Dr. Tomas Router, Chairperson of World Council of Anthropological
Associations (WCAA), send a letter to the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, about the new classification of anthropology as a sub-field of sociology.
Check the link or download the attach file

http://revista-redes.rediris.es/recerca/declaracion.pdf

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I would like to know what you think of this classification, Josue. For me the letter from the WCAA President is deficient in several respects. How can anthropology be a social science if it studies humanity from cultural, social and biological perspectives? He says nothing of what social science and sociology are. Saying that anthropology has a special role to play in development studies opens up the question of anthropology and development which is quite contentious. I have a lot more to say about this, but I would be interested in what others think.
The question of whether or not anthropology is just a kind of sociology might be thought to be one of those laughable and trivial arguments over technicalities, such as whether a McVities Jaffa Cake is to be classed as a biscuit or a cake. But the OECD's decision to classify anthropology as a sub-field of sociology is so irritating precisely because it is so ignorant. In fact - if you'll pardon the expression - it really takes the biscuit.

It's funny that things could so easily have been decided otherwise. Marcel Mauss, for example, regarded that the reverse was the case, asserting (in 1924) that the 'place of sociology' was 'in anthropology'.

But this issue of sorting out which way the chain of command should go is, I think, something of a Jaffa Cake question, because its resolution is so arbitrary. More important, in my view, would be to recognise that anthropology and sociology are simply not the same kinds of things at all. To assume that the former is a subset of the latter is not to know much about anthropology's history, models or methods. Such ignorance is, perhaps, understandable when it comes from some functionary in the OECD; less understandable when someone like Terry Eagleton (who really should know better) claims that the elaboration of the culture concept is entirely down to the efforts of Cultural Studies. (Eagleton makes this silly claim in After Theory, in a chapter that happens to be called 'The Politics of Amnesia', himself seeming to forget that Cultural Studies so often survives by poaching from anthropological territory.)

I take the view that the very real difference between anthropology and sociology lies precisely in the anthropological concept of difference itself. Put all too crudely, sociology has never been much concerned with difference; anthropology, by contrast, has been intensely interested in little else. Or, to put it another way, it's what the two disciplines do with difference that is - well, not the same. As Levi-Strauss - who knew a thing or two about spotting oppositions - explained:

'While sociology seeks to advance the social science of the observer, anthropology seeks to advance that of what is observed..by endeavouring to reproduce, in its description of strange and remote societies, the standpoint of the natives themselves'. (Structural Anthropology, p.363).

In an update of this formulation, Viveiros de Castro suggests that sociology has the function of reducing and re-contextualising the concepts and practices of 'all the collectives of the world to the "thought collective" of the analyst' (Metaphysiques Cannibales, p.6). That is to say, in the hands of sociology, difference is de-fanged and domesticated.

Now, I can see that not everyone will agree with the image of anthropology that I'm presenting here. Actually, I happen to disagree with the naturalistic thesis that M Izabel appears to espouse in this discussion. But the very fact that we can have such disagreements is surely testimony to the openness of anthropology as a discipline. Keith Hart himself (in a former GDAT discussion) is nicely incisive on this very point: anthropology 'addresses human nature plus culture plus society' (Key Debates in Anthropology, p.42).

So, although we may not be able to agree on what anthropology exactly is, I know what it isn't, and it isn't sociology.

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