Re: Is anthropology science?

Richard Spear (rspear@PRIMENET.COM)
Wed, 6 Sep 1995 09:25:09 -0700

On Wed, 6 Sep 1995, Jo Helle-Valle wrote:
[some stuff deleted]

> 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.

Jo is raising the issue of social relationships of power here, I believe
... something I tried to do a bit earlier. Our perceptions of reality
(and anthropology) are shaped and conditioned by these relationships. The
"real" world exists "somewhere out there" and all of us can only
approximate this reality while "looking through a glass darkly", the
actual image distorted by these relationships.

Science can be more or less certain of some things, somewhat certain of
other things and not certain at all of a whole set of things depending
upon how "objectively" one examines the data ... the degree of
objectivity being defined by the social relationships involved. Science
in America has been receiving large grants through the educational system
... when the subject matter is of interest to and meets the criteria of
the elites (read ruling class). Physics, engineering, computer sciences
all receive large grants. Work in the social sciences doesn't get much ...
except where there is a payoff (statistics, modeling - other pursuits
that may yield information on markets and social control). This is about
to change, perhaps dramatically, as a more "conservative" government
allows these grants to be satisfied in an open market ... meaning that
the grant will become even *more* focussed upon profit and control.