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(Slate)   ANTHROPOLOGIST FIGHT. Watch the slapping, guys   (slate.com) divider line 27
    More: Interesting, creation myths, Josef Mengele, creation myth, field research, population size, Central Africa, informed consent, Atomic Energy Commission  
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3053 clicks; posted to Geek » on 03 May 2013 at 12:30 PM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2013-05-03 11:33:04 AM
Short version: You are raising a pussy.
 
2013-05-03 11:38:26 AM
They can't even decide on a definition of culture so what's the surprise.
 
2013-05-03 12:58:00 PM
This is a big issue in the social sciences. Many of them have no exposure to the natural sciences, and so when studying social phenomena assume exclusively social influences. Given that the universe invariable ignores our ideological boundaries, their preconceptions are a big problem.

Sociobiological explanations are gaining more and more tractions, helped along by work coming out of neuropsychology, but there is still a strong bias against it. Which is ironic, because you'd think if anyone would be aware of the way inherent social biases could distort your understanding of the world around you, it would be social scientists.

/background in both social and natural sciences
//plus some philosophy of science for fun
///huge nerd and proud of it
 
2013-05-03 12:58:42 PM
CSB - I got shiatfaced with Chagnon at an anthropology conference a few years ago. Dude is a badass.
 
2013-05-03 01:23:55 PM
I loved Fierce People.
One of those I can re-read and re-read.
 
2013-05-03 01:32:41 PM
Do anthropologists have a Prime Directive that they have to follow or anything like that?
 
2013-05-03 01:35:08 PM

KiltedBastich: neuropsychology


[tangent]

I bet you'd annoy a lot of people if you pronounced that word "nu-ROP-si-CALL-o-jee".

[/tangent]
 
2013-05-03 01:59:56 PM

KiltedBastich: This is a big issue in the social sciences. Many of them have no exposure to the natural sciences, and so when studying social phenomena assume exclusively social influences. Given that the universe invariable ignores our ideological boundaries, their preconceptions are a big problem.

Sociobiological explanations are gaining more and more tractions, helped along by work coming out of neuropsychology, but there is still a strong bias against it. Which is ironic, because you'd think if anyone would be aware of the way inherent social biases could distort your understanding of the world around you, it would be social scientists.

/background in both social and natural sciences
//plus some philosophy of science for fun
///huge nerd and proud of it


What is your definition of culture? You seem to stress a quantitative approach over qualitative given your statements about what the universe ignores.
 
2013-05-03 02:06:22 PM

Arkanaut: Do anthropologists have a Prime Directive that they have to follow or anything like that?


Yeah, actually, they pretty much do. There are some hardcore ethical restrictions on what you can and can't do, and if you ignore them, your career is pretty much farked. The rep you get means you can end up blacklisted - much like they tried to do to Chagnon in TFA. It's bad enough when the allegations are false and you can prove it. If they are true and you get found out, forget it, you're done with the social sciences. No one will work with you for fear of their rep getting similarly trashed, you won't get hired by anything remotely resembling a reputable research group, and forget about getting funding.

Basically "Heretic leper unclean!!" - and actually pretty much deserved. Ethical violations in anthropology means you farked with their culture while you were studying them. You can screw over an entire people for generations to come that way, as anthropologists and sociologists have learned the hard way in the past to their chagrin.
 
2013-05-03 02:16:40 PM

Because People in power are Stupid: What is your definition of culture? You seem to stress a quantitative approach over qualitative given your statements about what the universe ignores.


Nope, I stress a whatever-gets-the-job done approach. I am a pragmatist with a strong interest in interdisciplinary work, where you use multiple methods to address the same problem from many perspectives in order to get a broader and more complete understanding. Qualitative work is very important for defining the scope of the work to be done, and to understand the potential minefields to be navigated in dealing with unfamiliar social groups, and for descibing the minute and subtle variations of interactions. Quantitative work is necessary if you want to try and find data that allows you to tease out larger principles that can be generalized past the biases and limitations of human perception, even well trained human perception. They are tools in a toolbox, not opposing methods - at least to me.

As for a definition of culture, that's a thorny question with methodological and epistemological ramifications. It's a topic worthy of extended debate (and has been such) inthe social sciences. A good working rule of thumb is "the set of practices and norms that collectively describes the social actions of a defined group of humans". However, that's still not going to be perfect. If you look hard enough you can find examples where that isn't a sufficient definition. For example, does a group of babies have a culture? What about apes? Elephants? Dolphins? Could an AI have culture? How big a group does it have to be to have a discrete culture? Can you be part of multiple cultures at the same time? What are the boundaries between cultures?

You see the problem. Defining culture is not ever going to be answered absolutely, as it is a theoretical construct used as a way to describe group behaviours, not an isolated variable.
 
2013-05-03 02:26:37 PM

KiltedBastich: Arkanaut: Do anthropologists have a Prime Directive that they have to follow or anything like that?

Yeah, actually, they pretty much do. There are some hardcore ethical restrictions on what you can and can't do, and if you ignore them, your career is pretty much farked. The rep you get means you can end up blacklisted - much like they tried to do to Chagnon in TFA. It's bad enough when the allegations are false and you can prove it. If they are true and you get found out, forget it, you're done with the social sciences. No one will work with you for fear of their rep getting similarly trashed, you won't get hired by anything remotely resembling a reputable research group, and forget about getting funding.

Basically "Heretic leper unclean!!" - and actually pretty much deserved. Ethical violations in anthropology means you farked with their culture while you were studying them. You can screw over an entire people for generations to come that way, as anthropologists and sociologists have learned the hard way in the past to their chagrin.


Well they do exist - but they're in turmoil right now (and have been for a while). Things like how should anthropologists interact with the Govt during wartime - should they educate soldiers (and help prevent misunderstandings) or refuse to participate in overtly political interference (esp. since some of the advice will be used to kill people).

Simultaneously there's been a pushback against treating people like animals in the savannah (you're not filming a lion documentary, that's a person) and trying to determine exactly what your ethical obligations are when observing a tragedy you can prevent. Are anthropologists advocates, passive observers, or what? Scheper-Hughes was tossed out of the AAAs for intervening in an execution in the early 90s (late 80s?) but now her sect is in power saying anthropologists are advocates first and researchers second.

Into this mix is the ongoing debate of "nature and nurture" and the exact ratio of culture to biology in human behavior - and of course the position of biological anthropologists in traditionally cultural areas of research. (This debate flared up a couple years ago with the American Anthropological Association executive board removing the word "Science" from their mission statement (replacing it with an emphasis on advocacy) resulting in many of the remaining archaeologists from leaving the AAAs).

It's in that environment that you have Chagnon (we'll just call him polarizing at minimum)- wrapping himself in the pro-science argument, and painting his opponents as anti-science fluff heads (it is ridiculous that he managed to paint Marshall Sahlins as anti-science) - as if believing his arguments to be overly-essentialistic makes you anti-science in anthropology.
 
2013-05-03 02:32:37 PM

Tiberius Gracchus: Well they do exist - but they're in turmoil right now (and have been for a while). Things like how should anthropologists interact with the Govt during wartime - should they educate soldiers (and help prevent misunderstandings) or refuse to participate in overtly political interference (esp. since some of the advice will be used to kill people).

Simultaneously there's been a pushback against treating people like animals in the savannah (you're not filming a lion documentary, that's a person) and trying to determine exactly what your ethical obligations are when observing a tragedy you can prevent. Are anthropologists advocates, passive observers, or what? Scheper-Hughes was tossed out of the AAAs for intervening in an execution in the early 90s (late 80s?) but now her sect is in power saying anthropologists are advocates first and researchers second.

Into this mix is the ongoing debate of "nature and nurture" and the exact ratio of culture to biology in human behavior - and of course the position of biological anthropologists in traditionally cultural areas of research. (This debate flared up a couple years ago with the American Anthropological Association executive board removing the word "Science" from their mission statement (replacing it with an emphasis on advocacy) resulting in many of the remaining archaeologists from leaving the AAAs).

It's in that environment that you have Chagnon (we'll just call him polarizing at minimum)- wrapping himself in the pro-science argument, and painting his opponents as anti-science fluff heads (it is ridiculous that he managed to paint Marshall Sahlins as anti-science) - as if believing his arguments to be overly-essentialistic makes you anti-science in anthropology.


Yup. No one ever said ethics were easy. It all still needs to be worked out one way or the other, but it's another one of those complex issues where there's never going to be perfect agreement. That said, there are still some broad outlines that exist, and basically no one sets out to ignore the ethics.
 
2013-05-03 02:55:49 PM

Arkanaut: KiltedBastich: neuropsychology

[tangent]

I bet you'd annoy a lot of people if you pronounced that word "nu-ROP-si-CALL-o-jee".

[/tangent]


I am working this into a conversation. Today.
 
2013-05-03 03:15:03 PM
I'm enjoying the discussion here, KiltedBastich and Tiberius Gracchus.

Chagnon's work has been used as a sounding board by the anthropological community at large for decades, with the shifts in anthropological theory, methods, and ethics reflected in how people perceive his work.

Whether it's a broader debate about how scientific cultural anthropologists should strive to be, the collaboration between anthropologists and government agencies, or the nature-nurture debate, Chagnon's work keeps being argued as a case example - usually incorrectly. As the author implies in the article, the reactions to Chagnon's work say a lot more about the state of anthropology as a discipline than Chagnon's research itself. It's not just the Yanomamo who have axes to grind.

I frankly have a bit of Chagnon fatigue these days, and would much rather see the anthropological community discuss the issues as issues, instead of couching them in 30 year old research.

I'm one of the archaeologists who abandoned the AAA when they dropped science from their mission statement. The steady march of cultural anthropology toward a more postmodern approach is probably our discipline's most pressing problem. I suspect that the pendulum will swing back toward the center soon, but not without hurting our reputation in the mean time.
 
2013-05-03 03:35:57 PM
s3.amazonaws.com
 
2013-05-03 04:24:51 PM

everlastinggobstopper: I'm enjoying the discussion here, KiltedBastich and Tiberius Gracchus.

Chagnon's work has been used as a sounding board by the anthropological community at large for decades, with the shifts in anthropological theory, methods, and ethics reflected in how people perceive his work.

Whether it's a broader debate about how scientific cultural anthropologists should strive to be, the collaboration between anthropologists and government agencies, or the nature-nurture debate, Chagnon's work keeps being argued as a case example - usually incorrectly. As the author implies in the article, the reactions to Chagnon's work say a lot more about the state of anthropology as a discipline than Chagnon's research itself. It's not just the Yanomamo who have axes to grind.

I frankly have a bit of Chagnon fatigue these days, and would much rather see the anthropological community discuss the issues as issues, instead of couching them in 30 year old research.

I'm one of the archaeologists who abandoned the AAA when they dropped science from their mission statement. The steady march of cultural anthropology toward a more postmodern approach is probably our discipline's most pressing problem. I suspect that the pendulum will swing back toward the center soon, but not without hurting our reputation in the mean time.


I get very exasperated with social scientists who get into turf wars over sociobiological explanations vs. exclusively cultural explanations. The psychologists have very convincingly demonstrated on an individual level that the answer to "Is it nature or nurture" is "Yes". Because it's both. Biological tendencies in the genotype get expressed differently in the phenotype due to environmental factors which of course in humans are heavily influenced by society and culture. That's basic introductory genetics stuff. So why should I assume there's some kind of barrier that prevents those biological expressions affecting the emergent phenomena of social behaviour?

It strikes me as the height of absurdity therefore to assume a priori that there can only be social causes to social phenomena. We know that behavioural expressions have a genetic component, and we know that allele distribution varies between population group due to evolutionary pressures and genetic drift. If you assume that this can have no influence over social difference between population groups, you've effectively guaranteed that your work will be incomplete and inaccurate and need to be redone at some time in the future once that preconception has been discarded in favor of trying to identify the interactions between society and biology that affect culture and behaviour.

The universe at large has no respect for the arbitrary discipline boundaries that we have set up as an aid to organizing human knowledge. Implicitly presuming that those arbitrary boundaries reflect some kind of actual limit on the universe at large and thus reifying them makes me want to smack the people in the social sciences I catch making those assumptions. Social scientists should freaking well know better. It's exactly the kind of crap they study and are taught not to do when studying social phenomena at large at the Intro level in their undergrads, and yet when it comes to their personal professional careers they are so often blind to it!

Argh. Very frustrating.
 
2013-05-03 04:45:14 PM
Is this where we point and laugh at Margaret Mead and her Motel of Mysteries?
 
2013-05-03 05:07:35 PM
This is the best forum I can think of at the moment to share my favorite example of anthropology and the internet coming together beautifully.

So you anthro types remember Ongka?  The man in the do it in the road shirt from Ongka's Big Moka (and accompanying ethnography) we all had to watch 30 times through our educational careers? (Making Ongka a very important figure in our "upbringing" as it were)

Well enterprising youtubers have put the movie up - which is nice I suppose. But look at the number one comments on the page - (link)

One of his great-grandsons has seen this movie on youtube and commented on it.  It's amazing - and something I have had to point out to my ensuing classes and fellow TAs in the bullpen whenever I can.  Who says globalization is bad?
 
2013-05-03 05:15:02 PM

Agarista: I loved Fierce People.
One of those I can re-read and re-read.


CSB: Dr. Tim Asch, the ethnographer who worked with Chagnon back in the 1960s and 1970s, was one of my anthro professors about 30 years ago. He was awesome.
 
2013-05-03 05:19:49 PM
How come I have never heard of this guy until now?

/MA in Anthro
 
2013-05-03 05:32:26 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0ABi4cYB28

Napoleon is the slap fight champion.
 
2013-05-03 07:46:24 PM
Took Deetz the semester he died. :(
 
2013-05-03 08:12:01 PM
Archaeologists don't fight as artifacts might get damaged. They just drink each other under the table and write snide rebuttal articles. I've found all intellectuals get very snippy when proved wrong.
 
2013-05-04 01:50:02 AM
images2.wikia.nocookie.net
 
2013-05-04 03:07:47 AM
From what I saw, this has nothing to do with anthropologists fighting.
But tldr.
 
2013-05-04 07:00:47 AM
Handbags at five paces...
 
2013-05-04 10:08:39 AM

Arkanaut: Do anthropologists have a Prime Directive that they have to follow or anything like that?


"Publish or die."
 
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