Re: Pragmatic and theoretical...

Stephanie Wilson (swilson@BIGCAT.MISSOURI.EDU)
Fri, 5 Nov 1993 09:39:03 -0600

On Fri, 29 Oct 1993, David Heller wrote:

> On Fri, 29 Oct 1993, Stephanie Wilson wrote:
> > As a potential applied anthropologist, I do have to say that I do lean
> > towards pragmatic approaches and uses of anthropology. I not only shy
> > away from theory, but I actively avoid it; and, I don't feel particularly
> > impoverished by what I consider a rational decision.
> >
> > Most theory I have encountered have come across as so much drivel: so many
> > ill-defined terms and ambiguous words that show no relation to reality.
> > No theory I have found, from social evolution to marxist anthropology to
> > chaos theory, helps me to better understand another culture. The only
> > potential theory I do re-read occasionally is Bateson's Steps to an
> > Ecology of Mind, which talks more about the development of anthropology as
> > a science than it does any particular theory OF anthropology. Maybe if we
> > concentrated on the development of principles of anthropology, instead of
> > leaping on the latest bandwagon of theory-going-nowhere, we might actually
> > reach new understandings of how people co-exist and interact.
> >
> > Stephanie Wilson
> How can there not be theory in anthropology? Even if we don't prescribe to
> a particular school, we still have our own ideas on how to understand
> culture. And we take those into the field. The fact that there is applied
> anthropolgy is a theoretical decision.
> I would also wonder How do you understand culture if not by any formal
> theory, or w/ theory at all?
> dave

Maybe I didn't make myself very clear (and maybe Anthropologists also are
a bit unclear)...What I actually shy away from are paradigms (those every
elusive, abstract, confusing and in many cases uncomprehensible biases
that scientists base their life's work on proving or disproving that have
no basis in reality). Bateson calls these "imperfectly defined explanatory
notions" or "heuristic concepts": notions that are "so loosely defined and
so mutually irrelevant that they mix together to make a sort of conceptual
fog which does much to delay the progress of science (Steps to an Ecology
of Mind)." He uses examples like: "ego", "intelligence", and "mind". I
think he would include things such as "post-modern theory"
in this category (How can anything be POST modern anyway? It is either
past, present or future....or history). That's one of the reasons why I
like Bateson: he clears away the B.S. so that more definitive questions
can be formulated. He wanted to develop more Fundamental concepts such as
existed in the natural sciences: Laws of Gravity, Theories of Evolution, etc.

Discussions on the NET lately have focussed so much on definitions of
"development" or "Third World". Nothing definitive is every created in
this way. These definition have always and probably will always change
with the latest politically-correct wind. Talking about them may give
someone a new perspective from which to look at a problem or situation,
but it does not help to define a new question. The question still is how
to improve people's quality of life (health, education, etc.) without
destroying their culture.