Jobrien's Crisis in the Social Sciences...

Wed, 2 Mar 1994 17:40:18 -0500

>An open note, which I hope will prompt a great deal of acrimonious debate
>. . . since I am deadly serious about the topic.

"Deadly serious." Well, then, I shall be deadly serious, which is hard for
As for acrimonious debate; I seem to generate it, so this is not a problem.

>What is wrong with the academic professions . . . particularly the social
>sciences . . . particularly anthropology and sociology.

Lots, which I could go into... but I'll stick to your 12 points, and throw
in my own at the end.

>I encourage anyone to add to the following list.
>1). A value on political correctness above qualifications, validity or
> competence.

This is a distinct problem in some places. However, I hope you are
realizing that what the "politically correct" position is for some
departments differs - in some places it may be rightist, in some places
leftist, and in some places it may consist of a demand for political
neutrality... rather than a "don't ask, don't tell" policy...

>2). Acquiesence to illiteracy among their students.

What type of illiteracy are you referring to? Among undergraduates?
Graduates? Inability to read at the proper educational level? Unfamiliarity
with the Classics of the Profession (Malinowski, Boas, etc.)? Cultural
illiteracy, a la Allan Bloom? Internet Illiteracy?

>3). Personal self interest and ego above collective well being

Believe me, I see *THIS* all the time. I cannot agree more. "Prima
Donnaism" in all the scholarly professions is rampant.

>4). Over specialization and a lack of real knowledge in their
> disciplinary subject knowledge

YES! THANK YOU! With the four subfields (five, if you count applied) each
fragmenting into fractured discourse domains, the possibility of generalist
thought in anthropology diminishes with each passing day, as does the
possibility of seeing the forest for the trees... I know you have pointed
to this before, stick with it...

>5) (an addendum to (4) . . . lack of general knowledge of the
> philosophical underpinnings behind their discipline and a lack
> of sufficient general knowledge to intellectually cross disciplinary
> boundaries)

Yep. Interdisciplinary work is falling off in anthropology, because it
seems to assume that whatever anybody else does in the social sciences or
the humanities we can do better... let alone the refusal to work with
people in the physical or biological sciences...

>6) Irrelevant research foci

This is bound to be highly subjective, Jobrien, as you well realize. No one
would be doing research if they considered it to not be 'relevant' - this
is probably a given, unless they are just publishing for the sake of
publishing rather than contributing, which is a different problem - and
said evaluation (of irrelevance) always comes from outside. Here I ask you
to provide examples of said irrelevant foci.

>7) Political orientations

This, I guess, goes back to (1). Please elaborate. I have never met anyone
without a 'political orientation,' regardless of their protestations to the
contrary. Even stating that one has no political orientation is a political
orientation, if it is true. Humankind is a political animal. All of us have
culture; all of us are political, whether we realize it or not, because at
the very least all of us live in one or more political system(s).

>8) A tendency to specialize and proliferate beyond the boundaries of
> functional sanity

This I see as a reemphasis of 4 and 5... if you are making a separate
point, I'm not sure what it is...

>9) A belief that our discipline discusses something that is real

Hey, here I must ask you; define 'real' and then tell me why it is that you
think 'humanity' or 'culture' or 'society' or whatever it is that you think
anthropology studies is not 'real.'

>10) Boredom
>11) Fear
>13) Apathy

These, I think, are statements of affect, yes; if they are true, it is not
something unique to academians, but probably true for the general human
condition to which Eva Armstrong was pointing. I agree with you, Jobrien,
people are becoming simultaneously more bored, apathetic, and fearful, at
least within the domain of "Western civilization" if nowhere else, and the
question is... WHY? (And shouldn't anthropologists be looking into it?)

>12) (an extension of (2) . . . acquiesence to illiteracy among ourselves)

I will not quibble here. However, I think that many of your colleagues use
"literacy" (i.e. the ability to quote long passages from obscure texts) to
disguise "illiteracy" (i.e. the lack of common sense and the refusal to
read non-obscure texts to get an idea of what the 'folk' are reading these

>John O'Brien

To your list, Jobrien, I will add:

13) Sanctimoniousness: this sense that what certain people are doing in
anthropology is more important than what other people are doing, and that
people who are not doing those things somehow care less about the human
race than the people who are...

14) Mechanization: rather than the social sciences striving to enrich human
life I find them frequently doing whatever they can to dehumanize it and
describe it in mechanistic, deterministic terms, as if the research object
of anthropology was no different from rocks, plants, or planaria... or

15) Closed-mindedness: An absolute refusal to see beyond our own noses. A
refusal to consider unexpected possibilities, or to consider that there are
more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in our Western science,
or to consider that there may be things about human beings (and not just
human cultures) which we don't know about yet.

--- There. You have my two cents.


Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
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