The first series of debates fell short of the objective due to the fact that I didn’t clearly define procedures on how we should go about conducting it.  I would like, therefore, to make another attempt at setting up this series.  The process for selecting debaters is rather cumbersome, so I will ask for volunteers that are willing to take up or oppose a given issue.  I would like to adopt the following:

 

Debating Procedures:

 

1. Debate starts with the reading of the operative question and the selection of participants;

2. This will be followed by a brief period for points of clarification;

3. Debate is set to a minimum of 2 rounds but can be extended upward to four if requested by either participant;

4. Although there is no specific length to statements or rebuttal, we ask that debate be as concise and to the point as possible;

5. Following completion of the rounds, the operative question will be opened to discussion from the membership;

6. Participants may be asked if they are open to points of information following their respective rounds; and

7. Points of inquiry from the membership (to the participant) can only be made following the complete series of rounds.

8. After a period of one week, we will move to the next operative question.

 

We ask that all participants refrain from any sort of deliberately obstructive comments.  Also, I would like to thank all the participants and those who thought this might be a worthwhile exercise.

 

Operative Question:

 

A challenge that commonly appears in Western anthropological critique is the dichotomy that exists between the celebrated place of academic theory and the practical involvements and experience derived from fieldwork. QUES: Is this a major source of the problems and confusions in contemporary anthropology?

 

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Thanks, Neil. This looks promising. There are two pairs here: theory and practice, the academy and fieldwork. One issue is whether these two pairs are congruent as you suggest or merely overlap. I guess the term "dichotomy" needs clarification. Does this mean that they are split from each other or just opposed? Does it apply equally to each pair? If someone answers the question yes, does that leave open whether it is a good or a bad thing? If no, does it leave open an argument that this opposition is not a problem or that anthropology's problems lie elsewhere? Or perhaps one could argue that the opposition is or should be breaking down. The more content you put in the question, the less likely it is that participants will be able to debate clear alternatives. I don't mean to carp. We are all learning how to make this interesting format operative.
Thanks, Neil. This looks promising. I'll second that. I would be happy to participate in this discussion. It would, however, be more interesting as well as more useful for OAC if a wider pool of participants could be engaged. Since the regulars doing their regular thing is not a way to bring in more people, I will happily refrain from leaping in.Would it be possible, I wonder, to extend personal invitations to people who have made strong contributions to existing groups? I think, for example, of Piers Locke. Others may have their own nominations.

Come to think of it, just brainstorming now, it might be an interesting idea to announce a question and then solicit nominations for speakers pro and con, the one firm rule being that no one gets to nominate him or herself.

Finally, because I can't resist, I report a Freudian slip. When I read

the dichotomy that exists between the celebrated place of academic theory and the practical involvements and experience derived from fieldwork.

my brain substituted "pace" for "place," transforming the issue into

the dichotomy that exists between the celebrated pace of academic theory and the practical involvements and experience derived from fieldwork.

I immediately think of Keynes' famous remark that all sorts of hard-headed businessmen make decisions based on the ideas of dead economists.
May I assume that by "academic" you mean those who teach anthropology?

It may be helpful to cite evidence of a disconnect between what is taught in the university classroom and what is discovered in fieldwork? Or between the professor and the writer of original ethnographs?

Is there a time lapse between the two, as suggested by John's Freudian slip?
I fear that we are falling into a muddle. On the one hand we have a meta-discussion about how fruitful debates might be organized. On the other, mea culpa, we have familiar voices chiming in with opinions on the substantive question suggested as a first topic.

Neil, this is your party. Can you offer some guidance here?
If you read the rubric for this thread, the first two points are that, after a time for us to read the question, "participants" will be selected, presumably someone to propose and another to oppose the motion, each with or without a second. Then these people and only them will have a time for "clarification". Then the debate proper begins before being open to general discussion. Neil does not say how he intends to select the participants. Perhaps he would like us to do that among ourselves.

We have gone straight into the clarification phase, but then the question was rather muddled. I suggest the following:

The practice of dividing themselves between the academy and the field is still a major source of contemporary anthropologists' problems. Discuss for and against.
Good morning, I will try to address all the questions in this post.

I agree the term “dichotomy” is somewhat unclear. I was interested in presenting the opposition that exists between the two fields.

“If someone answers the question yes, does that leave open whether it is a good or a bad thing? If no, does it leave open an argument that this opposition is not a problem or that anthropology's problems lie elsewhere? Or perhaps one could argue that the opposition is or should be breaking down.”

I feel that all of this should be open to debate.

“Would it be possible, I wonder, to extend personal invitations to people who have made strong contributions to existing groups?”

I think that this is a particularly good idea but I am not certain how to go about doing this.

“…it might be an interesting idea to announce a question and then solicit nominations for speakers pro and con, the one firm rule being that no one gets to nominate him or herself.”

Yes John, I think this is a good idea as well. I can send messages asking members to participate…no problem.

“I don't think we must name this case a dichotomy. Opposition yes, but dichotomy is too much.”

Nikos, in hindsight, I agree the language is a bit strong. As I mentioned, I was more interested in creating opposition.

“The practice of dividing themselves between the academy and the field is still a major source of contemporary anthropologists' problems. Discuss for and against.”

It is my belief that in the course of these debates initial issues can and should be reframed especially for the purpose of revealing misunderstandings so that they, in turn, can be addressed and corrected. Keith’s reframing of the operative question is better.

If the following is acceptable, then, I will proceed to invite members to take up pro and con positions for the debate.

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions.

tchau…


Keith Hart said:
If you read the rubric for this thread, the first two points are that, after a time for us to read the question, "participants" will be selected, presumably someone to propose and another to oppose the motion, each with or without a second. Then these people and only them will have a time for "clarification". Then the debate proper begins before being open to general discussion. Neil does not say how he intends to select the participants. Perhaps he would like us to do that among ourselves.

We have gone straight into the clarification phase, but then the question was rather muddled. I suggest the following:

The practice of dividing themselves between the academy and the field is still a major source of contemporary anthropologists' problems. Discuss for and against.
The practice of dividing themselves between the academy and the field is still a major source of contemporary anthropologists' problems. Discuss for and against.

This is an interesting topic. Like the old saw that anthropologists leave the library but their research never does.
As Neil's uninvited assistant in setting this up, I rule myself out as a debater. But I can't wait for the general discussion.
Dear M Izabel,

I'm not sure about this. I recommend that you put your suggestion to the membership to get a general consensus. Thanks for your input.

tchau...

M Izabel said:
I suggest that those who are interested to participate will be encouraged to post brief theoretical frameworks they will use for the debate. For example, if the "operative question" is about reflecting culture, one can say he will use theoretical foundations found in transcultural anthropology, ethnophilosophy, and ethnopsychology to expound or express his stand. OAC members then can choose debaters according to the posters' theoretical frameworks. In this way, the debate will not end up a discussion about postmodernism if both debaters use postmodernism.
NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
''The practice of dividing themselves between the academy and the field is still a major source of contemporary anthropologists' problems. Discuss for and against.''

Maybe this division can be represented in the best of the ways by the famous Moebious band as it was also analysed in a previous discussion.

I like the Mobius strip analogy in so far as it captures the idea that what might seem to be an undivided life to the participant can appear divided to an observer. Which makes me wonder whether those anthropologists who think that their working lives are split in this way are labouring under an illusion...

Otherwise I thought that the demise of scientific ethnography as described by Keith (Hart and Anna Grimshaw) had kicked this false division into touch. At least it makes no sense to me, working in an international NGO and married to someone from one of the "fields" (well towns, actually) that I once studied in and now visit for multiple reasons. But then maybe I'm not an anthropologist now!
Before I start at all, I'll point to the following...article? (I make my students do an article review in an attempt to familiarize them with how arguments and information are structured in articles and the importance of citing their sources. One of my students found the article in the link.)



In any event, my very first lesson in fieldwork (and perhaps I've had too few to date) came to me before I really had the maturity to fully grasp it. There was a professor in my undergraduate program, who I never had the pleasure to meet because his canoe tipped over in the Bearing Straights while he was doing genealogical work among the families of the indigenous peoples on the Russian and American sides of the region.

Maybe pointing to untimely death is a little overblown, but it does sort of remind me of Renato Rosaldo writing about his first fieldwork experience in the Phillipenes, and how he was given an antique revolver for protection. Then, there was Anna Tsing's experience being picked up and fondled by a truck full of men along a back road in Indonesia. As she writes it, the experience scared her stiff.

What I have had is plenty of opportunity for people with much less than a PhD to insist that I don't know shit just because I have a degree. They really do make a point to make me understand that they are unimpressed.

A professor once posed a question to a class that I attended, doing so by way of personal experience in the field. He was a little maddening because he mostly did not convey directly his points. However, this anecdote sticks out: he took his interpreter to talk to this one man repeatedly; but the man was unimpressed, and refused to talk to him. He finally got the man to open up, but it took commenting on his sick cow to get him to speak. The take-away lesson was that the man didn't care about his research, but he sure did care about that cow!

I once had a pastor's wife corner me to ask me what it was like to be drunk. She said that she had never been drunk off of alchohol before, but that she wanted to know if "being drunk off of the Spirit" (a la the Trinity) was a similar experience. Given more interactions with this woman, I later came to the conclusion that she was making what I can only describe as a round-about holier than thou jink.

In terms of teaching theory, we have to start with gross simplifications. We may never get students started down the road of understanding anthropology otherwise. Theory seems to be an easier deal than the ethnography part. It can be flattened out. Generalizations can be made, interesting connections spun out. Yet, fieldwork seems to be less pliant, messier, simply because we have to ask people to open up to us, as perfect strangers, about their personal lives and beliefs...all so we can publish their private thoughts somewhere for others to read and scrutinize. Where do I sign up?
Joel M. Wright said:
Where do I sign up?

You just did, Joel. I think Neil intends this to be a process of self-selection. I take it you support the motion, but I could be wrong. Anyone want to oppose it?

The practice of dividing themselves between the academy and the field is still a major source of contemporary anthropologists' problems. Discuss for and against.

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