Re: Is anthropology (anthropology)?

Matt Tomaso (Tomaso@MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU)
Fri, 26 Apr 1996 09:23:54 -0500

As Jana seemed to suggest, there are probably as many definitions of science
around as there are scientists. Furthermore, the label "scientist" seems
to have more to do with the desire to affiliate one's self with a certain
kind of authoritarian discourse (i.e. 'knowledge') whose most valuable
aspect is that it values self-critique and continuous refinement over
canonization and appeals to authority. Bad science, of course, need not
have any of these characteristics. As a practicing scientist, I can only
agree with about three of the defining characteristics Jana puts forward in
her list, however. At the moment, I am very interested in Caroll Quigley's
definition of science (1961) as a method, and no more. This seems to be an
effective way to deconstruct the arrogance of certain external critics who
more often than not have never even given the texts they criticize (Origins
of Species comes to mind) a serious read, and have never practiced science
themselves, as well as the pompous manner in which some scientists claim to
have some sort of strangle hold on some form of non-interpretive knowledge
<sic>. Writ large, Quigley's definition implies that, in good science,
Furthermore, the construction of the data itself is an interpretation as is
the location and isolation of teh results of the hypothesis test. And so,
science is creative, imaginative, interpretive, not an unchanging body of
"knowledge." Because of my "hard" science background (geology, physical
geography), social environment and education, I see hermeneutics as
something very much like the dialectic of induction/deduction practiced in
good science. Other, more humanistic and/or aesthetic methods always seem
to have at least one component which vaguely resembles hypothesis testing.
But this is just my opinion.
This is certainly a social question. My answer is, IF YOU WANT IT TO BE.
(We can debate whether sociobiology qualifies as science or scientism some
other time, perhaps, but please don't count me in). I would answer that
for me, yes and no, but it is also much more. Given its inherently
dialectic and interdisciplinary character, the idea of a complementary
interplay between humanistic and scientific modes of thought seems most
attractive, and stands as a reasonable characterization of the brand of
anthropological practice I emulate.
Matt Tomaso
U. Texas Austin

Error is a hardy plant: it flourisheth in every soil.

~ Martin Farquhar Tupper 1810-1889
Proverbial Philosophy [1838-1842]. Of Truth in Things False