Re: R:....& the Future of Anthropology

Jacobs Kenneth (jacobsk@ERE.UMONTREAL.CA)
Sun, 9 Oct 1994 17:53:32 -0400

On Sunday, 9 October M.R. Kleindienst writes:
> As a colleague, Prof. Anne Zeller, once observed: Anthropology is not
> just a discipline, or a profession. It is a philosophy, a way of life,
^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^
> and a way of looking at life.

Noble sentiments indeed, with which one disagrees only at the risk of
seeming ignoble or willfully miscreant. Still, I cannot but wonder whether
the implied unity of vision, purpose, and lifeway here are not indeed at the
root of much of the heated discussion surrounding the nature of anthropology and
its self-representation (e.g., in _American Anthropologist_). There in fact is
a professional niche (or, increasingly, a number of niches) defined and main-
tained by university and other societal forces and traditions. Those seeking
to occupy the niches profess a myriad of philosophies, observing from very
different standpoints the same phenomena, but arriving at dramatically opposed
assessments of those phenomena and recipes for changing/preserving what they
see. All need to wrap themselves in the cloak of "anthropology" to fit the
niches available (whether research, applied, teaching, or .......), thereby
masking to a certain extent the heterogeneity that is and always has been at
the core. Much of the current fuss arises, IMHO, from anthropologists' taking
their apparent commonalities of interest much too much at face value. As
any readings in the history of North American anthropology in the early 20th
century will show, <<Plus ca change, plus.......>> The field is and always has
been a catch-all for disgruntled physicists, MDs, sociologists, historians and
Lord knows what else. The one thing they all shared was a desire to see/do
things differently than in their "home" disciplines. Our mistake is in
assuming that this eclecticism was magically transformed into a rhythmically
harmonious view of the world when all donned the mantle of anthropologist.
We only compound the error when we react vehemently and negatively on those
occasions when the cloak slips and some of our diversity shows.

Ken Jacobs
Universite de Montreal