Re: Amerind an offensive term (was: Early Amerind assimilation

Mary Beth Williams (
6 Aug 1996 14:20:43 GMT

In <>
(Thomas L.Billings) writes:

>As I noted above, I really would like to see something like an
>anthropological science being discussed in sci.anthropology. I know
>it can be done. I've seen Eric, Mary Beth, and others do just that
>rather nicely on many occasions.
>The politicization of discussion in many science disciplines
>throughout academia is what has raised the vulnerability of all
>sciences, to the growing political power of the scriptural
>literalists. Only occaisional mention of that danger is made in this
>newsgroup. That is my concern here, as much as anything.

>Many in my own area are currently willing to watch as the "social
>science" disciplines get the chop. Having been disparaged so often
>from that quarter, they assume that, to quote one friend, "Forty years
>in the wilderness should slim the fat off them very nicely". While,
>at the same time, they believe that the scriptural literalists won't
>touch say, cosmology, astrophysics, space astronomy, and spaceflight
>technology itself.
>Of course, these and other areas of inquiry threaten the scriptural
>literalists as much or more than anything Eric, Stephen, Mary Beth, or
>Xina will ever write, here or elsewhere. They will be targeted by the
>scriptural literalists eventually, and that WILL affect my own dreams,
>and my own work, and quite directly. Please don't make that happen
>any faster by immolating this and other scientific disciplines in an
>academic/political "Alamo".(to use a "hegemonic" analogy)

>If you're interested in anthropological science, then please do speak
>of that in the networks devoted to that science, as this one is.
>Please refrain from weakening the focus on scientific enquiry with
>political fulminations. Make it hard for the boys on the House
>Science Committee staff to butcher the NSF directorates concerned with
>this and related fields. Why? Because sure as death and taxes,
>they'll be coming after me and the fields I work with next!

I first want to point out that although I've stepped away from this
discussion for the most part, as I feel its moved beyond the scope of
the original discussion, it really does have a place in anthropology
(including archaeology) newsgroups. American anthropology as a
discipline has ALWAYS been politically charged, and that politicism is
directly tied to Native Americans. This is an accepted concept not
only for Native Americans, but for anyone familiar with the history of
the discipline in this country. American anthropology, in the eyes of
19th-century practicioners, was developed to provide a *science*
through which to methodologically chronicle the extinction of a group
of people, in this case, the American Indian. Because the *outcome*
was not correctly predicted, i.e., Indians did not disappear, the
discipline has been flawed in many ways, e.g., lifeways are not static
and continue to change, the subjects want a say in their portrayal,
etc., etc.

This is not to say, like many critics of *soft-sciences* propose, that
it should be scrapped, but its is important to understand that like
even the *hardest* of sciences, anthropology does not exist in a
vacuum, particularly since its subjects of study, unlike chemistry or
physics, are *people*. Not only the outcomes (interpretations), but the
processes and methodologies of data collection and analyses effect both
the subjects and the *scientists*. An *outsider* cannot think that
he/she can walk into a group of people, hang out for any length of
time, and think that their presence has not forever altered the nature
of that group in some way. (Although my department is known for its
post-modernist/post-processualist tilt, this topic is also very *hot*
in most anthropological circles.)

Thus, although I do not want to see such discussions of the
*role/place/etc.* of anthropology degenerate into name calling, etc., I
truly believe that the perceptions of the participants are fair
game, if not necessary, in the pursuit of *knowledge*. As we are
talking about the *science of humankind* here, and all participants (I
assume <g>) are human, both the research and the subject are open to


MB Williams
Dept. of Anthro., UMass-Amherst