The culture of anthropology (was Re: Harris)

Gil Hardwick (
Mon, 22 May 1995 02:05:51 GMT

In article <>, Gerold Firl ( writes:
>Why postulate this third culture? The anthropologist must learn the subject
>culture; the language, the symbols, the feel of the culture. At that point,
>the anthropologist can translate between the two of them. This third
>culture seems like an unnecessary assumption.

No, it is very necessary indeed Gerold. The anthropologist working out
in the field is most often placed in an insidious position and it is
no mere accident that the burnout rate is so extremely high.

On the one hand, it is simply not possible to master enough of either
their own culture or their host culture for the anthropologist to be
able to step so cleanly as you might prefer from one to the other and
back again.

The anthropologist is the translator and intepretor, standing between
the speaker and the audience in their own (I not longer trust) self-
standing liminal domain. The anthropologist is betwixt and between The
One and The Other, exploited by both while at once denied an adequate
social standing either way.

I therefore despair of the cloistered academics, on the other hand,
who chose to knife their own colleagues and play their unrelenting
crud political scams over education funding. It is difficult out here
as it is without a professional sub-culture of our own in which we can
find nurturing and support, while they continue to draw more and more
students into the profession only so as to fill up their classes and
qualify for more and more money from the government, then abandon them
to their fate on graduation.

Their behaviour is contemptible in the extreme, and the day will come
when there is a true reckoning in anthropology over this matter.

The third problem has plainly arisen from foreign academics invading
other countries, deliberately to discredit and then displace their
local counterparts who hold substantial knowledge of local conditions,
so as to propagate the foreign policy of their own government. That is
a different issue we have joined here before, nonetheless relevant to
the discussion as it arises here now.

>I think that the process of learning the alien culture tends to circumvent
>previous assumptions, unless the observer is a missionary or something, on
>guard against contamination. Anthropologists are eager to absorb new ways
>of looking at things; if anything, they tend to be over-enthusiastic about
>their adopted culture.

Yes, you only think. As usual you simply don't know, Mr Firl. You are
doing us no favours sitting there intruding upon our conference as you
do. The very least expected of you is that you go out into the field
yourself and get a bit of practice BEFORE prognosticating and ranting
so unrelentingly as you do.

Admittedly some of our "colleagues" over there are little better, but
at least you don't actually claim to be an anthropologist yourself.

You merely enjoy our company, yes?