So we now know more about the complexity, diversity and dynamics of human culture globally and historically. How do we go from there to explain why so many themes and structures seem to repeat themselves globally and historically?
Isn't the fact that the Human Condition is so contingent on historical or accidental events makes any basic ontological assumption questionable?
So I am saying that this drive to a general science of anthropology always seems to have the sense of "now is the time" or "we know everything we need to know about diversity."
Well I think you missed my point and got a little over exited. I assure you I am not evil nor am I anti scientific method - it works very well in certain circumstances and indeed use elements of sf in my own work. Also I don't think Clyde can help you here though, wasn't it Clyde who said that the focus of the anthropologist is upon the group and the individual as a member of the group, alas distinguishing from the psychologist whose focus was supposedly on the individual. I think if I remember rightly that he also distinguished anthropology from sociology because of the latter's focus on the present and measurement. Wasn't it Clyde who also said if I am not mistaken that anthropology has tended towards pure understanding with a focus on the past. But admittedly I don't really know much about his work as I have not read a lot of American anthropologists. Hmmmm, sounds like the spirit of Clyde Kluckhohn is also open to "social construction" by current day social anthropologists though. Anyway, my point is that this drive to generalisation is really something routed in individual professional prejudices of certain anthropologists rather than a desire to understand human beings living their lives. BTW I am not advocating that we should shelve the comparative approach. So I am saying that this drive to a general science of anthropology always seems to have the sense of "now is the time" or "we know everything we need to know about diversity" so "now lets get defining what we really are". My sense is that we need to be cautious of such calls and approaches.
John McCreery said:Isn't the fact that the Human Condition is so contingent on historical or accidental events makes any basic ontological assumption questionable?
Why the capital "H" and "C" on "Human Condition"? Why the words "ontological assumption"? What is this but puffery, masquerading as argument?
Why not approach the matter in the spirit of Clyde Kluckhohn, who observes that each human individual is, in some respects like every other human being, in other respects like some other human beings, and in yet other respects uniquely him or herself?
Thus, for example, we are all featherless bipeds; we are animals who have to eat something. Some of us eat pork while others don't. For some refusal to eat pork may reflect religious belief. Some might eat pork if they could but live in places where there are no pigs. Others may belong to communities where pork is on the menu but have a personal preference for steak, cauliflower or tofu. There is plenty of work to be done mapping the differences and developing theories to explain them.
How does rattling on about the "Human Condition" help with this project? What obnoxious ontological assumptions are involved in keeping an open mind tempered with respect for evidence? What evil is wrought by systematically seeking evidence that conflicts with the theories to be tested? What is foul about withholding judgment until, given the theories and evidence at hand, one theory seems demonstrably superior? What, pray tell, is wrong with cultivating these habits of mind, a.k.a., the scientific method?
Whoa, there, hobby horse! But the questions are serious ones.
I wanted to point out that social and cultural anthropology is a social construction which simply means that social anthropology cannot be thought of as dealing with facts - as in there is a tree there or not there
In my opinion, to put it very bluntly:
Generalization: Moroccan people are generally dark haired. / Muslim women are generally dark haired.
Essentialism: Moroccan people are generally proud. / Muslim women are generally abused.
I think Essentialism is when the knowledge producer is making a statement that makes a culture/ a group look "bad" without the relevant proof to back this claim. We should definitely avoid it, perhaps by realizing that our knowledge is always situated.