Whither anthropology?

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Thu, 7 Dec 1995 16:06:38 +0900

If asked to explain the current state of American anthropology (or, more
broadly, the American academy), I always recall a conversation I had with John
Roberts, one of my teachers at Cornell. I had said something to the effect that
all the anthropologists I knew seemed almost too polite to each other. Academic
debates never seemed to go for the jugular. Roberts smiled and said, "That's
because you don't hear them talking about the real issues." "What are those," I
asked. "Office space, promotions, whose graduate students get money...." A few
years later when I was a visiting instructor at Berkeley, I noticed how
economic implosion had turned the department into a fair approximation of
George Foster's peasant village with a culture controlled by the image of the
limited good. Factionalism was rife, and conversation seemed to consist largely
of academic equivalents of treasure tales and witchcraft accusations.

Has anyone had a similar experience?

John McCreery

P.S. This rather gloomy view is contradicted by the more recent
experience of attending the AAA meetings in Washington, D.C.,
where I had a wonderful time, met all sorts of delightful people,
and found the field intellectually lively. I wasn't, I must admit,
looking for work.