One of my hobbies is reading scientific journals. I like reading The Lancet, for example, to keep myself abreast with latest medical breakthroughs. I sense five methods scientists/researchers use in their works. I know there are other things one can observe in reading such journals. For now, I'll focus on these five.
1) Relying on previous articles, research, studies, and experiments without a generalizing theory as guide
2) Doing repetitive studies, experiments, and research to test the replicability and consistency of results and conclusions
3) Selecting a part of a whole (brain instead of a whole body) for specialized studies, research, and experiments
4) Making hypotheses before doing studies, research, and experiments that will validate or invalidate them
5) Using a language that includes terms, concepts, definitions, interpretations other scientists use and understand
Are the methods above applicable or possible in anthropological study, research, and fieldwork? If not, is Anthropology then not a science? If Anthropology is not a science, what is it then?
My conclusion would be that anthropology is not a normal science, where my use of "normal science" refers to Thomas Kuhn's distinction between science that follows an established paradigm and science in a pre- or post-paradigmatic state in which paradigms are unsettled. I would observe, too, that 1) the apparent absence of a generalizing theory is a sign of normal science. The generalizing theory in question is so taken for granted that there is no need to mention it.
Does this mean that anthropologists cannot be scientific, considering alternative hypotheses and systematically pursuing evidence to disprove them? No, but here two issues need to be considered.
(a) in a pre-paradigmatic science, the absence of a paradigm means that how to proceed is unclear. What sorts of hypotheses should be considered remains undetermined.
(b) there is also the question what counts as evidence and how evidence is counted. It is particularly true of social and cultural anthropology, less so for archeology and biological anthropology, least for classical forms of linguistics, that anthropologists generally work with scanty and fragmentary data, trying to put together a puzzle with most of the pieces missing and, non infrequently, pieces from other puzzles mixed in.
Combining (a) and (b), anthropologists are generally in the situation anticipated by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethnics, Bk 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.
That said, we can do our best, setting out in our books and articles what it is that we hope to accomplish, critically examining available evidence to see if our hypotheses fit or, indeed, if the "evidence" is relevant at all, and being sufficiently honest with ourselves and others not to claim certainty on what is sure to be a weak foundation.
Some time around 1800, the English separated the words experience and experiment, which had previously meant more or less the same. The former became the basis for what you and I know and the latter for what "scientists" know (the word was invented in 1840 by William Whewell, before then they were natural philosophers). A similar bifurcation did not occur in Continental European languages, where French science and German Wissenschaft retained a much broader connotation of systematic knowledge, synthetic as well as analytical.
I like your summary of the analytical method as practised in the English-speaking scientific world, which has to some extent become universal thanks to American global hegemony. But anthropology can't possibly be scientific in that sense. Our task is to put the whole together, to synthesize what it means to be human. That doesn't mean we eschew analytical method. But at some stage our enterprise has to answer the question "What is a human being?" This matters since we are making a world society right now and there are precious few principles for doing so. Anthropology is one means towards that end. We have to escape from (or perhaps rather build on) the atomistic approaches to knowing in the small that proceed by breaking up (analysis in Greek) or cutting up (science in Latin) what is actually whole.
Keith, we are in broad agreement about the importance of the whole. But, while I may have misread you, it seems to me that you are not only asserting the importance of addressing the whole of humanity but setting this project in opposition, in an exclusive-or way, to ethnography. But without ethnography, what is anthropology—a branch of history with a vastly inflated aim of understanding the whole thing?
My own approach is to retain the importance of classic (I was there for long enough to be more than a journalist covering a story) ethnography as a mark of the anthropologist whose research includes the personal encounter as well as documents and numbers, but to worry about how to address Clifford Geertz's challenge in the introduction to Islam Observed, where he argues that, while anthropological insights emerge from immersion in odd corners of the world, their value cannot be demonstrated there; that their value can only be demonstrated in larger conversations with scholars from other disciplines. Working, as I do, in a part of the world where literacy is some thousands of years old, I am also acutely aware of how Marcus and Fischer intensify that challenge when they observe that anthropologists now step into situations where they encounter not only other scholars, but also journalists and other fiction and non-fiction writers who are frequently the natives whose lives we share and study. That is why my own work has taken the form of "piggy-back" ethnography, observing Japanese consumers through the eyes of Japanese market researchers and, now, of attempting to combine social network analysis with historical documents and interviews with exemplary figures, in addition to my own industry experience, to better understand the Japanese advertising world.
In sum, I would agree that ethnography attempting to stand alone as evidence for broad conclusions about humanity is a nonstarter. Without larger conversations to which the ethnography is relevant, it is nothing more than microscopic local history frequently marred by half-assed philosophising. But I cannot see what else anthropology has to add to the larger conversations that interest us, except the occasional insight that comes from standing in the trenches instead of staying with the generals poring over the maps and wondering what is really going on.
John, Chris Hann and I gave our book, Economic Anthropology, the subtitle History, Ethnography, Critique. There and in countless other places, including the manifesto referred to elsewhere, I argue that ethnography is an essential foundation for whatever the study of humanity becomes. The polemical nature of these threads gives a false impression. My argument is with ethnographers who think that this approach is enough and have abandoned the framework of comparative history and humanist philosophy that once gave anthropology its ability to impress other disciplines. This is one result of a misguided claim that ethnography is the scientific foundation of an anthropology conceived of exclusively in social or cultural terms. The claim was made by the twentieth century founders in order to establish a base in the academic division of labour. They knew what made ethnography anthropological, but their epigones no longer do, while they bemoan the lack of jobs in the universities.
To quote from the manifesto, the aim of a human economy approach "is to build a conversation, among ourselves and with other specialists, ultimately with the general public. This conversation is as much based on empirical investigation and comparison as it is on developing a theoretical and methodological framework for planning research. Our first basic method is inspired by the ethnographic revolution that launched social and cultural anthropology in the twentieth century. This was the first sustained effort by a class of academics to break out of the ivory tower and to join the people where they live in order to discover what they do, think and want. Second, the economy is always plural and people’s experience of it across time and space has more in common that the use of contrastive terms like “capitalism” or “socialism” would suggest. This approach addresses the variety of particular institutions through which most people experience economic life. Third, our aim is to promote economic democracy by helping people to organize and improve their own lives. Our findings must therefore ultimately be presented to the public in a spirit of pragmatism and made understandable for readers’ own practical use."
All of this, in my view, is compatible with the idea that, in order to improve our world and make it amenable to democratic intervention, we need to know how it works, which is to say we need science in the broader sense that I alluded to in my previous comment.
Keith, we are, it appears, in complete agreement.
Is this question maybe not also to do with identity and social acceptance, and/or serious fetishisation of a category?
A remixing of something Keith said above about the human economy:
"[the world] is always plural and people’s experience of it across time and space has more in common that the use of contrastive terms like [nature] or [culture] would suggest... promote [scientific] democracy by helping people to organize and improve their own lives [through experimentation]. Our findings must therefore ultimately be presented to the public in a spirit of pragmatism and made understandable for readers’ own practical use."
Why must anthropology be in Science? or for that matter why not Science in Anthropology? 'Science' is a much more plural endeavour, not limited to institutions, academics, and journals. Science needs to be democratised and de-alienated as one way of increasing the feedback loops that we must strengthen with the neighbourhood of organisms that make up most of the habitable planet. The way 'science' is taught is not amicable to this aim.
This is also a problem for anthropology, while it gets all reflexive everywhere and a part of this has been recognising the socio-politics of academics, the other part has been a lack of reflexivity with the education of its students both at and prior to university: "a discipline that questions being boxed-off while boxing you off" (http://kularing.info/2012/02/04/dear-anthropology-what-happened-to-...).
This all brings to mind the question of 'knowledge'. I see all knowledge as subject to change. So on this premise I can read 'science' and 'anthropology' as categories that emphasise aspects of the following points differently and these are the common ones I find important:
If an anthropologist does the above in his research, is his practice of anthropology scientific or empirical and objective? Is observing strictly seeing? Is feeling part of the process of observing? Should ethnography be based on what is seen or observed? Should interpretation be based on observation? How do you observe invisible, contextual, and hidden cultural phenomena? When you say "measure", is it about measuring a part or a whole? Is culture, as a whole, measurable? In culture, is it really possible to separate a part from a whole and be objective?
I have a feeling that what you listed above are scientific processes (used by chemists, physicists, biologists) manipulated to fit within the framework that somehow makes anthropology a science like those natural and physical sciences. Neurologists study brain separate from intestines and fingernails, and that's fine because those body parts are not closely linked together.
I don't think anthropologists can follow that "a part from a whole" model in explaining violence, for example. If they shoot for objectivity, they cannot separate violence from wealth, belief, reproduction, media, etc. because the close links among them are observable in a culture. So, treating violence only as genetic or related to class is too incomplete and myopic to be considered objective.
When we say, "the study of humans", does that include what humans feel and think? I don't think it's easy to observe and measure what a group thinks and feels. Models as used in natural and physical sciences are about predictable patterns and consistent results. Is culture predictable? Can anthropologists have a consistent interpretation, observation, conclusion about a certain cultural phenomenon?
I still have other reasons why anthropology is a different kind of science that should not be aligned with Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Geology. One thing I'm sure, methods used in those sciences are needed in anthropology not so the latter will be a science like them but for it to be meaningfully objective and empirical.
I said "I can read 'science' and 'anthropology' as categories that emphasise aspects of the following points differently and these are the common ones I find important:"
The ones in common are not necessarily the ones that are dominant in either, But yes my list is biased toward 'science' as it was created in light of it. I should have been more clear about that. So I fully appreciate where your reply is coming from. Nonetheless.
M said: If an anthropologist does the above in his research, is his practice of anthropology scientific or empirical and objective? Is observing strictly seeing? Is feeling part of the process of observing? Should ethnography be based on what is seen or observed? Should interpretation be based on observation? How do you observe invisible, contextual, and hidden cultural phenomena? When you say "measure", is it about measuring a part or a whole? Is culture, as a whole, measurable? In culture, is it really possible to separate a part from a whole and be objective?
I do not measure simply culture because I find it an obtuse word. Also it is a falsity that many anthropologists do not measure. They measure all the time whether something is fitting into the categories they are working with. They measure how related something is to another etc... Measuring need not be overtly quantitative. Again its a word that has been enclosed by a fetishised narrative of science that causes its opponents to recoil from the terminology it has enclosed. But yes if I am going to limit myself to the study involving humans then the mantra 'what people do, say, and think are different' is very important, one that I have recognised many anthropologists not even applying very well in their work anymore, where most of what they do is talk to people. Thats why I find your initial question interesting but lacking a huge area that makes it simply an exercise it listening to what people say on paper, which isnt anthropology.
Evidently what people feel and think is important, thats why there is participant observation. But I tend to find a lack of focus on high intensity study of what people actually do, which is one reason I have become drawn to work of people like Paul Richards that harnesses the idea of the sociotechnical process very poigniantly. It is here that this barrier between culture and solid stuff (nature, physical whatever loses focus) Also I don't buy this part whole stuff. of course it is more the whole, but its only as much of the whole as you can possibly try and access. But it is also again false that 'science' cannot be holistic. the idea of partiality (Clifford in Writing Culture) is key here.
M said: I have a feeling that what you listed above are scientific processes (used by chemists, physicists, biologists) manipulated to fit within the framework that somehow makes anthropology a science like those natural and physical sciences. Neurologists study brain separate from intestines and fingernails, and that's fine because those body parts are not closely linked together.
I did a small study recently with 90 school kids and one of my conclusions was this predetermined differentiation of chemistry, biology , and physics is to a large extent a socio-political, identity, schooled, and historical thing. Of course there are differences but they are over emphasised and dissolve in many places, even when I did Alevel chemistry I was actually doing physics etc. Psychoneuroimmunology would point out that the intestine and the brain are closely intertwined. I do not assume that the science I read in the paper and in many journals is really the best or most accurate out there.
M said: I don't think anthropologists can follow that "a part from a whole" model in explaining violence, for example. If they shoot for objectivity, they cannot separate violence from wealth, belief, reproduction, media, etc. because the close links among them are observable in a culture. So, treating violence only as genetic or related to class is too incomplete and myopic to be considered objective.
I agree, but I think what is 'objective' need serious consideration alongside without it being assumed. We might not get in this mess in the first place if we do.
M said: When we say, "the study of humans", does that include what humans feel and think? I don't think it's easy to observe and measure what a group thinks and feels. Models as used in natural and physical sciences are about predictable patterns and consistent results. Is culture predictable? Can anthropologists have a consistent interpretation, observation, conclusion about a certain cultural phenomenon?
Again I think I have been misunderstood as saying they are the same thing. They are not, I am saying that they are categories and so capture certain things, but need not be treated as so impermeable to each other.
M said: I still have other reasons why anthropology is a different kind of science that should not be aligned with Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Geology. One thing I'm sure, methods used in those sciences are needed in anthropology not so the latter will be a science like them but for it to be meaningfully objective and empirical.
Overall I guess its a matter of personal agenda and mine lies along this path
"Our findings must therefore ultimately be presented to the public in a spirit of pragmatism and made understandable for readers’ own practical use." (Keith)
but that does not necessitate that others do also.
In my words from above
Both Science and Anthropology need to be democratised and de-alienated as one way of increasing the feedback loops that we must strengthen with the neighbourhood of organisms that make up most of the habitable planet. Whilst recognising that knowledge is irretrievably bound to purpose in both Science and Anthropology. That is where I am at on this topic and all the rest is subject to this present touchstone, whether what one does is called geology, anthropology etc...
Thanks, Abraham. I think we have the same idea about anthropology being not an exact science like those hard sciences. I expounded what you wrote to elucidate my point about the unique scientific identity of anthropology.
What is objectivity?
I like how objectivity is generally practiced in science labs where results are not influenced by scientists to go certain ways according to their whims or according to results they want. Do anthropologists follow this objective process of discovery? I don't think so. By espousing certain theories, they already influence their observations, data collections, and, eventually, conclusions.
I also doubt how interpretation is done by anthropologists. I don't think only informants exaggerate. When one brings a theory into the field, he is prone to exaggerate his interpretation of little things so they become big and relevant and fit within his theoretical framework.
A part of a whole
I find anthropologists intellectually dishonest when they only choose what to study so their chosen theories are applicable. That's the mistake Chagnon did. Why only talked about the biology of Yanomamo warfare or the invisible "geneticness" of violence when there were other areas--food source, kinship, ritual, marriage, status, belief, etc.--that were observable and more profound? If he only looked at violence as a whole, he would not have a problem.
I know it is not easy to generally study a certain cultural phenomenon alone. Anthropologists should learn how collaboration is done in science. In medicine, for example, there are cases like infectious diseases and obesity where multiple medical specialists are involved because the whole body is at risk. Anthropologists who rely on biology alone in explaining a cultural phenomenon and disregard other ways that are more profound, observable, and empirical are intellectually dishonest.
It may be worth remembering that anthropologists are nothing if not varied in their approaches to fieldwork, writing up, and how they conceive of both anthropology as a whole and their own purposes within it. No field has more lent itself to the pursuit of individual agendas. That, indeed, was one of its great attractions when I decided to become an anthropologist; there was plenty of room to pursue both scientific and humanistic projects in what became an extension of the no prerequisites freedom I enjoyed as an undergraduate in the Honors College at Michigan State University.
It might also be worth considering the extent to which our discussions continue to take place in the shadow of that great, mythological figure, the lone anthropologist pursuing his or her vision quest in some out of the way place that no one else back home will know much about. At least in the Far East, where I conduct my research, this image is obsolete. An anthropologist who studies China or Japan enters a field where dozens of other anthropologists have been before, many of them are natives of the places we study, and scholars from other disciplines are legion. In this context, to claim a unique authority because of personal experience or what my informant told me verges on the ludicrous. Any fresh but plausible sounding theory will be taken up and debated by scholarly critics, many of whom will be more knowledgeable than the individual advancing the theory. This situation is one in which the anthropologist as jack-of-all-trades is at a disadvantage without (1) something new to bring to the table and (2) sufficient knowledge of what scholars in other fields are up to to make the relevant connections or, at a minimum, not act the fool. Those who think that they can get by by reading and talking to only other anthropologists or spewing the latest buzzwords from "theory" rarely have any impact inside or outside the academy.
Abraham, M, I wonder how these sorts of considerations might affect the way you think about anthropology and science.
I haven't read every line of this conversation, but would like to (briefly) share my point of view and questions. First of all, I am not sure why M you started this topic of conversation... is it to evaluate the authority of anthropology amongst other sciences? Is it to better define what the role of anthropology is? Is it to define what anthropology means?
My initial concern when I read the way this question was set was that it would affect the flexibility of the reflection. It is only useful to know whether a bush is a tree or a tree is a bush if the person we are communicating with doesn't know for instance what a bush is but does know what a tree is ... else it can lead in hours of people arguing as to whether the bush is a tree and the tree is a bush whilst in the end, the answer is pretty simple, the tree is a tree and the bush is a bush. Moreso, the conversation may lead to the agreement that the bush IS tree, but then that then means an agreement that takes away all the uniqueness of what a bush is - meaning that the useful aspects that bushs can have and that trees might not have can be forgotten.
However, I was quite wrong as first of all the question is more similar to the oak being a tree or not (but there again I think that what makes the oak an oak is as important as discussing what makes the oak a tree) and secondly because the question brought some very important points and questions about the link between methodology and content. Finally, I think this question is more interesting because I think that what you are really asking is (and correct me if I m wrong) whether anthropology is the search for objectivity - or at least whether anthropology's search for objectivity is done in a similar way that other sciences search for objectivity.
I don't think so. I think that objectivity is a useful point of reference, but that anthropology is about slowly understanding, touching, feeling, seeing the layers and textures of subjectivity that concretely (and objectively?) make our world. And doing so by taking into consideration the subjectivities that we ourselves are made of. And also, I don't think that more authority should be given to the word objectivity than to the word subjectivity.
As an outsider (non-anthropologist), I will offer this observation:
Some anthropological researcher-authors apply scientific methods in their studies. Others are philosophers dba anthropologists. Still others are social activists dba anthropologists. And, there are hybrids. It seems to me that the great umbrella of anthropology covers some things scientific, but also quite a lot that is decidedly not science.