What is this madman McCreery up to, interrupting a conversation about ideas about democracy with, on the one hand, the suggestion that political and economic ideas may be essentially irrelevant in a world where the haves increase and hold on to what they have while the have-nots get increasingly screwed until things get so bad that they fall apart and, on the other hand, in the same conversation, posting notes on a condominium association special committee meeting in Japan?
I am, as I see it, examining the ideas I hear from my colleagues from two complementary perspectives that, to me, define anthropology.
One is the big picture. I see an appeal to a bit of mainly European intellectual history, talking about ideas salient in the way the world works for the last two or three centuries. I want to step back and say, "Whoa, there. How does this work in terms of what we know about primate behavior, human evolution, bands, tribes, chiefdoms, the origins of the state, and comparable ideas from other parts of the world?"
The other is up close and intimate. The ethnographer wants to know how those ideas we are talking about fit into microscopic situations in which, in whatever locally altered form, they are only one of the elements in the messy realities that our field notes try to capture.
To me, being an anthropologist means a commitment to examining social theory from both these perspectives, to see what is missed by theorists with narrower local or disciplinary perspectives and to look for what I can add to extend and enrich their theories to account for more, in more detail, of the hugely messy reality called human life on planet Earth.