Re: Anthropological Predictions:Examples

Michael Thomas Carson (mcarson@HAWAII.EDU)
Fri, 8 Sep 1995 13:04:35 -1000

On Fri, 8 Sep 1995, SS51000 wrote:

> The nature of prediction seems straightforward enough to me, as does the
> existence of anthropological predictions comparable to those of physical
> science. We can predict, for example, that if small societies such as
> autonomous bands and villages grow into larger ones such as chiefdoms,
> states, and empires, their cultures will be transformed in terms of
> differentiated structures and functions, accompanied by stratification
> of wealth and power. Conversely, we can predict that the shrinking of
> large societies back into small ones will bring cultural changes of a
> generally reverse kind. As a subscriber to the principle of parity
> between prediction and explanation, I submit that we can explain--and
> hence predict--many of the most important cultural changes as results of
> societal growth. The archaeological and ethnographic records support
> this overwhelmingly. Why do we think we have achieved so much less,
> scientifically, than we have? --Bob Graber

Bob Graber: Thanks for reminding us that we've actually made more
advances than we somtimes think.
Many would agree with you (including myself, to some extenet) about the
prediction of population growth with social organization. The point of
controvsery, though, is whether cthe classic examples of population
growth and social/political organization are descriptive correlations, or
are they in some sort of causal relationship? In other words, does one
cause the other? If so, then why? The so-called hydraulic hypothesis
has been proven incorrect in some instances. Also, the boundaries
between bands, tribes, and chiefdoms are not as clear-cut as they are
reported to be, especially in the Pacific Islands, which were used
prominently as case study examples to promote this theory. By the way,
I'm pretty open-minded on these issues, and I'm not trying to force any
strict opinions, because I don't think the evidence is yet available for
such definite statements.

But overall, I agree with your sentiments. Anthropology (especially
with anthropological archaeology) has made some good advances in
scientific prediction. I just think we need to do more.

- Mike Carson