Re: Is anthropology science?

Jo Helle-Valle (jo.helle-valle@SUM.UIO.NO)
Wed, 6 Sep 1995 10:10:23 +0200

A publication worth reading in this connection is the transcripts of a
debate held in Manchester, England titled 'Social Anthropology is a
Generalizing Science or it is Nothing'. It is edited by Tim Ingold and
published by 'Goup for Debates in Anthropological Theory, Dep. of Soc.
Anthr., Univ. of Manchester'. I was not there and only have a photocopy of
the thing, so I don't know the date.
The funny/absurd(?) thing was that the debate was ended with a vote
between those present where the motion was defeated, with 26 casts for, 37
against, and 8 abstentions.
Notwithstanding the views expressed in this publication, I
personally think the issue is as simple as this; It depends on how you
define 'science'! Since there is not one, agreed on definition of the term,
you can't expect to find an answer without defining the term explicitly.
Such a definition is on one level a matter of personal opinion, but in a
social setting it is of course a question of having the power to define
words (cf. L. Carroll's Through the Looking Glass: "'The question is', said
Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things'.'The
question is' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all'.") And
this power is in our type of sociality linked to institutions and access to
media. Thus, in one way anthropology is science as long as it belongs to
universities and/or is acknowledged by the public to be a science.
What this point should tell us is, I believe, that we should adapt a
more Wittgensteinian perspective on language & reality.On the one hand such
a discussion cannot be isolated from a discussion on socio-political
factors. On the other hand, the terms 'science'/'not-science' are not as
interesting as what such discussions might reveal about our 'scientific'
Jo Helle-Valle