Re: What is anthropology _NOT_ ??

Richard Spear (
Sun, 16 Apr 1995 15:01:52 PST

In article <> (J. Moore) writes:
>Subject: Re: What is anthropology _NOT_ ??
>From: (J. Moore)
>Date: Sat, 15 Apr 95 11:40:00 -0500

>To> For four years now I have been studying cultural/political anthropology
>To> and in my final theory class I was asked the question: What is
>To> anthropology not? To my surprise and consternation I find that I am
>To> trouble answering this question... I would like to put the question out
>To> to you the reader perhaps you will have some insight into this, dare I
>To> say metaphysical, riddle.

>To> Please do not send your responses to this address for the owner is only
>To> a lowly, analytically minded comp-sci geek, and would not understand
>To> anyhow. Instead if you would be so kind as to E-mail your responses to
>To> me, Toby, at

>To> Thank-you,
>To> Tobester
>To> -Dave ________

>Nancy Tanner used to say that anthropology can be anything connected
>with people, which, to make explicit the point she was making, means
>that it can be virtually anything.

>Jim Moore (

> * Q-Blue 1.0 *

Well -

There's a lot its not. Anthropology is supposed to deal with culture (a la
Kroeber, White, etc.), not behavior (the realm of psychology) or physical
evolution (this arena belongs to biology). It should also avoid *social*
explanations for cultural phenomena ... the discussions around incest taboo
(is it to assure the structural stability of the family ... sociology ... or
to assure marrying out for the establishment of shared, protective
relationships ... anthropology) are particularly telling. With that said,
it's pretty clear that the boundaries between these sciences is a bit vague.
Culture is extrasomatic and sui generis and therefor a valid scientific arena.

The central theme here is to avoid reductionism. If a phenomenon can be
explained in sociological, psychological or biological terms it is *not*
anthropological. Makes one wonder if there is such a thing as culture, eh? Ask
any particular group of anthropologists what culture is and you will get as
many answers as there are anthropologists.

Geertz and others say that (paraphrasing broadly) culture is the script, human
behavior is the interpretation of the role. Culture is "in the past" (Kroeber)
and we perform it now. This limits its role and helps to define anthropology.

So it isn't "everything". Biological (physical) anthropology looks for
*cultural* origins in earlier primates. Archaeology digs for artifacts to
explain *cultural* evolution and diffusion. Cultural anthropology does
ethnographic studies to compare *cultures*, and linguistics (very, very weak
in the U.S.) seeks *cultural* relationships between different groups of people.
Regards, Richard