The first thing that came to my mind in the discussion about the scientific/humanistic nature of anthropology is the awareness that cultural anthropology is a label which for political and historical reasons has kept together a number of sub-disciplines, some having a substantial family resemblance but others sharing hardly any characteristics at all. A categorical understanding would immediately show a difference between humanities-anthropology and social science-anthropology. And then there is also a cross-cutting continuum of methodological positions, ranging from a kind of qualitative ‘measuring’ to ‘story-telling’, which indicates a similar kind of categorization. Salman seems to me an example of trying to be in both positions at the same time. What we, in the end, share as anthropologists is a common package of methods called fieldwork. Continue reading →
Portrait of Giambattista Vico by Francesco Solimena
By Matthias Teeuwen I want to thank Ton Salman for his insightful take on the question whether anthropology is the most scientific of the humanities or the most humanistic of the sciences or both, it gave me food for thought. For one: how is it that anthropology is considered science? It seems that Ton sees the scientific aspect of anthropology in its critical function of looking past the representations and meanings of people and examining the empirical conditions in which they arose.
I very much agree with Ton on this point. But I think that this hybridity is easily misunderstood in the sense that the critical, scientific side of anthropology is emphasised at the neglect of the hermeneutical, humanistic side. Continue reading →
First of all, allow me to thank Matthias Teeuwen for, once again, an intriguing and pertinent contribution to the ongoing dialogue on the nature of anthropology and its potential contribution to contemporary societal issues and challenges. The question is not a new one – but it is correct to make it a persistent one in anthropological reflection, because the –always provisional– answers have real consequences for what sort of endeavor anthropology in the end might be and what its ambitions may entail. A frequently heard characterization of anthropology is that it is something “between the sciences and the humanities”, or “the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities”. The phrase is indeed often attributed to Kroeber, but sometimes also to Eric Wolf or Edward Sapir. But let that be the least of our worries. The substance of the matter is of course about the métier’s epistemology, methods and relation to other disciplines and professions like philosophy and text exegesis, but also sociology, political sciences and other social sciences. Continue reading →