Looking in the Cultural Mirror

How understanding race and culture helps us answer the question: "Who am I?"

Is Anthropology Scientific? Beats Me.

Is anthropology scientific? What would Lewis Carroll say?

Franz Boas (1858 – 1942), "the father of American anthropology," studied culture scientifically.
In response to the controversy that erupted over the removal of references to "science" from the American Anthropological Association (AAA) mission statement, the AAA issued a public statement and a document, What is Anthropology? apparently intended to calm the waters.

The following is my attempt to understand the AAA Executive Board's position:
1. The deletion of "science" was from the "long term goals" of the mission statement, but that doesn't affect the definition of anthropology.
2. The Board's public statement "endorses the crucial place of the scientific method in much anthropological research."
3. The What is Anthropology? document describes the four fields of anthropology--sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics--without use of the word "science" in any of them. An introductory paragraph does refer to the "social and biological sciences"--but the sentences leave unresolved the location of those sciences. Are they inside or outside of anthropology? Here are the two relevant sentences:
"Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. To understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, anthropology draws and builds upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences."

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Is that clear?

As I waded into the morass, trying to figure out whether or not anthropology was scientific, I was reminded of the following passage from Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass:

The name of the song is called ‘Haddocks' Eyes.'"

"Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" Alice said, trying to feel interested.

"No, you don't understand," the Knight said, looking a little vexed. "That's what the name is called. The name really is ‘The Aged Aged Man.'"

"Then I ought to have said ‘That's what the song is called'?" Alice corrected herself.

"No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called ‘Ways And Means': but that's only what it's called, you know!"

"Well, what is the song, then?" said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

"I was coming to that," the Knight said. "The song really is ‘A-sitting On A Gate': and the tune's my own invention."

 

Image source:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FranzBoas.jpg

 

Check out my most recent book, The Myth of Race, which debunks common misconceptions, as well as my other books at http://amazon.com/Jefferson-M.-Fish/e/B001H6NFUI

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Jefferson M. Fish, Ph.D., a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at St. John's University, has authored and edited 12 books, including The Myth of Race.

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