A guy (maybe a geneticist/biologist) from this site,  http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2013/02/against-the-cultural..., wrote the harshest critique against Cultural Anthropology I have ever read.  Where are the cultural anthropologists?  

"Many cultural anthropologists need to move to staff positions at organizations like Survival International. They don’t belong in the academy. Those who remain should be scattered across other disciplines, such as economics, psychology, sociology, etc.  The reason I post about cultural anthropology now and then isn’t that I want to argue or discuss with cultural anthropologists. Rather, I want to aid in spreading the message the discipline should be extirpated from the academy, just as Creationists have been extirpated from biology. They don’t belong at universities. Cultural anthropologists don’t know much about the world in any systematic sense, but they know what they believe about how the world should be organized. Let them do their organizing in their proper environment. Like exotic species without natural predators these political operators only cause mischief in academic halls."

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All arguments make assumptions? Yes.

All models involve simplifications? Yes.

Do assumptions + simplifications equal science? No. If they did, theology would be a science. It isn't.

The scientific question always has to do with the relationship of assumptions and simplifications to observed, empirical facts. That relationship is not, however, a constant. 

Aristotle was aware of this when he wrote, in Nichomachean Ethics, I-3,

Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.

Consider where anthropology stands in the range of possibilities for research. Both ethnography and archeology are exploratory research. In the case of ethnography, ethical considerations rule out the use of all but the most innocuous experiments. Archeologists are a bit better off since the people they study are dead. In both cases, however, the typical output of research is a rough map, at best a preliminary sketch, based on fragmentary evidence that may or may not be representative of some larger world [by which I mean only a larger block of space and time than that in which the research in question is conducted]. One can imagine a best of all possible worlds in which ethnographic exploration leads to the formulation of precise hypotheses that can then be tested by substituting statistical for experimental methods. The practical fact of the matter is that anthropologists rarely have the inclination, training or necessary resources to conduct that sort of research. Their actual contribution to larger intellectual debates is not the formulation and testing of testable hypotheses, but rather in the realm of odd bits of information and insight that challenge those who do engage in that sort of research. 

Alternatively, when multiple anthropologists work in the same region, their individual efforts may be combined with those of historians and other scholars to develop richer and deeper accounts of the histories and cultures of the regions in question. Both China and Japan are excellent examples of this type of development.

What, then, of our friends, the economists? Like demographers, they have been fortunate in having access to large amounts of quantitative data. This data is, however, rarely collected by themselves. They depend on others, primarily governments, to collect it for them. And, as any number of critical studies can attest, the "facts" with which they deal can turn out to be slippery, indeed, since what governments count and report is, more often than not, affected by political or commercial considerations (the two are often the same). Thus the increasing disconnect between the economists' mathematical models and the world whose actual behavior (booms, busts, etc.) they so often fail to predict. 

Do any of these remarks deny the value of scientific methods where scientific methods can be properly applied? Not at all. But when push comes to shove, anthropology is more rhetorical than mathematical. To paraphrase Aristotle,

it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from an anthropologist scientific proofs.

John McCreery said:


it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from an anthropologist scientific proofs.

So  actual antrjopology  took the place of Rhetorics  of the classical era ?  Have to think about this.

Didn't mean to say that anthropology has replaced rhetoric. The thought is that, if you see academic disciplines as distributed along a continuum from more precise (mathematical science) to less precise (rhetorical narrative), what anthropologists actually do is closer to the latter than the former. I also observe that this rhetorical bent is a consequence of the sort of research that most of us do, exploratory with limited resources and constrained by ethical considerations, as opposed to hypothesis testing.


The curve looks right. Whether it should run from objective (verifiable) to subjective (emotional) could, however, be debated. Is classic ethnography (Malinowski, E-P, Gluckman,Turner, etc.) subjective or emotional? Are Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, or Lord Peter Wimsey emotionally involved in a romantic, subjective manner in the cases they solve? Are realistic fiction, Moby Dick for example, or history—Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, for instance— written from a subjective, emotional perspective? 

An argument can be made that revealing the author's emotional entanglements with the topic can increase objectivity—I think of Ruth Behar's Vulnerable Observer. 

That said, great rhetorical narratives can be written in a way that maintains sharp focus on observable facts.When Geertz writes about the Jew Abraham recovering his sheep and notes that his perspective, that of the Berber rustlers who are returning the sheep and that of the soldiers in the French Foreign Legion overseeing the return are different, the author is not emoting. 

This has got to be tongue in cheek, Huon. It is so Anglo of a certain period, like 1840 to 1980. In French or German it would be nonsense. Whoever said that knowledge of literature could not be systematic (science or Wissenschaft)?

Huon Wardle said:

Here, from the Motley Fool, is one of the best descriptions of why markets don't work the way we think they do that I have seen recently. [http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/04/26/why-you-have-no-cl...]

This is because modern economics was invented in England in the 17th century (in response to the removal of the king's head as authority for all public decisions) and hasn't moved on since. Neither has Anglo empiricism, despite Kant, Hegel and all the other Germans. This means it is ideology, not science. I have long been struck by the failure of social scientists (including anthropologists) to respond to quantum mechanics, but that is because social science too is ideology, not science. If we were the latter, we would have taken on board axioms like "you can't measure position and movement at the same time" and "when you measure anything, you change it". No wonder "the markets" are driven by irrational impulse masquerading as science. The science is indeed Newton's. Come to think about it, he had a nice line in mysticism too.

I wonder how many of our fans of simple, mechanical models know that Newton wrote more pages of astrology and alchemy than physics....

Which is not to put down Newton. He was a genuine genius, one of the greatest ever, but also a man of his times. He envisioned a clockwork universe. We now envision the universe as more like a nuclear reactor, a biochemical stew, or the endless permutations of information viruses.

conclusions  : 1/ Economy is nowhere in Huon's scale  not even after ...lyrical poetry and this is not accidental. If this scale is too much anglosaxonic that  means  that  Economy is PURE ideology and subjective day dreaming under the ciover of a supposed to be rationality, ever for the Anglosaxons 2/ About French culture theorists or German supporters of wissenschaft literature critics  is a science but this has nothing to do with the novelists or poets themselves who very rarely are critics themselves ( with the exceptions iof Virginia Woolf and E.M. Fortster and T.S. Elliot who held a double personality of literate creators and also critics )3/ About Newton , yes he was a scientist strictu sensu even if interested in alchemy , the same as Darwin was a genial scientist and evolutionist even if a ..good and believing christian.4/ Not  any science could  progress on this planet even if  100% rational if not based on some axioms as imagined by some genial scientists. In that case even Euclide with his outpassed geometrical  axioms was a scientist 

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