Re: Chomsky

karl h schwerin (schwerin@UNM.EDU)
Wed, 6 Dec 1995 15:31:22 -0700

On Sat, 2 Dec 1995, Ruby Rohrlich wrote:

> It seems to me, John, that one of the most important things to talk about
> on this net, Anthro-L, that acknowledges linguistics as one of the four
> fields, is the difficulty even anthropologists experience in discussing
> changes in language that derive from socioeconomic and political
> changes. Yes, the erector set analogy is good, and I suppose the people
> who cannot bear to acknowledge and accept linguistic change are the same
> ones who can't acknowledge and accept socioeconomic and political
> change. The black movement -- let me pause here a moment, and point out
> that Farakhan in his speechto the assembled black men, used the word
> black almost exclusively, rather than African-American. Does that mean
> that African-Americans are willing to be called "black" also. In general
> however, what I wanted to say was that the changes deriving from the
> black political movement as well as from ordinary black speech are much
> more readily accepted than those deriving from the women's movement, I think.
> Also, I ask you now directly, John: why were you unwilling to include in
> your discussion of science, the role of gender in the culture of
> science? This is very important, and affects hypotheses and
> choice of problems to investigate. I'm sure we can discuss this amicably.
> Regards. Ruby.

Ruby -
I think a distinction needs to be made between the changes that the black
movement has effected in the general society and the changes that the
women's movement has effected in academia. It seems pretty clear to me
that Women Studies has introduced some very important theoretical issues
into academia, and into anthropology in particular, dealing with such
topics as power, intention, adaptations of Marxist arguments, etc. (In
fact, since the collapse of socialism in 1989, Marxism may remain more
viable in the women's movement than elsewhere). For most of my
professional career I have been criticizing anthropology for failing to
deal with *power* in any meaningful sense. Only a handful of scholars,
like Rick Adams, and more recently Eric Wolf, had paid any attention to it.
But the women approached the issue head on and elevated it to a topic for
significant theoretical inquiry and debate.

On the other hand, I don't see much in the way of significant conceptual
or theoretical contribution to academia and/or anthropology in particular,
from Black Studies or the black political movement, except perhaps for
the general increase of interest in "ethnic studies." That, however,
seems to derive as much from work among Hispanics, Native Americans,
Asian Americans, recent immigrants, etc., as it does from work among

Karl Schwerin SnailMail: Dept. of Anthropology
Univ. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131

Much charitable endeavor is motivated by an unconscious
desire to peer into lives that one is glad to be unable
to share. . . . . Edward Sapir