How does anthropology contribute towards knowledge production within and beyond the boundaries of its discipline? Are different kinds of knowledge produced according to the context? What does anthropology have to offer that is truly its own in an interdisciplinary context? Whether it be theory in anthropology or theory for anthropology, does the theory used in anthropology have any significant impact in the wider world?  

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Dear Elizabeth,
thank you for asking us so simple yet profound questions and I am so happy to say a few words on the topic.

In my opinion, anthropology has value only if we give it value. I am not sure that I know what is the boundary of its usage, as its aspects can be used in every situation and by every person in its own and unique ways.

For me, anthropology is almost like a perspective, a bigger framework, an approach to life. Anthropology can help an individual to free him/herself from cultural context. I find that cultural contexts often imprison us human beings in a sense that they prevent us to be aware of our own knowledge which is not produced culturally. I am aware that different kind of knowledges on one level are produced (by outside circumstances etc), reproduced in various degrees (even in human bodies) and distributed (all via relationships) in space and time among members of societies, but I see anthropology as a discipline in the service of both humanity and nature; as a device which can free humanity from an imposed body of knowledge, different systems, theories, which activate various destructive aspects of human behaviour. Anyone who studied anthropology knows that human beings are much more than what in the certain period of history even science could realize. I don't see anthropology's role so much in the knowledge production, rather in supporting the people to be free from the limited definitions of what it means to be a human being (from the knowledges which are often too narrow for the full and fearless expression of what it means to be a human being).
Anthropology contributes to the world with its possibilities of unburdened questioning which is a gift not to be wasted in an empty theoretical discussions about who is right and who is not. A valuable precious diamond which anthropology offers and that I find it is truly its own in an interdisciplinary context is an awareness of latent but constant and, in a way, axiomatic dynamic fact that there is something that connects us all. In the essence, we are all the same. Being aware that this "global" point of view exists, we can start to create more beneficial and supportive realities for ourselves, our local communities etc.
So, for me one of anthropology's role can be found in the advocacy - towards a recognition of human dignity by allowing humans to be what they really are and not what social institutions expect them to be. By allowing people to have their own equally worthy definitions, anthropology offers people the power and a ground in which their creative tendencies can be activated - the power of appreciating and utilizing the knowledge in the best way, from baking cookies to transforming the world. So, as it is said - the only field to conduct a participant observation is life.
And last but not least, anthropology offers a bridge which can connect the aspects of nature and society in an integrated whole in people's lives. In my "Croatian" life it is so :).

I agree with you Nikos and with Huon. I also wonder if we dont sometimes come across as irritating to our colleagues in other disciplines with the "I was there" argument....
NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
What was maybe not mentioned from this discussion is the potential role of anthropology to the transformation of human groups, tribes, communities societies even ethnies. This transformation happenning even to the most remotre corner of this planet is unavoidable. Some call it modernization but the time evolution brings different changes to different human groups. So, the most important issue on which anthropology could articulate arguments is the sense of difference, something that sociology failed to demonstrate in a sufficient way and to interprete. Modernization is not what developmental sociologists called progress. There is not progress or decline in the human societies, just different rhythms of evolution. This evolution can go forward or to return in past forms of life. Culture is a way of life ( modus viventy)  and the way-modus is giving mode-rnity.Civilizations and technological progress as meant in the West are not so much important as the real actual life that anthropology studies in vivo. When historians start to occupy with civilizations , that means that these civilizations are not more alive. New forms will replace them. Anthropology has a task not only for the study of these new forms but also of the meanings that they are carrying.
A most inspiring reply to which I feel like standing up with a glass of good red wine and saying "here here!". I am particularly interested in your ideas on how "cultural contexts prevent us to be aware of our own knowledge which is not produced culturally" do you have more to say about that?
Daria Kucek said:

Dear Elizabeth,
thank you for asking us so simple yet profound questions and I am so happy to say a few words on the topic.

In my opinion, anthropology has value only if we give it value. I am not sure that I know what is the boundary of its usage, as its aspects can be used in every situation and by every person in its own and unique ways.

For me, anthropology is almost like a perspective, a bigger framework, an approach to life. Anthropology can help an individual to free him/herself from cultural context. I find that cultural contexts often imprison us human beings in a sense that they prevent us to be aware of our own knowledge which is not produced culturally. I am aware that different kind of knowledges on one level are produced (by outside circumstances etc), reproduced in various degrees (even in human bodies) and distributed (all via relationships) in space and time among members of societies, but I see anthropology as a discipline in the service of both humanity and nature; as a device which can free humanity from an imposed body of knowledge, different systems, theories, which activate various destructive aspects of human behaviour. Anyone who studied anthropology knows that human beings are much more than what in the certain period of history even science could realize. I don't see anthropology's role so much in the knowledge production, rather in supporting the people to be free from the limited definitions of what it means to be a human being (from the knowledges which are often too narrow for the full and fearless expression of what it means to be a human being).
Anthropology contributes to the world with its possibilities of unburdened questioning which is a gift not to be wasted in an empty theoretical discussions about who is right and who is not. A valuable precious diamond which anthropology offers and that I find it is truly its own in an interdisciplinary context is an awareness of latent but constant and, in a way, axiomatic dynamic fact that there is something that connects us all. In the essence, we are all the same. Being aware that this "global" point of view exists, we can start to create more beneficial and supportive realities for ourselves, our local communities etc.
So, for me one of anthropology's role can be found in the advocacy - towards a recognition of human dignity by allowing humans to be what they really are and not what social institutions expect them to be. By allowing people to have their own equally worthy definitions, anthropology offers people the power and a ground in which their creative tendencies can be activated - the power of appreciating and utilizing the knowledge in the best way, from baking cookies to transforming the world. So, as it is said - the only field to conduct a participant observation is life.
And last but not least, anthropology offers a bridge which can connect the aspects of nature and society in an integrated whole in people's lives. In my "Croatian" life it is so :).

Dear Daria

I find your text truly inspiring. Are you familiar with the work of the critical realist Margaret Archer? She is not an anthropologist but, it seems to me, takes a similar approach to yours in claiming that culture cannot account for eveything and also talks about nature and our practical engagment with the world. I would like to know if you draw on any authors in particular with regard to knowledge created outside of culture.

As someone who comes originally from a literary background, your text also speaks to my interest in the power of the imagination and of how literature can play a similar liberating role to the one you ascribe to anthropology. From the perspective of writing, I find anthropology more restricting since I am obliged to keep to the "empirical truths" whereas literature allows me to explore unfettered to reach equally valid truths, in a different dimension.

 

Daria Kucek said:

Dear Elizabeth,
thank you for asking us so simple yet profound questions and I am so happy to say a few words on the topic.

In my opinion, anthropology has value only if we give it value. I am not sure that I know what is the boundary of its usage, as its aspects can be used in every situation and by every person in its own and unique ways.

For me, anthropology is almost like a perspective, a bigger framework, an approach to life. Anthropology can help an individual to free him/herself from cultural context. I find that cultural contexts often imprison us human beings in a sense that they prevent us to be aware of our own knowledge which is not produced culturally. I am aware that different kind of knowledges on one level are produced (by outside circumstances etc), reproduced in various degrees (even in human bodies) and distributed (all via relationships) in space and time among members of societies, but I see anthropology as a discipline in the service of both humanity and nature; as a device which can free humanity from an imposed body of knowledge, different systems, theories, which activate various destructive aspects of human behaviour. Anyone who studied anthropology knows that human beings are much more than what in the certain period of history even science could realize. I don't see anthropology's role so much in the knowledge production, rather in supporting the people to be free from the limited definitions of what it means to be a human being (from the knowledges which are often too narrow for the full and fearless expression of what it means to be a human being).
Anthropology contributes to the world with its possibilities of unburdened questioning which is a gift not to be wasted in an empty theoretical discussions about who is right and who is not. A valuable precious diamond which anthropology offers and that I find it is truly its own in an interdisciplinary context is an awareness of latent but constant and, in a way, axiomatic dynamic fact that there is something that connects us all. In the essence, we are all the same. Being aware that this "global" point of view exists, we can start to create more beneficial and supportive realities for ourselves, our local communities etc.
So, for me one of anthropology's role can be found in the advocacy - towards a recognition of human dignity by allowing humans to be what they really are and not what social institutions expect them to be. By allowing people to have their own equally worthy definitions, anthropology offers people the power and a ground in which their creative tendencies can be activated - the power of appreciating and utilizing the knowledge in the best way, from baking cookies to transforming the world. So, as it is said - the only field to conduct a participant observation is life.
And last but not least, anthropology offers a bridge which can connect the aspects of nature and society in an integrated whole in people's lives. In my "Croatian" life it is so :).

Elizabeth, this thread gets better and better, thanks in part to your guiding hand. You may have noticed that there is an online seminar going on about the financialization of envirnmental conservation. It has been extended in tiem and is getting pretty interesting because some outsiders are posing direct questions about anthropology's take on humanity and nature. I have posted there a link to Daria's wonderful contribution and will ask her separately if she would like to expand on her brief remarks about nature.

Brilliant idea Keith. I hope she does reply because I am very interested in these ideas too and was very moved by what Daria wrote. When I get the time I will check out the link to see.

Just to give feed back on the class, it was interesting because I suggested everybody answer to the question "what is culture" by making a poster, in a group, drawing images and this served as an excellent base for discussion. Also people produce amazing visual interpretations. Also many people replied to "what is anthropology" by saying "the science of Man", indeed with a capital letter and it was so far from the ideas posted here on "unburdened questioning" (to quote Daria's wonderful phrase) although by the end of the session some people came to see anthropology differently, I think. Anyway, let's see where this takes us.....

Joshua Greene, a philosopher and neuroscientist at Harvard University, has a brilliant entry on Supervenience. Imagine a picture on a computer screen of a dog sitting in a rowboat. It can be described as a picture of a dog, but at a different level it can be described as an arrangement of pixels and colors. The relationship between the two levels is asymmetric. The same image can be displayed at different sizes with different pixels. The high-level properties (dogness) supervene the low-level properties (pixels).

Supervenience, Greene continues, helps explain things like the relationship between science and the humanities. Humanists fear that scientists are taking over their territory and trying to explain everything. But new discoveries about the brain don’t explain Macbeth. The products of the mind supervene the mechanisms of the brain. The humanities can be informed by the cognitive sciences even as they supervene them.

Hi Kathryn

Very interesting. I confess I had to go and look up the word "supervene" in the dictionary! It brings to mind Burbaker's (2004) cognitive approach towards ethnicity in which he talks of the "hyperaccessibility" of ethnic and racial categories arguing that this is what often accounts for their activation which is interesting because it complicates our analysis of (racist) intent. I am particularly interested in the ideas that  "The products of the mind supervene the mechanisms of the brain. The humanities can be informed by the cognitive sciences even as they supervene them." The same goes for anthropology and the cognitive sciences. This is the value that Brubaker brings, in my view, to the study of identity.  

 

Kathryn Papp said:

Joshua Greene, a philosopher and neuroscientist at Harvard University, has a brilliant entry on Supervenience. Imagine a picture on a computer screen of a dog sitting in a rowboat. It can be described as a picture of a dog, but at a different level it can be described as an arrangement of pixels and colors. The relationship between the two levels is asymmetric. The same image can be displayed at different sizes with different pixels. The high-level properties (dogness) supervene the low-level properties (pixels).

Supervenience, Greene continues, helps explain things like the relationship between science and the humanities. Humanists fear that scientists are taking over their territory and trying to explain everything. But new discoveries about the brain don’t explain Macbeth. The products of the mind supervene the mechanisms of the brain. The humanities can be informed by the cognitive sciences even as they supervene them.
I must admit that I am a bit suspicious of the rhetorical gesture implicit in "supervenience." I am comfortable with the notion of emergent properties and the idea that complex systems and their products cannot be reduced to the elements of which they are composed. To me, however, "supervenience" looks a bit too blatantly like an attempt to restore the humanities to a preeminence from which they can look down on the sciences as involved with topics that humanists find beneath them. I smell a strong odor of sour grapes.
Fair point. Back to the good old "inter-disciplinary" perspective......
Sciences are classified for our advantage & all sciences are interrelated and science knows no limit only prove.Rather putting the question as "How much have we been affected by neglecting this vital branch of Biological Science?" would clarify better-I think.

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