Monday, May 23, 2005

Oh anthropology redux

zephoria left some interesting comments to my recent post about anthropology. She asks:

"But why should anthropologists get protective? The biologists certainly don't when you snap up their texts. And i'm not sure the CS PhDs consider themselves anthropologists. If anything, they see theselves as learning ethnography."

First of all, let's not confuse ethnography with anthropology. One is a research method and the other is an institutionalised field of study. Second, my post started to get at what I think can be summed up like this: anthropology isn't better, but it is unique.

A few things come to mind:

The line between collaboration and appropriation is thin.

We know that knowledge and power are inextricable. We know that scientific knowledge is, amongst other things, a set of practices and power relations. We know that scientific research has more public and private support than the humanities, arts and social sciences. And when scientific disciplines, or inter-disciplinary departments residing in science or engineering faculties, explore and adopt the methods of non-scientific disciplines, we know that there are different power relations at stake than if it happens in reverse.

When we tie any kind of research to funding, production, commodification and consumption - and how can we not? - then we also know that how research acts in the world, how it shapes the world, is an integral part of its ethics. And here's where things get difficult.

The kind of anthropology with which I align my interests is decidedly political, critical. Its ethics are particular to its history and I, for one, will support them. If, as zephoria says, "sociologist is becoming the label that folks give to anyone who does anything remotely social" then I hope to always be considered an anthropologist.

You see, I don't want everyone to know and do the same thing. In inter-disciplinary research particularly, I want everyone to do what they do, from their perspective, best. I want many voices. I want friction between values, desires and interests - and I want us to have to play them out. Of course this doesn't mean that we shouldn't learn the ways of other disciplines. That's like refusing to speak anything but English when you travel; it's rude at best. And I don't see computer scientists trying to pass themselves off as anthropologists any time soon.

But for me, this isn't an issue of identity, or identity-crisis, but rather a matter of use and exchange. And I can't say that cooperation and sharing are necessarily good or equal exchanges. (The punk rock part of me is now muttering something about hippies.) Or that topics like this can be effectively resolved by advocating either disciplinary or inter-disciplinary futures. If we learn one thing from anthropology, it's that nothing is more important than context.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should write a book, i would buy and read it


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