What is anthropology?.2

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 24 Apr 1996 13:26:01 +0900

First a note of warm appreciation to Richard Calo for sharing
with us his reply to Holly Swyers. There's a richness and
humanity there that reminds me of Mike Salovesh, another of
my heroes here. Still, in the gentlest possible way I would like
to take issue with Richard when he writes,

"For me, the problem became: what on earth can I learn about
others' ways if I don't know enough about my own ways to
compare and contrast, and even deduce what may be common-
- particularly since the latter is what moves us toward the
'universals' which are the building blocks of scientific
theorizing? Holistic theory and method showed me what was
common between that society, that society, and that other one
over there. So where was my society? Particularly since, as far
as I could tell, all the comparisons were being made from the
initial starting point of 'my' society?"

The assumption that learning about others' ways would
depend on prior knowledge of one's own ways seems to me
fundamentally flawed. Does an infant need prior knowledge of
its parents' language and culture to acquire them as she grows
up? What makes anthropology anthropology is precisely the
encounter with the Other that confronts us with puzzling
differences, calling into question habits and customs we have
taken for granted. Turning back into oneself without taking
into account how that self appears through Other's eyes can
all too easily lead to self-inflicted blindness. Which is not to
deny that the Other in question may be a sister or neighbor
who lives uncomfortably close to hand. The key questions are
always these: Is there difference enough to shock us into
greater self-awareness? Plus the empathy needed to listen and
facilitate learning--ideally in the Other as well as oneself?

John McCreery
April 24, 1996