Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences...

Last night I was at a pub with some people (all anthropologists).

We were having a good time there, and one of us suddenly raised a question; the famous quote "Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities." is known as Kroeber's, but the source is virtually unknown.

Well... he teaches an introductory anthropology course this term, and tried to check the citation for next lecture. He could find out the phrase in Eric Wolf's Anthropology, but there, Wolf was also quoting the phrase without further information. So he searched through the internet for three hours and asked some people around him who he thought may know, but all eventually failed.

There were seven of us but no one has seen the phrase in Kroeber's works, so, we did all sorts of guesswork about the "truth" of this quote (for fun, of course).

Is there someone who knows where this quote comes from? Or is there a hidden mystery behind this, known to some but not to the others? I may win something (a cup of coffee maybe) if I can find out the "truth" first.

Many thanks in advance!! : )

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It is true that I have heard that one very frequently recently; but don't know the answer. I had another similar case not long ago. I wanted to cite Malinowski's 'long conversation' with his informants. There is a reference to the phrase in a very well-known essay of Maurice Bloch's and I assumed that the original must be in Coral Gardens and their Magic, but no - a dead end. Curiously, google search makes it that much more strange that we can't pin these catch phrases down.
I have searched for this quote before. The problem is the the bulk of Kroeber's papers are not online, although a guide is available. It was certainly used in Wolf's Anthropology without attribution. But he could have got it or something like it from Edward Sapir or, more likely, Julian Steward. The catchphrase was in heavy circulation during the postwar decades. There is another aspect. Why be bothered with establishing private property in the orginal coinage? Isn't it enough to identify a cultural trend that many have used and added to? Check out Google Books and you may find something new as well as old, even if it is impossible to nail down the first quote. I know, it's a parlor game, but...
Sorry, Heesun, I will deviate from the content, which is about the provenance of a famous quote.  Is anthropology really the most humanistic of the sciences?  How do we define humanism?  If the focus of our definition is on a discipline being centered on human, I don't think anthropology can match human biology such as genetics or neurology or physiology that studies even the minute details of what makes a human being human.  Studying why a certain population of humans drinks coffee is not as deep and meaningful as why a certain population of humans develops diabetes.  If we use human problems and concerns as our defining points, I don't think anthropology can match sociology, psychology, or social work that is active in understanding and solving problems and phenomena plaguing human societies.  I also don't think studying the virtual system of social networks like Facebook and Twitter is comparable to studying the social ecology of gangs and criminals.  Is anthropology the most scientific of the humanities?  Again, the statement is problematic.  We need to agree first on what makes an academic practice scientific.  Is anthropology evidence-based?  I think it is to some degree, but it is not as strict as the historiographical methods of history that involve a thorough investigation of proofs and texts.  Is it empirical?  In its current form,  anthropology's dominant methods and methodologies cannot surpass the computational fastidiousness of mathematical philosophy and logic and the statistical practices in media and communication studies.  If we stick to the idea that anthropology is superior when it comes to humanism in sciences and empiricism in humanities, we will lose sight on areas that need to be reformed or developed in a discipline plagued with symbolic methodologies and interpretive methods.

Well, now I look on Google I find Eric Wolf saying that he wrote that phrase in his book Anthropology in 1964, p. 88. Sadly, there doesnt seem to be a searchable copy.


Actually, Nikos, I find your version much more elegant.

that is strange - I wrote a message to the effect that Wolf cites himself as saying this in his 1964 book, Anthropology on page 88. I haven't got a copy of the original to hand though - and, anyway, I think Nikos version is more elegant. However, message disappeared.

 

Dead ends indeed! Difficult to say whether Eric Wolf's quote was originally Kroeber's, since I can't find it either. It puts me in mind of the maxim attributed to Evans-Pritchard that 'there is only one method in social anthropology - the comparative method - and that is impossible'. Rodney Needham refers to it in his 'Polythetic Classification' essay, and adds that he heard E-P say it, but he couldn't find it in his writings.     

As for Maurice Bloch's mention (in 'The Past and the Present in the Present') of the 'long conversation' with regard to Malinowski, I wonder whether this isn't so much a quote as Bloch's interpretation of Malinowski's method.

Rather along the lines of Heesun's deal (there's a cup of coffee in it for anyone who can help!), my own unfindable quote is something I once read about Malinowski's output (Sex and Repression and Coral Gardens, I think) which said something like anthropology's first two professional interests were 'sex and metaphysics'. Pithy and a bit flippant - I was convinced it was Edmund Leach, but no luck. This has been annoying me for a long time! 

I can't resist adding one more of these; I am reminded of it every time there is an election. Years ago, a lecturer in a Social and Political Science department referred to Karl Marx's maxim that, since it does not change the capitalist system as such, voting is simply the act of people who 'wear their lion shirt for a day'. I  have searched for the source of this evocative quote for many years and have never found it - I can't even remember the name of the lecturer.

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