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Title: Key Debates in Anthropology
Authors: Ingold, Tim
Issue Date: 1996
Publisher: New York
Abstract: that in agricultural societies with land-intensive techniques of cultivation, and where land rather than labour is a scarce resource, property will devolve to both men and women and marriage will be monogamous. That this is a general statement is undeniable, but whether it has been derived through a process of generalization is another matter altogether. The issue here hinges on the contrast between induction and deduction. Arguably, the notion of generalization implies an inductive procedure whereby certain regularities or patterns are drawn from the systematic review of a large number of empirical cases. But in supporting the motion, Anthony Good favours the kind of deductive procedure most prominently advocated by Karl Popper. According to Popper, every hypothesis is derived from a theory, but theoretical innovation is a matter of inspired conjecture, not scientific method. Hypotheses cannot be proven, but they can be refuted through testing against the evidence. When it comes to critical testing, Good argues that anthropologists are far more conscientious than many natural scientists (his example is chemistry); furthermore, anthropologists are a good deal more aware that such testing necessarily involves dialogue and debate within the scientific community. However, Judith Okely, opposing the motion, objects to the Popperian version of anthropology-as-science, with its image of the fieldworker as technician, testing hypotheses and recording facts in the ‘natural laboratory’ furnished by other cultures. Anthropologists are involved in multiple conversations, both in the field and among academic colleagues. But it is hard to say of any conversation that it is one thing or the other, either an episode of theory building or an episode of critical testing. It is, however, to the language of positivism in which so much of contemporary science is couched that Okely directs her principal critique. Her objections, in other words, are not so much to science as to scientism. She would have nothing against the idea of anthropology as science if science were taken in its original sense, meaning simply ‘knowledge’. But scientism blocks knowledge by closing down or discrediting the work of the creative imagination. Okely makes it very clear that the source of this blockage is political. Mainstream science, with more power and resources at its disposal than anthropologists could ever dream of, can celebrate the genius and inspiration of its great thinkers. But in the public perception of anthropology, reliance on the imagination tends to be dismissed as evidence of ‘soft’ or sloppy thinking. Though Keith Hart and Judith Okely contribute on opposite sides in the debate, Hart’s support for science resonates to some extent with Okely’s rejection of scientism. Like Okely, Hart objects to positive science’s obsession with method, at the expense of an awareness of what knowledge is for. Moreover, he is sensitive to the way in which the meaning of science has changed over the centuries. His strategy for revealing such changes is to show how successive generations have responded to the question of what science is not. Where once the antitheses of science were myth and religion, now they are the humanities and creative arts. Even the creativity involved in theoretical conjecture, according to the Popperian model, is supposed to lie beyond the purview of scientific investigation. However, positivism, Hart argues, is already obsolescent within mainstream natural science, and the rather jaded view that many anthropologists have of science—with its vision of men in white coats—is increasingly out of date. Attending to
ISBN: 0-203-45687-4
Appears in Collections:Books

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