Anthro & Politics again

Alx V. Dark (avd5863@IS.NYU.EDU)
Mon, 11 Sep 1995 22:24:28 -0400

Sorry to be tiring, but here I go again... as for this discussion of
"science" and anthropology... c'mon. This isn't rocket science folks,
people (researchers included) don't fit in such simplistic models of
human behavior. Anthropologists are very good at describing the world,
much less capable at predicting it. Thank goodness!

On further reflection, I'll throw in another thought. I actually disagree
with William Price on a deeper level (and here I don't want to attach his
statements to any of the others I'll be mentioning below; he's just got me
thinking on this) that anthropology has been swamped with politics
recently, or that this mailing list has been similarly swamped.
Excepting Robert Johnson but that's pretty much the case on him,
everyone excepts Robert Johnson.

Of actual political discussion, I think that's a generally right-of-center
argument, that somehow academia has gotten political, politically
correct, relativistic, the poor right-wingers can't speak their piece
because of multiculturalism, yadda yadda yadda (there's been other
ones). If anthropologists are studying politics, then they are studying
politics. There's been a lot of political studies in anthropology recently.
I study politics and I think its important and I have my opinions.
Public policy types, sociology types, international relations types, social
work types, political science types, all our social science comrades would
probably not find either politics or a political opinion unusual, but
rather pretty inevitable. They then set out to improve that politics
through their own recommendations, often enough. Anthropology does
not seem to me like a hot bed of politics or political advocacy compared
to many other social science disciplines.

There's not a lot of talk on this list or elsewhere about lots of actual
political issues in anthropology. We didn't discuss it a lot when Congress
was contemplating removing the social sciences from NSF; we don't
discuss repatriation or burial issues very much; we don't discuss lots of
academic politics like how people get funded, how they get jobs; we don't
discuss political issues totally removed from anthropology (thank the
gods); we don't discuss most or all of the political issues that the people
we study discuss (I work on land rights, but then, I'm pretty much silent
on lots of things that are said by the people I'm learning from about
alcohol being imposed by whites, for example -- doesn't interest, don't
talk about it, big subject of concern for them). Etc.

During a year of statistics that I took in the sociology department here
at NYU, I was refreshed to find that many of them DO talk about social
and political problems and they go right out and study them to make the
world better, damn it. I don't really care whether you follow Martin
Luther King, Gramsci or Milton Friedman, what's almost more pathetic
is professing no position, particularly when it impacts your research.
Or not being allowed to have one, like the fifties. In anthropology,
politically motivated research is actually a kind of oddity -- we go and
name it something special, like practicing anthropology, action
anthropology, etc. I guess we don't see lots of practical action!

These ARE generalizations -- I know lots of you out there are very
politically motivated, in your work or out of it, and many more of you
work on social problems, in the government, ngo or private sector, etc.
It's more a matter of the general rhetoric we've been hearing these
days. That rhetoric, which is very political, seems totally unfounded to

Alx V. Dark <>

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