Re: Pro and con postmodernism (was: CFP: Postmod ling anth) [LONG]

Gerold Firl (
27 Jan 1995 13:03:11 -0800

In article <3g8lne$7ur@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM> claird@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM (Cameron Laird) writes:
>In article <>,
>Gerold Firl <> wrote:

>Leaving aside for the moment that you have inverted
>one of the propositions of the authors of the ab-
>stract we quote (confusing description and
>prescription), you're making the right argument.

I'm not sure what you mean by that. Which is the description and which is
the prescription?

>Is anthropology about languages and cultures? Yes,
>sure, but single-minded pursuit of that path leads
>to the nightmares (anthropologists who destroy the
>cultures they study, because they are spies or
>vectors of infection or witnesses for the prosecu-
>tion or ...) you have read in ANTHRO-L.

Actually, I've never been subscribed to anthro-l, and I am really not aware
of any instances where anthropologists have destroyed the cultures they
study. I have read a few accounts from early missionaries, who were very
actively attempting to "save" (read: destroy) the non-christian cultures
they were prosthlyzing, and now provide the only records of those cultures.
(For example, the yahgan culture of tierra del fuego - see Service,
_profiles in ethnology_). In some cases these missionaries show surprising
sensitivity to the cultures they are destroying, and function, to some
extent, as anthropologists. But I would like to hear more about
anthropologists who destroy the culture they are studying. Can you name
names, places, and times?

It seems to me that the danger which isolated cultures are exposed-to at
the hands of anthropologists is greatly exagerrated. There are no
"isolated" cultures anymore. Every culture on earth is exposed to the
danger of cross-cultural contact. The most innocuous, benign, and hazard-
free form of contact imaginable is that of anthropological study. Or am I
missing something here?

>>To me, the goal of anthropology and linguistics is to understand culture
>>and language. These postmodern poseurs appear to have lost sight of that.
>>Why bother with such nonsense?

>In part for the reason you so stridently preach--weak
>minds find it convenient to ride a fashionable band-
>wagon that relieves them of responsibility.

Yeah. Sorry about the stridency. I seem to have gotten into a bad habit
here. This group is so suffused with hand-wringing do-gooders, cringing
before the awful burden of history and muddying the waters with their
squeeky-clean scruples, that I am losing my perspective. Thanks for
reminding me.

>However, another part of the answer is that testable hypotheses
>*can* be an oppression, and that some of the actions
>of some traditional anthropologists *have* been crim-

How can testable hypotheses be an oppression? That seems a little far-
fetched. And again, I'd like to ask for names, places, and times for these
criminal acts perpetrated by anthropologists. If such things have happened,
we have a duty to expose them. If not, lets get on with the real work.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf