Danny Yee >> People >> Mike Salovesh
Date:         Mon, 21 Feb 2000 03:27:07 -0600
From:         Mike Salovesh <t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU>
Subject:      Connections . . .

Ken Jacobs said

> Subject: Re: Professionals, Pigs, Students and Speeches > > Not that Ron needs it, but a Character Reference seems called for. Since > when have anthros become so stuffy about who can or cannot pronounce on > matters anthropological? If I recall correctly, Franz Boas studied > physics and geography for his BA and PhD at Heidelberg and Kiel, > respectively. If you turn to the bioanthro side, E. A. Hooton, from whom > some 75% of employed US bioanthros are descended (by at most 4 academic > generations) was trained in "Classics." I find it more than ironic that > anthropologists, who long have prided themselves on doing some of what > those in other disciplines do, only doing it a bit better, should become > snobbish. Of "classics," geography, geology, linguistics and such was > anthropology born, and it would do well to remember that, lest > anthropology lose its edge. > > -Ken Jacobs UdeMontreal

To which I'd like to add the collective voice of my mentors in the 1950s. In general, the old U of Chicago undergraduate college didn't offer a major in anthropology. (I cobbled one together anyhow, by taking the first year program of graduate courses in anthro while technically classified as an undergrad.) In fact, the anthropology department of those years was reluctant to admit someone with any kind of undergrad major in anthro to graduate work in the same field.

Their reasoning often came up for public discussion within the department, and I think it became an ingrained part of the intellectual baggage of Chicago grads in that epoch. The justification went something like the next two paragraphs, which amount to a composite of the views expressed by the Chicago anthro faculty:

Anthropology's uniqueness is found in the willingness to see the world from a multiplicity of viewpoints. Anyone who wants a good, well-rounded undergradate education could hardly do better than to study anthropology. Someone who wants to make real contributions to anthropology, however, can't afford the luxury of concentrating on anthropology as an undergraduate.

Serious, professional-level anthropology would be cramped and constipated if it were left in the hands of people who have never put their focus on some other way of understanding the world. By its very nature, anthropology is about connections reaching beyond the bounds of anthropology itself. Without those connections, without firm foundations elsewhere, we'd be in the position of trying to build bridges without having any notion of where we're trying to go on the other side.

It was extremely rare for students starting graduate study in anthropology at Chicago to have taken more than one or two undergraduate anthro courses. That actually was a conscious part of admissions policy for most of the 1950s. (It didn't pose any particular problems for me: I never took even one undergaduate course in anthropology.)

When I started to write this message, I almost said what's in those two indented paragraphs as if their ideas were original with me. That's just an indication of how thoroughly we were indoctrinated. I accept and support these ideas, but it would be dishonest to claim that I came up with them out of my own pointed head.

Still, it's only fair to point out that this viewpoint is not operational today, at least not anywhere I know of. I don't think that represents any change in the nature of anthropology itself. Instead, I think that the internal change within anthropology departments reflects changes in the structure of higher education and in the nature of career tracks. In short, I think we were pushed by external forces into becoming more and more self-referential as a profession.

I, for one, regret what we have lost. Anthropology's interconnections with other ways of thinking used to come from anthropology's deliberate recruitment of "outsiders". We still try to think across disciplinary boundaries, but as a profession we have fewer and fewer resident outsiders.

I treasure the participation of non-anthropologists on this list. If you weren't here, the rest of us would vanish up our own self-contemplating navels.

-- mike salovesh <salovesh@niu.edu> PEACE !!!