Truth, kids and Socrates.2

Mon, 22 Apr 1996 13:12:00 PDT

McCreery replies:

" To keep the pot boiling, let me offer
the observation that cultural anthropology, as currently practiced,
is not a science. It may, however, be part of a larger scientific
enterprise, the study of human behavior. [stuff deleted]
If the questions are properly designed and
the subjects properly sampled, a multivariate analysis will reveal
large numbers of connections. Doing this type of research is,
however, impractical for all except large, wealthy organizations.
Fieldwork, as practiced by most cultural anthropologists, is an
(n,1) strategy par excellence, immersion in a single case of which
we ask as many different questions as possible as we build our
files of fieldnotes. When we come to write up our observations
and sit sifting through our data, we may find many interesting
things to talk and speculate about. We are not in a position to
"prove" anything. Our role is, at best, to challenge received
wisdom in hopes that some of our (1,n) colleagues--in sociology,
psychology, political science, etc., find our ideas worth testing.
There are also, of course, a few anthropologists who do comparative
research and may be receptive to the insights we offer."

John's reply is, as usual, insightful. But it goes in a direction I had not
intended. My question was not directed at methods (e.g., large scale
experimental design) but ideas. Has cultural anthropology arrived at any
theory (or even reasonably well documented generalization) that addresses the
problem posed by the two articles I cited?

I ask this question because of the concern Calo expressed with "studying
ourselves." We have studied social organizations, family structure and the
like for 100 years or so. What have we learned about the nature of
social systems that provides insight into a very real problem in
our society today, as exemplified by the articles I discussed?

D. Read