Re: Anthro's most important contribution to society

Fri, 21 Apr 1995 00:26:23 GMT

In article <>,
Jack Kelso <kelso@SPOT.COLORADO.EDU> wrote:
>If you were pressed to identify the one most important contribution which
>anthropology has made to improving the well being of humankind what would
>it be?
>I assume that the majority of readers of this list are anthropologists, but
>I am interested in responses from non-anthropologists too.


I think a more relevant question would be: what is its least important
contribution? Once you figure this out, then your answer to what is
its most important contribution would be partly answered.

If you ask me, however, I think anthropology has only made
contributions to Western society itself; it hasn't done much to
improve the well being of aboriginal peoples or other land based
peoples. In fact, anthropologists have often been instruments of their
state's ideology; for example, "Indians" were, at one time, considered
vanishing peoples who would soon be extinct. I think the federal
and provincial governments in Canada, as an example, wanted
desperately to believe this; anthropologists were right there to
perpetuate this myth.

I think that this idea that anthropology is somehow contributing to
"humankind" is debatable. I have often thought that anthropology's
purpose should have been to promote understanding of other peoples; it
should be promoting this understanding among its members within its
own Western society. It should be teaching alternative values to
Western society that challenges the status quo, so that dangers such
as wholescale environmental pollution, nuclear war, and runaway greed
and profit, may be avoided. It hasn't suggested any truly new forms of
institutionalization within capitalism itself to deal with these
things, unless this is a very naiive expectation. So far I don't
see anthropology spearheading any radical changes: I think that this
should be a measure of any contribution to "humankind".

Peter Coon