Re: Anthropology and science

Michael Thomas Carson (mcarson@HAWAII.EDU)
Tue, 5 Sep 1995 18:28:40 -1000

Wow. Nick Coudran's points were great regarding anthropology as a
science. I won't reproduce his entire message here, but I will pick up
where he left off. He posed the question of what anthropologists could
do to predict human behavior. The ability to predict is very likely
linked to the ability to be a science. This is an excellent point,
expanding upon the observation that research results must be repeatable
in order to be verified.

Anyway, the question remains regarding what we can do to predict human
behavior. One concern is how general a prediction can be.
Anthropologists are pretty good at making generalizations, but these
generalizing statements are always qualified with reference to a
particular group of people. I might add that a particular time frame is
also a parameter of the generalization. In this sense, predictions of
human behavior can be particularistic. They do not necessarily apply to
all of humanity in all places and in all times. There are, though,
certain aspects of human behavior which are not bounded by spatial and
temporal limits. These are the processes which anthropologists tend to
study in developing theoretical models. What are some examples? Well,
this is debatable. One person's idea of a universal human behavior is
contested by another anthropologist's case study. I'd like to think,
though, that anthropologists are working towards mutually-intelligible
case study data sets so that we can benefit from each other's particular
examples. In this way, maybe we can identify with some degree of
certainty the behaviors and processes which we think are universally

I guess I haven't really answered any questions. I've just refined the
question itself. I'd like to hear more from other people on this
subject. Thanks.

- Mike Carson