Truth?(n,1)(1,n)or otherwise

Holly Swyers (nesn-info@CCE.ORG)
Mon, 22 Apr 1996 18:36:19 GMT

Do anthropologists have to work in isolation? And can the anthropologist
fairly use him/herself as an informant? Perhaps these are odd questions, but
this is where John McCreery's post led my thoughts.
There seems to be a model of anthropology that says that a lone
anthropologist (or a team of anthropologists each specializing in different
fields) goes to explore some "other," comes home, and proceeds to share
his/her/their findings. Because understanding "the other" is such a huge
task, the anthropologist or team focuses narrowly on some
idea/question/notion (tests a hypothesis). How often do teams of
anthropologists specializing in the same field look at some less foreign
seeming "other"?

Perhaps I can learn as much from the neighborhoods in which I grew up - all
now somehow "other" to what I have become - as I can from a place more remote
in my imagination. Perhaps I should learn more from these places I grew up.
Would I recognize these places if studied and described by another
anthropologist who did not grow up where I did? I know that there are
aspects of my own culture which are closed to me - why should I assume that
aspects of another culture will all be laid open to my eyes simply because I
am a "scientist"?

What if I was part of a team of anthropologists who were all looking at the
same thing (like the blind men with the elephant). If we could find a point
of consensus, we might have something like "truth."

Please forgive the scattered and rather cynical sound of this post - I'm
beginning to feel like anthropology is about finding individual truths, that
there are no universals, and that if this is the case, maybe there is no good
reason to study anthropology (aside from personal satisfaction). Or maybe
I'm just suffering some existential angst today.

So, my question to the list is: What is anthropology, really, and why are
we doing it?

Any thoughts?
-Holly Swyers
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
-William Shakespeare, _Hamlet_, Act II, scene ii