Re: science of complexity-4fields

Harriet Whitehead (whitehea@WSUNIX.WSU.EDU)
Sat, 1 Apr 1995 08:47:54 -0800

Amen to Tibor's insight about the 'po mo wars'! And what he's saying also
bears upon Ralph Holloway's query about the direction of contemporary
anthro departments. I've noticed that a great divide is opening up
between the more science-y departments, which are apt to retain and
endorse a four-fields emphasis; and the more 'high humanities'
departments which are often busy shedding archaeology, physical and
primatology. The high humanities choice is now heavily po mo, reflexive,
philosophical and literary. There are jobs in both directions; I'm not
sure that's the issue. The question is jobs where? High humanities tends
to be the choice of the more elite universities, and job candidates must
demonstrate a fancy education in a humanities direction as well as
(usually) scintillating verbal skills. They no longer try to out-argue
their intellectual opponents with careful logic, deployment of empirical
findings etc. Instead, they 'outclass' them with strategic quotes from
Neitsche, Derrida, etc. (After you've learned to see through some of the
mystification, you'll often find that all the argument consists of is
stragetic allusions that often rip things badly out of context, or
ultimately reveal ignorance; but meanwhile the effect is quite dazzling).
The effect of the trend is to identify more scientific approaches with
the 'low brow', the politically incorrect, the plodding and the
Admittedly, my generalization is sweeping. There are still
departments, the University of Michigan is an example, that devoutly
maintain their four fields and *both* a respect for science and
humanities. So far... I gather there are fault-lines developing even
there. Duke is, well, a divided situation. There's the department of
Cultural Anthropology (humanities oriented more and more) and the
department of Biological Anthropology. As far as I can tell the faculty
of these two hardly know each other. But UC Berkeley, I gather, just shed
the last of its once famous primatologists. And now Columbia...

On Fri, 31 Mar 1995, Tibor Benke wrote:
> discipline, we need to have an understanding of why people with
> mathematical and technical skills treat people who are more verbaly or
> artisticaly oriented with such contempt and how this obstructs mathematical
> education at all levels.
> It seems to me, that much of the po mo wars can be traced to the urge to
> revenge among the mathematicaly abused. Like saying "we can mystify you
> just like you have mystified us from grade one through math 202 - its your
> turn to suffer". In other words, if there is something to Piaget's idea
> that intelligence consists of progressive decentering, mathematics and
> science educators need to consider whether there might not be other
> approaches that can be used in conveying their insights to the
> non-mathematicaly inclined then the ways they have learned those ideas
> themselves. Cognitive science may be of some help, if it could devise some
> typology of cognitive processes and then devise methods of presentation
> more congenial to people such as me, for example.
> Cheers,
> >@> Tibor Benke / (^)%(#)
> >@> Graduate Student (MA program)
> >@> Department of Sociology and Anthropology
> >@> Simon Fraser University,
> >@> Burnaby, B.C., Canada. V5A 1S6