The common goal links these vastly different projects: to advance knowledge of who we are, how we came to be that way — and where we may go in the future.
Right, the point is not that we have to accept this uncritically. I posted it so that we can consider it. After all, it's a common statement posted on behalf of a large group of anthropologists, and this is "the anthropology of anthropology." Other examples?
[Anthropology's]commitment to the integrated study of both diversity and commonality amongst people throughout the world gives it a distinctive place in the field of learning. Anthropology is a subject that seeks to be holistic and comparative as well as critical and reflexive.
In my own case, I believe strongly that the proper response to the postmodern critique is to embrace it and think about how to do something approximating science in an intensely personal way. So I try to do research that both (1) systematically collects data and constantly questions hypotheses and (2) shows a proper respect for the individuality of the people who collaborate with me and the circumstances in which our lives intersect.
So, for example, in my current project I take advantage of data collected for other purposes that allow me to identify precisely the people with whom a copywriter named Maki Jun worked on winning ads in 2001 and situate them on a map of relationships that tie the top of an industry together. But I don't want to leave Maki as nothing more than a labeled node in a network analysis diagram. I want people to know that, like me, he grew up beside the sea and played the trombone in a high school band. They should also know that he has recently published a book suggesting that advertising copy, with its business suit removed, is a new form in a long tradition of one-line poetry that includes haiku, tanka, and senryu, all traditional forms of poetry for which Japanese literature is justly renowned. He is a man addicted, as I am, to wordplay and a genuine master of the art.
Maki’s latest book is prefaced with the line kotoba no happa wa, itsuka ki ni naru mori ni naru (the leaves on words sometimes become a forest), which pivots on his substitution of the Chinese character for "tree" for the usual character for "breath" in the phrase ki ni naru, turning "notice and are concerned about" into "become trees, become a forest" (a more literal way to translate the way the line ends). The whole thing is set off because the ba in kotoba (word) is written with the Chinese character for "leaf." So the whole thing might have been rendered "The leaves in "spoken-leaves" (words) sometimes become trees, become forests."
Today, I use Maki as an example because I had the privilege of meeting with him a few days ago and am in a glow because he has agreed to lend a hand with my project. But, returning to our starting point, what I love about this research is the way that it uses both the numerate and literate sides of my brain and produces both the elegance of the structural diagrams and insight into the thoughts and lives of some truly extraordinary people. That’s anthropology to me.
Stacie's statement resonates well with the benchmark statement by a group of UK anthropologists constructed to take ownership of the discipline in the midst of quality control bureaucracy at http://www.qaa.ac.uk/academicinfrastructure/benchmark/honours/anthr...
I think we at least know what anthropology is supposed to be about, at least anthropology as it has been up to now. The future is, of course, a bit more murky. But I think the fact this kind of schema can be pretty reliably elicited from our target group lends some support to the notion that there is a cumulative body of knowledge and how it might fit together, whilst being aware it is a moving target.
John's initial point (see above)--that social and cultural anthropology seems to go from one subject to another, never developing or consolidating one, but constantly seeking a new subject, a new paradigm, a new "ism"--appears to hold whatever our general gloss on our purpose might be. John suggests that this may be like the art world, and Clifford Geertz famously likened it to literary criticism; both are not only subject to, but glory in faddism, or in "creativity," if you like.
How might we explain this? Allow me to nominate one candidate: individualism.
First, is s-c anthropology individualistic? I think there are two mutually reenforcing aspects: People who choose s-c anthropology, and take on the mantle of the field anthropologist, tend to be individualists, a bit non-conforming, a bit transgressive. (Look at the clothes & hair of anthropologists, in comparison to sociologists, political scientists, economists.) This is reflected in our graduate training and research supervision, in which the individual choices and preferences of each student are regarded as sacred, and professors are not responsible for what their students do, and do not want that responsibility.
Second, how does this affect the non-cumulative nature of anthropological research? Each new anthropologist must make a name for him- or herself, and this is best done by inventing something new and exciting, preferable something general enough to draw general interest in the profession. Going over "old ground," pursuing "normal science," is not attractive, not a good career move. Building on established knowledge is a low priority, if not entirely counterproductive.
Individualism is reflected in the egalitarian structure of our academic departments, which are administratively like co-ops, and which favour career trajectories rather like age set systems: all move up through the ranks, so in stable departments, there are more full professors than assistant professors. So there is no institutionalized intellectual leadership, leaving each to go his or her own way.
In many other academic fields--in the sciences and in archaeology--training and research are in teams with a structured division of labour and a hierarchy. Senior researchers give direction and junior researchers take direction. The result is a much greater degree of cumulative knowledge.