laboratory assembly line is
far, it would seem, from the way that important work is actually
done. (There are, of course, hacks in any field.)

Turning now to Mike Salovesh's comments, what he says about
couples in the field is, I think, very important. I think, for example,
of collaborations like that of Victor and Edie Turner or, earlier,
Margaret Mead and her serial husbands (Bateson, Reo Fortune), and
wonder how often the contributions of spouses have been neglected
because the Ur-father Malinowski was single when stuck in the

I look forward to seeing how this thread develops. I shall, myself, be
away for a week, on a trip to the United States. I'll catch up when I
get back; should be back on-line 5/28 or 29.

John McCreery