In the history of anthropology, comparative analysis has been the main analytic tool used to move beyond the particulars of ethnography. Various types of comparison has been used, from “controlled comparisons” of neighbouring communities, such as those of S. F. Nadel and F. Eggan, to far flung comparisons, such as those of A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, Margaret Mead, and C. Levi-Strauss, to the worldwide samples of G. Murdock and colleagues.

What has comparative analysis been used for? Our anthropological ancestors used comparative analysis to find patterns, more specifically associations–called by some “concomitant variations” or “co-variations"–between factor or elements or, to use the term they preferred, variables. It was their hope that knowing what went together and what did not, would aid us in explaining why things are present here but not there, or why certain patterns arise here and not there. They were trying to explain, and this meant identifying causes and effects.

An example of a concomitant variation, Radcliffe-Brown in “The Mother’s Brother in South Africa” showed a correlation in widespread cases between the indulgent relations between mother’s brother and sister’s son, on the one hand, and, on the other, the authoritarian relations between father’s sister and brother’s son which are characteristic of patrilineal descent systems.

An example of a causal explanation would be Robert Carneiro’s argument in “Slash-and-Burn cultivation Among the Kuikuru and Its Implications for Cultural Development in the Amazon Basin” that productive potential itself does not lead to greater social complexity and development, but rather necessity, as arising in physically bounded regions where population outstrips production, leads to more complex levels of organization and more intensive forms of production.

Other anthropologists have used comparative analysis somewhat differently. Claude Levi-Strauss, in The Savage Mind, compared totemic organization with Indian caste, in order to show that they can be seen as transformations of one another, or, as he (p. 127) famously put it, “castes naturalize a true culture falsely, totemic groups culturalize a false nature truly.”

Carol Ember, in “Myths About Hunter-Gatherers,” using a Murdock style statistical comparison, addresses such popular ideas (largely stemming from Richard Lee’s account of the !kung or Ju/hoansi) that among hunters-gatherers, organization is typically bilateral, women bring in most of the food, hunters-gatherers are peaceful, etc., by examining a world wide sample of hunters-gatherers. Here comparison is used in aid of accurate descriptive generalization, of discovering what is statistically normative among a particular universe.

It has been said that comparative analysis is what anthropologists can pursue in the absence of experimental laboratories. Or, to put it another way, the world and its workings are the laboratory of the anthropologist, and comparison is the experimental technique.

So much about the past. What now? What place does comparison have in contemporary and future anthropology? And how would you use comparative analysis to advance your own research and understanding?

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I entirely agree with John's suggestion. But perhaps wide ranging comparisons are not so rare in modern anthropology as we sometimes think. Radcliffe-Brown in "The Mother's Brother in South Africa" (1924) not only refers to peoples of South Africa, such as the BaThonga, the Nama Hottentots, and the Zulu, but finds similar patterns in Tonga and Fiji. In "Tappers and Trappers," (1956), Robert Murphy and Julian Steward compared northestern Algonkians, such as the Montagnais, with the Mundurucu of Brazil, tracing similar patterns of change in response to engagement with a market economy. In "the Holistic Person; Or, The Ideology of Egalitarianism," (2000), David Riches compares Inuit hunters with New Agers in England, and finds important parallels. My own effort along these lines is "The Iron Law of Politics," (2005), which draws on ethnographic cases from around the world to examine the relation between freedom and equality. These wide ranging studies have a well established place along side "controlled comparisons" of two similar societies such as those of Nadel and Eggan, and statistical analyses of all recorded cases of particular kinds of societies such as those by Murdock.
My impression is that there's a kind of backlash involved, in this period following the Crisis of Representation. I hesitate to call this a "generation gap," for several reasons, but there's a historical component to this. Today's anthropology students are being trained in a discipline which is supposed to have learnt from its past. Anything which resembles pre-Crisis work is taken to be disconnected with contemporary research. Sure, it's an overreaction. But it's also understood in a specific context.
For some of us, Writing Culture, The Predicament of Culture, and Anthropology as Cultural Critique had a deep impact simply because they were published "before our time." If something appears to describe "cultures" as bounded entities, we get the same kind of gut reaction as people who read the word "primitive" for the first time. If there's even a trace of evolutionary thinking, we "raise our fists in anger." What's funny is that many textbooks which are published these days still display signs of pseudo-evolutionism and even something resembling essentialist thinking. Or, even funnier, it's often the case that incoming students have an easier time grasping concepts related to postmodernism in diverse contexts than some of our senior colleagues. It'd be an oversimplification to say that today's students live in a postmodern world, but there certainly is a "cognitive dissonance" involved in the relationships between the anthropological canon and the way incoming students treat the discipline.
By the way, as Carol Ember was mentioned... I must admit that I found it difficult to use "Ember & Ember" (Cultural Anthropology, 12e) for "Intro. to Culture" with intellectually-engaged students. Not a failure on the Embers' part, but it's hard to reconcile their comparative approach with a more post-Crisis notion of "culture."
John,
As I was too busy critiquing the area-obsession generated by the current state of academic classification, I neglected to talk about the "interdisciplinary" aspects. Thanks for bringing it back. It even seems like disciplinary boundaries are less relevant now than they were in the past. Whether we connect through "Area Studies" (Asian Studies, African Studies, etc.) or through research interests (food, friendship, music, language...), our disciplinary background is more of a backdrop than the main factor of cohesion. Most of us end up working much more frequently with people in other disciplines (and/or outside the strict academic frame) than with fellow academic anthropologists. In this context, the comparisons we draw through "dialogue" also cross disciplinary boundaries, with some implications in terms of methodology. As we compare, say, one's ethnographic data with demographic and historical data, there are several things to be taken into consideration by virtue of using radically different approaches to data gatthering. This is where we need to assess how our "knowledges" can be integrated to form a more complete picture of the phenomenon at hand. We do this all the time and it isn't that difficult. But it does require some conceptual work.

As for our comparativist ancestors... I keep talking about a backlash because I perceive something of a counterproductive fear of the past. Early critiques and criticisms of "postmodernism" in diverse contexts had a lot to do with "throwing out the baby with the bath water." In terms of the History of Ideas, I personally tend to be closer to Foucault than to Kuhn. In this case, we may see how influential Frazer's work still is in some anthropological circles. My own reaction to the Azande notion of the "second spear" is fairly similar to John's retrospection on Frazer. Same thing could be said about all those Dead White Guys about whom we still have long debates: Freud, Durkheim, Nietszche, Piaget, Darwin, Plato, Morgan, Einstein, Marx, Malinowski, Saussure, Copernicus...
Yes, what you describe (in your comment before the last one) rings true. But it may be less a matter of "grasping concepts" than entering a mood. Postmodern attitudes are taken as self-evident, without need of justification, and often without awareness of the arguments. Of course this may be true of any intellectual phase and its neophytes.

As a senior, I find that my tastes have not only not "progressed" to the latest, but have retrogressed to earlier phases. In music my preference has moved from jazz and rock, to romantic, to classical, and I would not rule out baroque next. Also in anthropology: I find myself referring to the work of Ruth Benedict and Radcliffe-Brown much more frequently than I did earlier. So, guilty as charged.

Interesting what you say about Ember and Ember. I assign Carol's "Myths about Hunters and Gatherers" in my comparative anthropology seminar, but also refer to it in general discussions about hunter-gatherers. The "new" hunter-gatherer paradigm of the 1980s, largely thanks to Richard Lee's work on the !Kung (now Ju'/hoansi), was of peaceful, egalitarian societies in which women brought in most of the food. Almost a 1960s hippy commune, and ideal intellectual fodder for the women's (now feminist) movement! Carol said, okay, let's look at all the cases of hunter-gatherers that we have have on record, and see if the new paradigm matches the larger universe. Surprise! Most hunter-gatherers are patrilineal, not bilateral; fight quite a bit; men bring in most of the food; and so on. Actually, some of the later Kalahari evidence, e.g. by Nancy Howell, contradicted the idyllic image. But Carol's work is a downer, right? It throws cold water on our hopes and dreams. No wonder students don't like it.

Something else that may be relevant: The shift in anthropology--that I claim but has been doubted by others--away from explanation toward moralism (see "Why has anthropology shifted from discovery and explanation to moralism and advocacy?" in Theory in Anthropology). Nothing is more normal for human beings than value judgements, moralism, and blaming. How else would our "arbitrary" societies maintain order? Students find moralizing much more natural and easy than discovery and explanation. So they are right in tune with postmodern anthropology. No wonder they do not feel comfortable with earlier, "positivistic" anthropology. (WARNING: I have been rebuked for raising such tedious complaints. So try to avoid guilt by association.)
I'm not one to rebuke. Especially not in a "congenial" forum such as this one. Honestly, at the risk of being accused (again) of being too "warm and fuzzy" or of not being taken seriously, I must say that I find the tone and level of this conversation quite stimulating, thoughtful, and appropriate for the parts of academic work we tend to spend too little time on.

I always feel strange when I bring in the "generational" issue, but I do think it's relevant. And, like Brassens in his days, I position myself as an in-between. I'm a junior anthro who uses references from early scholars. On occasion, I even define myself as a neo-structuralist! So, my comment about the "baby thrown out with the bath water" is, in fact, a comment about academic amnesia and easy dismissal.

As for Carol Ember's work. I certainly don't dismiss it. In fact, your description of her work reminds me of a lot of things about the anthro's obsession with hunter-gatherers. It puts things in perspective. Much of our thinking about those groups is influenced as much by key figures in academic history as by the cultural phenomena themselves. But I would say that the Embers' perspective on the discipline, as made clear in their cultural anthro textbook, is almost incompatible with the kind of work I've been trying to do. So, it may be a failing on my part, but it's there.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Yes, what you describe (in your comment before the last one) rings true. But it may be less a matter of "grasping concepts" than entering a mood. Postmodern attitudes are taken as self-evident, without need of justification, and often without awareness of the arguments. Of course this may be true of any intellectual phase and its neophytes.

As a senior, I find that my tastes have not only not "progressed" to the latest, but have retrogressed to earlier phases. In music my preference has moved from jazz and rock, to romantic, to classical, and I would not rule out baroque next. Also in anthropology: I find myself referring to the work of Ruth Benedict and Radcliffe-Brown much more frequently than I did earlier. So, guilty as charged.

Interesting what you say about Ember and Ember. I assign Carol's "Myths about Hunters and Gatherers" in my comparative anthropology seminar, but also refer to it in general discussions about hunter-gatherers. The "new" hunter-gatherer paradigm of the 1980s, largely thanks to Richard Lee's work on the !Kung (now Ju'/hoansi), was of peaceful, egalitarian societies in which women brought in most of the food. Almost a 1960s hippy commune, and ideal intellectual fodder for the women's (now feminist) movement! Carol said, okay, let's look at all the cases of hunter-gatherers that we have have on record, and see if the new paradigm matches the larger universe. Surprise! Most hunter-gatherers are patrilineal, not bilateral; fight quite a bit; men bring in most of the food; and so on. Actually, some of the later Kalahari evidence, e.g. by Nancy Howell, contradicted the idyllic image. But Carol's work is a downer, right? It throws cold water on our hopes and dreams. No wonder students don't like it.

Something else that may be relevant: The shift in anthropology--that I claim but has been doubted by others--away from explanation toward moralism (see "Why has anthropology shifted from discovery and explanation to moralism and advocacy?" in Theory in Anthropology). Nothing is more normal for human beings than value judgements, moralism, and blaming. How else would our "arbitrary" societies maintain order? Students find moralizing much more natural and easy than discovery and explanation. So they are right in tune with postmodern anthropology. No wonder they do not feel comfortable with earlier, "positivistic" anthropology. (WARNING: I have been rebuked for raising such tedious complaints. So try to avoid guilt by association.)
Alexandre: "I would say that the Embers' perspective on the discipline, as made clear in their cultural anthro textbook, is almost incompatible with the kind of work I've been trying to do."

Please tell us more, Alexandre. What is it about the Embers' work that makes it "incompatible," and why? Would you say the same about other comparative research, such as "controlled comparison," or "wide-ranging" comparison"?

These questions are not meant to be a challenge to you. I do not see myself as an advocate for the Embers. I do feel that we should welcome many kinds of anthropology, and that anthropology should be a "broad church." So I really just want to understand better your confrontation with their work.
And I appreciate the question.
I'll post a short version now, because of specific time constraints, but we can revisit the issue later.
A broad issue is that they do, indeed, propose a view of "cultures" as bounded entities. Sometimes in so many words but frequently in more subtle ways. They also spend a lot of time talking about the wonders of quantitative analysis. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it was at times quite dismissive of both methods and epistemologies which seem quite common across ethnographic disciplines, including the bulk of North American cultural anthropology (i.e., outside of HRAF). They also offer a view of some sources which, to me, seemed to deemphasise critical thinking, putting faith in a source instead of looking at that source as context for the information it provides. Among textbooks I've used (and I'm looking forward to the time I won't have to use textbooks, but that's almost a different issue), it's also the one which puts the most emphasis on something I perceive as an implicit form of evolutionary thinking. Not pre-Boas evolutionary anthropology. But a very clean linear model going through modes of production.
"For the record," other textbooks I've used in the classroom include Haviland's Cultural Anthropology (in a Canadian edition), Kottak's Mirror for Humanity, and Schutz & Lavenda. Next time, I'll likely be using Omohundro's Thinking Like an Anthropologist. These are pretty much in ascending order of appropriateness for my goals. Maybe my goals are too specific. They include both discipline-specific goals (training people to understand and use anthropological concepts and approaches) and plainly pedagogical ones (training people for lifelong learning, critical thinking skills, etc.).
I also did a review of another textbook, for a publisher. Mine was quite negative a review, for a number of reasons.

This semester, I'm using Knuttila's Introducing Sociology: A Critical Approach. It fits my purposes though it may seem a bit theory-heavy for some people. In fact, some students seem to dislike parts of it. Still, I'm pleased with the results so far. I'm also using the Introduction to Sociology Wikibook as a more mainstream and easy-to-understand alternative.

I must sound very opinionated, at this point. But what I'm talking about has to do with appropriateness for specific purposes.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Alexandre: "I would say that the Embers' perspective on the discipline, as made clear in their cultural anthro textbook, is almost incompatible with the kind of work I've been trying to do."

Please tell us more, Alexandre. What is it about the Embers' work that makes it "incompatible," and why? Would you say the same about other comparative research, such as "controlled comparison," or "wide-ranging" comparison"?

These questions are not meant to be a challenge to you. I do not see myself as an advocate for the Embers. I do feel that we should welcome many kinds of anthropology, and that anthropology should be a "broad church." So I really just want to understand better your confrontation with their work.
This post by Paul Mason on Neuroanthropology reminds me of how diverse the backgrounds of anthropologists are and how different our views of what the field is about can be, given the diversity of training and life experience we embody. Mason is a guy who is involved with music, dance and martial arts, which should interest Alexandre. He is also doing explicitly comparative research, which should interest Phil. His background in neuroscience and view of anthropology as a place to study the interactions of world, culture and brain lead him to say positive things about "American four-field" anthropology that many here may find surprising. I find what he's up to intriguing and his presentation of self and scholarship attractive. I wonder how others will react.
Thanks for that link. Heading there right away.
Quick note: I'm also a fan of the four-field model, especially if it's contextualized. Should do a post about it for the four-hearth series, at some point.
As for comparative research, I was probably a bit vague but I'm not against it. I simply don't perceive it as the main goal of ethnography as an approach. At the same time, I'm not that adamant (anymore) about it being the goal of "anthropology as a whole."

John McCreery said:
This post by Paul Mason on Neuroanthropology reminds me of how diverse the backgrounds of anthropologists are and how different our views of what the field is about can be, given the diversity of training and life experience we embody. Mason is a guy who is involved with music, dance and martial arts, which should interest Alexandre. He is also doing explicitly comparative research, which should interest Phil. His background in neuroscience and view of anthropology as a place to study the interactions of world, culture and brain lead him to say positive things about "American four-field" anthropology that many here may find surprising. I find what he's up to intriguing and his presentation of self and scholarship attractive. I wonder how others will react.
Haven't finished reading but did read enough to know that I like it too. Including the comparative part. And the neurological part, which connects with an interest of mine for cognitive issues. Reminds me of Ian Cross, actually. Culturally-aware cognitive sciences are quite satisfying. It might be a matter of personal perception but I get the impression that cognitive sciences and ethnographic disciplines have come to a point at which they can meet on a new basis. For instance, while Dan Levitin's work isn't the most obviously culturally aware that there is, out there, it's quite compatible with a broad approach to music. It actually goes back to Phil's point about "natural settings." Contemporary studies on music cognition are much closer to actual music than what was prominent even fifteen years ago.
(As luck would have it, Montreal is rapidly becoming a centre for music cognition. Maybe Mason will end up spending time here?)

As for the comparative part... I personally have no problem with a truly comparative study of two contexts which have something in common, no matter the geographical or cultural distance. Especially if, as it seems to be, it's careful and thoughtful. What's much more problematic, in mind, is Armand Leroi's top-down approach. Interestingly enough, it's a musicologist who got me there through a thoughtful (though snarky) critique of Leroi's work. The work Alan Lomax did in both cantometrics and choreometrics is somewhat similar in intent to the HRAF. In fact, the kind of comparison involved is what we may call "cross-cultural." They're very ambitious projects and Murdock's work has had a very important impact. What is problematic, though, is when this kind of cross-cultural work is used as an excuse for blatant ethnocentrism. Leroi's video has tidbits which are "precious" as examples as the kind of ethnocentrism a naïve optimist like yours truly didn't think possible in this historical period.
Mason's work doesn't sound like that at all. It's still set in the particularist, empirical, inductive, bottom-up, and contextually-aware mode of ethnographic research. I don't perceive his claims to be universalistic.
Maybe I should dig deeper. His research does interest me. So much so that I'll bring it up in a few contexts. So that's why I read it in several steps, writing down notes as I go. (Yes, this forum post is a note-taking strategy, for me.)

Thanks again, John!


John McCreery said:
This post by Paul Mason on Neuroanthropology reminds me of how diverse the backgrounds of anthropologists are and how different our views of what the field is about can be, given the diversity of training and life experience we embody. Mason is a guy who is involved with music, dance and martial arts, which should interest Alexandre. He is also doing explicitly comparative research, which should interest Phil. His background in neuroscience and view of anthropology as a place to study the interactions of world, culture and brain lead him to say positive things about "American four-field" anthropology that many here may find surprising. I find what he's up to intriguing and his presentation of self and scholarship attractive. I wonder how others will react.
Alexandre, merci beaucoup. Both the Leroi presentation and the musicological critique are fascinating. Combined they provide an amazing teaching/learning moment. That wonderful tension between the scientific upstart's computer-facilitated analysis and the musicologist's first doubt the data then "Yes, but...yes, but..." (a near perfect example of what Mary Douglas calls 'Bongo-Bong-ism') is marvelous expression of the underlying debate that repeatedly divides idealists and nominalists, generalizers and particularists, scientists and historians, lumpers and splitters in paleontology, and literary or art critics who focus on genre versus those who insist on the uniqueness of the work. What is, perhaps, most striking to me here is that it is the scientist who seems more attuned to the other's concerns, carefully noting, for example, when gene-based maps do not coincide with Islamic musical styles, thus requiring a cultural instead of a genetic explanation. The musicologist has useful things to say — I thought the point about call and response was, in particular, a very effective one. His critique is, however, pervaded by what you call its snarkiness and I might label its defensiveness; natural enough, I suppose, in someone who feels that his particular field of expertise is not getting the respect it deserves.

I am reminded here of some of the back and forth about Michel Bérubé's critique of cultural studies, where those whose ox is gored also have a few substantive points to make but are largely accusing the author of the offense of having been unsympathetic and disrespectful.

Is this, I wonder, related to the pattern that Phil has mentioned, the shift by at least some anthropologists from attempted explanation to political moralizing. Ah, here comes Nietzsche's ghost....moralizing as expression of the resentment of the oppressed...

And, of course, to close the circle, here is Leroi speaking at an Edge conference organized by the late John Brockman, publisher and promoter whose The Third Culture was a blistering critique of the postmodern humanities combined with the proposition that literary folk had, in effect, abandoned their traditional role as public intellectuals to literate scientists (Dawkins, Gould or Sagan, for example) who were replacing them as shapers of public opinion.

Thanks, again. Very stimulating, indeed.
Thanks for this, John.

Perhaps because of my music background, my perspective on Leroi and Bellman is different from yours. Not incompatible, but somewhat different. I did notice and "appreciate" the part about Islam. It's not too surprising, since geneticists these days are allowing for more non-genetic explanations. I can also see the "defensiveness" on Bellman's part, based in a context which puts musicology in a rather specific niche.
What struck me, though, was the way in which Leroi treated different examples.
For an Inuk one: "It's not very entertaining, it's just a man, sitting on an ice floe, groaning to himself."
(Not what I'd call very respectful, but maybe I misunderstand this.)
For a Norwegian one: "It's gorgeous"
(Without giving any description of the singer besides "nationality,")
What Bellman points out, and with which I agree, is that Leroi relied on his own impression of which excerpts sound similar to one another. Not only is there no input from context, which I can understand in this kind of study, but there isn't really a musical analysis in there apart from reliance on Lomax. Now, I don't have anything against Lomax but saying that similarities perceived through cantometrics and Leroi's own perception prove that cantometrics can be used to study migration patterns seems a bit circular.
Actually, much of this sounds to me like approaches to language families. Lomax is a bit like Greenberg, coming after the mess left by Westermann. Leroi is a bit like Ruhlen in that he probably knows what an appropriate methodology would be and could probably expose it (he does have a couple of methodological points that I find valid), but didn't use that appropriate methodology.
Now, I can understand the enthusiasm for comparisons on a mega-scale, without use of other factors unless the data seems ambiguous. And I kind of understand that such a talk wasn't the place to discuss what is meant by a link to genetics. But I think this type of comparison requires more care, at this time. We've come much further than this.
When I first watched the video, I kept thinking about Gerhard Kubik. At least in terms of knowledge of African diversity, Kubik is the Greenberg equivalent. But much more in-tune with recent developments in terms of musical analysis. His analyses are careful, thorough, ingenious, and quite convincing. Actually, his Seeger Lecture at the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) meeting in 1998 was perhaps the most directly useful such lecture ethnomusicologists have had in a while. (Appadurai's Seeger Lecture was stimulating and can be useful to music ethnographers, but it might have been a bit too far from music for some people.) Kubik does large scale comparisons which are informed by his "encyclopedic" knowledge of musical diversity in Africa. His is macro-level analysis that many of us can get behind. Regardless of the perspective.
Leroi's approach paled in comparison. Sure, he was enthusiastic and energetic. It's nice that he acknowledges Lomax. But much of it sounded like a magazine article, not like a careful analysis of the links between music, genetics, and migration. I know the context is quite specific. But, these days, contexts widen quickly enough that magazine-style presentation sounds unsatisfying.

And, then, there's the issue of credit.

I sent a message about Leroi's work to the SEM mailing-list. Victor Grauer answered, pointing out not only his own contribution to this line of work (and to Leroi, personally) but the fact that Alan Lomax himself did genomics-based research, long ago. In other words, Leroi is acting as if he were bringing genomics to Lomax despite the fact that Lomax himself was working on genomics at the time. In a way, it reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell who acts as if he were the origin of the "10,000 hours rule" for expert skill, which is based in a well-known rule of thumb in cognitive science. Taking a page (rather literally) from Dan Levitin, whom he does quote in Outliers, Gladwell is popularizing the notion. No issue with that. But the fact that he adopts it as a hard-set rule and that he's been acting as if he had invented it, in a variety of public contexts, seems to me quite problematic. Sure, there's the part about ignoring the cognitive literature. The "not doing his homework" part. But there's something more troubling in the way these things are presented.
It simply doesn't encourage critical thinking.

Thankfully, people whose critical thinking skills need no introduction (including you, John) are able to assess such presentations for what they are. I even trust a large group of people to be able to apply critical thinking to Leroi's EdgeTalk. But I simply wish that the presentation itself allowed more directly for thoughtful discussions like the ones we've been having, here.
In other words, "in this day and age," I want to hear more voices.


John McCreery said:
Alexandre, merci beaucoup. Both the Leroi presentation and the musicological critique are fascinating. Combined they provide an amazing teaching/learning moment. That wonderful tension between the scientific upstart's computer-facilitated analysis and the musicologist's first doubt the data then "Yes, but...yes, but..." (a near perfect example of what Mary Douglas calls 'Bongo-Bong-ism') is marvelous expression of the underlying debate that repeatedly divides idealists and nominalists, generalizers and particularists, scientists and historians, lumpers and splitters in paleontology, and literary or art critics who focus on genre versus those who insist on the uniqueness of the work. What is, perhaps, most striking to me here is that it is the scientist who seems more attuned to the other's concerns, carefully noting, for example, when gene-based maps do not coincide with Islamic musical styles, thus requiring a cultural instead of a genetic explanation. The musicologist has useful things to say — I thought the point about call and response was, in particular, a very effective one. His critique is, however, pervaded by what you call its snarkiness and I might label its defensiveness; natural enough, I suppose, in someone who feels that his particular field of expertise is not getting the respect it deserves.
I am reminded here of some of the back and forth about Michel Bérubé's critique of cultural studies, where those whose ox is gored also have a few substantive points to make but are largely accusing the author of the offense of having been unsympathetic and disrespectful. Is this, I wonder, related to the pattern that Phil has mentioned, the shift by at least some anthropologists from attempted explanation to political moralizing. Ah, here comes Nietzsche's ghost....moralizing as expression of the resentment of the oppressed... And, of course, to close the circle, here is Leroi speaking at an Edge conference organized by the late John Brockman, publisher and promoter whose The Third Culture was a blistering critique of the postmodern humanities combined with the proposition that literary folk had, in effect, abandoned their traditional role as public intellectuals to literate scientists (Dawkins, Gould or Sagan, for example) who were replacing them as shapers of public opinion.

Thanks, again. Very stimulating, indeed.

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