Redefining Anthropology.

Is the redefining of anthropology a "good" thing when we live in a science-centric academic world where money and value are given to the sciences as opposed to the "non-sciences."  In the Link below is an article in the New York Times which discusses the changes made at the AAA.

 

The long-range plan of the American Anthropological Association is no longer to advance anthropology as a science but rather to focus on  “public understanding.”

http://nyti.ms/dXapcw

 

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Simeon, The priority given to science is secondary to an emphasis on research over teaching. Until the second half of the twentieth century, universities were mainly concerned with giving higher education to a small proportion of the population who would then go on to their non-academic careers. The injection of large amounts of money into university research was largely an innovation of the Cold War. This money went mainly into developing atomic energy, armaments, food security, pharmaceuticals, air and space transport etc. Naturally enough it found its way to scientific research establishments, mostly then in the universities, but not exclusively so. The others noticed that well-funded scientific research won its practitioners prestige, so they emulated the model even if the knowledge they produced didn't have quite the same usefulness to the powers that be.

 

It led, as well as to a focus on research over teaching, to a shift in emphasis from humanities to social science, where the economists found public rewards that had been unknown before the war. They bought into a variety of 'sciences' whose origin lay in operations research during the second world war: systems theory, game theory, cybernetics and so on. This too was fed by the paranoid desire to defeat an unknown enemy that persisted into the Cold War. This model and the money pumped into the universities peaked in the 1960s and 70s when the idea of mass graduate education for research took hold, along with a massification of undergraduate education. But the money and its historical justification almost immediately began to run out in the 1980s. The end of the Cold War was the death knell for university-based research. By now government and corporate funders are pulling out fast. To take one example, the pharmaceuticals department of a midwestern university was at one time the biggest earner of research funds in the US. Not long ago a third of its full professors lost their jobs in one year because Big Pharma has discovered that universities are topheavy, costly and rigid compared with smaller, more flexible research centres.

 

Of course, like an oil tanker trying to do an 180 degree turn in mid-ocean, it will take time for the universities to realise that the reseach boom has gone bust and that their only future is to rediscover a vocation for teaching. But they do so in a situation where there are many alternatives for delivering people the education they want using the internet and other means. Maybe the AAA had something of this in mind when making their recent decision, but I doubt it.

Thank you for the beautiful account. The dilemma may not be the issue of funding although research for funding, even though support is always salient. However, anthropology within its own ranks has both qualitative and qualitative aspects. By emphasis on its non-sceintific qualities may widen the devide between the two sides of the anthropological coin. The devide was evident in the University where I studied. The amounts of money the biological anthropologists received in comparison to the social anthropologist was very scewed. As a result, the university appeared to value the biologica side more even though there were more undergraduates in the social program. What I am trying to emphasise here is not the internal politics of my particular department but rather the increasing divisions inside the discipline.  If money and legitimacy go ahnd in hand, then one part of the discipline will enevitably be marginalised.

The reasons for changing the emphasis of what anthropology is, is a legitimate one. Clearly many anthropologist's work resembles philosophical questions more than sytematic 'scientific' ones but the same argument could be made about some studies of astronomy and questions about the origins of the universe. But I would dought that anyone would suggest that astronomy is not a sceince. 


Keith Hart said:

Simeon, The priority given to science is secondary to an emphasis on research over teaching. Until the second half of the twentieth century, universities were mainly concerned with giving higher education to a small proportion of the population who would then go on to their non-academic careers. The injection of large amounts of money into university research was largely an innovation of the Cold War. This money went mainly into developing atomic energy, armaments, food security, pharmaceuticals, air and space transport etc. Naturally enough it found its way to scientific research establishments, mostly then in the universities, but not exclusively so. The others noticed that well-funded scientific research won its practitioners prestige, so they emulated the model even if the knowledge they produced didn't have quite the same usefulness to the powers that be.

 

It led, as well as to a focus on research over teaching, to a shift in emphasis from humanities to social science, where the economists found public rewards that had been unknown before the war. They bought into a variety of 'sciences' whose origin lay in operations research during the second world war: systems theory, game theory, cybernetics and so on. This too was fed by the paranoid desire to defeat an unknown enemy that persisted into the Cold War. This model and the money pumped into the universities peaked in the 1960s and 70s when the idea of mass graduate education for research took hold, along with a massification of undergraduate education. But the money and its historical justification almost immediately began to run out in the 1980s. The end of the Cold War was the death knell for university-based research. By now government and corporate funders are pulling out fast. To take one example, the pharmaceuticals department of a midwestern university was at one time the biggest earner of research funds in the US. Not long ago a third of its full professors lost their jobs in one year because Big Pharma has discovered that universities are topheavy, costly and rigid compared with smaller, more flexible research centres.

 

Of course, like an oil tanker trying to do an 180 degree turn in mid-ocean, it will take time for the universities to realise that the reseach boom has gone bust and that their only future is to rediscover a vocation for teaching. But they do so in a situation where there are many alternatives for delivering people the education they want using the internet and other means. Maybe the AAA had something of this in mind when making their recent decision, but I doubt it.

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