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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cultural Anthropology as Science

How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist:

Postmodern theory precipitated a crisis. Under the influence of Derrida and Foucault, cultural anthropologists turned their gaze on their own “texts” and were alarmed by what they saw. Ethnographies were not dispassionate records of cultural facts but rather unstable “fictions,” shot through with ideology and observer bias.

This doesn't help produce trustworthy results in any field of research:

A new generation of anthropologists came to see activism on their subjects’ behalf as a principal part of the job. Chagnon did not...

As Alcida Ramos, a Yanomami expert at the University of Brasilia, later explained to Science: “To do anthropology in Brazil is in itself a political act. We don’t separate our interests as anthropologists from our responsibility as citizens.”

This open-microphone American Anthropological Association (A.A.A) session sounds like an event Zombie would cover, with wingnuts coming out of the woodwork:

A colleague from Uganda praised Tierney’s book and suggested that Westerners manufactured the Ebola virus and disseminated it in his country, just as Chagnon and Neel had started the measles epidemic. Members of the audience applauded both speakers. ... For Gregor, who recently retired as an anthropologist at Vanderbilt, the session was “a watershed moment.” “These are people who are supposed to be scientists,” he told me. “This had the look of an emotionally charged witch hunt.”

Related: The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism


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