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ANTHROPOLOGY AS SCIENCE

A. ANTHROPOLOGY, THEORY,
SCIENCE?

B. COMMON PREMISES OF
ENLIGHTENMENT PHILOSOPHY OF
SCIENCE (EPISTEMOLOGY)

C. DURKHEIM, POSITIVISM AND THE


RULES OF SOCIOLOGICAL METHOD
(1895)

D. SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY AS
SCIENCE SINCE DURKHEIM
A.ANTHROPOLOGY, THEORY, SCIENCE?

Theory: a special optic (the theorist as optically


empowered observer of - and into - the world)

Theory: an intellectual detection of the world


(the theorist as detective)

Theory: a work of synthesis, of


seeing/understanding how entities fit together
within structures, processes (including processes
of disorder)
Are all social theories equally correct?
A1. If so, the study of society is a humanity:
more art than science

A2 If not, it is a science (in some sense)

The problem: no controlled experimental practice


possible as in physics, chemistry, biology

i.e. no discovering processes, laws, co-


effiecients, constants by controlled and
measurable interventions; realistically mimicking
Nature on a microcosmic scale

Cant put Society on a lab-bench: or create a


manipulable microcosm

Cant necessarily separate theoretical


perceptions of Society from ideology, culture,
bias

So how can the theoretical study of Society


possibly be scientific?
Most founding theoreticians of Society
were strongly A2: believed in the
possibility of a science of society
Marx, Weber, Durkheim mid-19th century early
20th century

All influential in the shaping of modern social


anthropology

Each of them influenced by the European


philosophical Enlightenment

In what ways did these thinkers think the


possibility of a science of society? (only ED here)

In what ways, subsequently did Social


Anthropology imagine its own scientific status?
B. COMMON PREMISES OF
ENLIGHTENMENT PHILOSOPHY OF
SCIENCE (EPISTEMOLOGY)

A science of society was possible and desirable.

for making History and changing/repairing


Society predictably

A natural societyHuman Society had arisen


from Nature (Rousseau; Hobbes; Darwin;
Marx/Engels)

In strong opposition to religious theories of


Creation (society created out of Heavenly design
and material)

Early (technologically primitive) Societies were


dominated by religious worldviews: technical
progress was possible but not Science

Society would evolve towards more


technologically sophisticated (modern) society
dominated by Science

A science of society and history as well as Nature


becomes possible, desirable and available
DURKHEIM, POSITIVISM AND THE
RULES OF SOCIOLOGICAL METHOD
(1895)

Emile Durkheim (1858 1917) born in Lorraine,


NE France

Most anthropologically influential texts:

The Division of Labour in Society (1893)

The Rules of Sociological Method (1895)

Suicide (1897)

The Elementary Forms of Religious Life


(1912)
Main premises of Durkheims theory of a
social science were in THE RULES OF
SOCIOLOGICAL METHOD (1895)

1.Distinguish a distinct field of social facts: so


that social facts to be explained by action of
other social facts

explaining e.g. Anthropologys uneasy


relations with Psychology!!!

2.Social facts should be general and studied in


their generality not as unique phenomena

explaining Social Anthropologys


aversion to events, individual differences,
unique phenomena

3. Treat social facts as things! As objects


without any special status in Nature; determine
but are also determined by Nature according to
natural laws (e.g. strength of religion determined by DOL;
suicide rate determined by degree of social solidarity)

explaining much of Social Anthropologys


priveliging of underlying non-subjective, non-
cultural natural causes

4.Apply correct method impartial, impersonal -


and apply it correctly to the description and
analysis of thing-like social facts
explains much of Social Anthropologys
assumption that the anthropologist as
theorist, ethnographer, data analyst and
writer is external to the reality s/he
represents; can objectively represent
In sum, Durkheims theory and
approach would nowadays be
described as:

Epistemelogically realist & methodologically


positivist

Underpinned and guaranteed by theory (grand


narrative) viz. that the waning of religion leads
to the true perception of social processes

Produces knowledge adequate to policy


formation, applied practice and the fixing of
modern societies
E. SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY AS SCIENCE
SINCE DURKHEIM
1. By collecting facts from across the world
(ethnological societies c. 1815; evolutionism) and
theorising their natural significance (cross-
cultural data)

2. By replacing armchair anthropology with


fieldwork (ethnography; masses of data from
single context)

3. By priveliging underlying process against


indigenous/native exegesis by stressing the
primacy of participant-observation over
interviews!! (Malinowski c1916; Boas c1911; Mass
Observation 1937)

4. By
substituting systematic comparison of
societies and phenomena for lab-based
experiments (G.P. Murdock; Sahlins; law-like correlations
between eg social stratification and ecological abundance)

5. By inclining towards biological


anthropology and socio-biology (ecological
studies; cognitive anthropology)

6. By being or becoming quantitative (ecological


studies; surveys; big data; but also Levi-Strausss famous
equation/formula for the science of mythology Fx(a) : Fy(b)
Fx(b) : Fa1 (y)) https://arxiv.org/pdf/math/0306174v2.pdf

7. By abandoning positivism for softer


scientific criteria e.g. Levi-Strauss; method is constant
but analysis is provisional; the most humanistic of the
sciences and the most scientific of the humanities; NB this
quote is on the external wall of the Anthropology Dept; see if
you can find it!!!)
8. Evidence-based analysis and propositions;
continuous strengthening of a particular provisional
analysis; always repeatable. (This is science by analogy with
legal practice where barristers/magistrates theorise how a
crime was committed and by whom but, where there is no
death penalty , are able to re-group around different
versions.)

OROROR

Reject the idea that Social Anthropology can be a


science

Accept that all of the theory-spectacles possess


equal insight

Theoretical perspectives are equal and different,


not right or wrong, true or false!

Have a multiplicity of theories or

A favourite theory!

NB Science versus non-science remains a key


battleground in contemporary social and cultural
anthropology. What do YOU think?