Solidarity, open access, and the future of anthropology

Now that the dust has settled a bit from the recent Science ‘controversy’ in anthropology, I join others in the field who think it’s a good idea to learn from this incident. Forget the fact that the story was completely over-hyped in major news coverage. Forget the backpedaling done by the AAA executive board once they realized the can of worms they had opened by taking the word ‘science’ out of their mission statement. What needs to be addressed is the real fragmentary nature of the discipline and why it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is true that the four-field approach to the study of humans is very expansive in the realm of specialization; this is something that no other field can boast. I challenge those who argue that this weakens anthropology as a social science. The biggest thing I took from the whole debacle was this: we need better communication between the sub-disciplines.

Why there were such strong reactions from all sides involved in the recent controversy [The violent backlash from the community of anthropologists who felt alienated by the AAA with exclusion of the word; the media’s handling of the debate pegging it as “an epic struggle in the discipline between the true scientists and their foes” (Kuper and Marks, Nature, 2011); and the association’s attempts to downplay the divide in the field and the implications of their actions] is definitely worth looking at, but I won’t delve into that here. There have been great articles written recently about these reactions and what they tell us about the current state of American anthropology:

Daniel Lende’s Anthropology, Science, & Public Understanding, Neuroanthropology

Dan Berrett’s Anthropology Without Science, Inside Higher Ed

Julienne Rutherford’s Revisiting a Controversy of Debated Etiology, BANDIT

What I think we should all be focusing on is why there aren’t mechanisms in place to connect researchers and experts in ALL fields of anthropology. The fragmented state of the field allows students of the discipline to choose many different paths to study the human condition. The fact that one department houses scientific laboratory researchers, field workers, cultural theorists, linguists, and ethnographers is not only advantageous to the study of humans, it is also very cool. What we need to work on is a better way to connect all of the branches of anthropology. After all, it is the original academic melting pot; “the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities”.

In Daniel Lende’s A Vision of Anthropology Today –And Tomorrow he talks about the need for anthropologists to unite, find common ground, and integrate research across all fields. I applaud this assessment. He goes on to talk about how the future of collaboration is happening now, online. This is something that we as anthropologists need to embrace. We need to establish anthropology as a leader in online social science collaboration. Not only does online integration of one’s research help the discipline itself, but it also helps to inform and engage the public. As an anthropology micro-blogger, my goal is to disseminate knowledge, raise awareness, encourage debate, and find ways to make the world a smaller place. So, anthropologists, fire up those PCs, Macs, and tablets and get blogging!

This was originally posted on my blog.

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Christian Adams

As any Anthropologist can tell you, there are a plethora of sub disciplines located within the “science ” of Anthropology. These range from Medical to Applied, from Social to heritage. Many Anthropologists at the undergraduate level are ill informed of these sub disciplines, if at all! Most Australian Anthropologists are given no idea how to undertake Native Title Anthropology, or how to undertake a Heritage Clearance for a mining company. This situation may be alleviated by better communications between those individuals undertaking research in these fields, however the situation may be better remedied by informing undergrads of what the true… Read more »

Catriona Moore

Interesting comment Christian. Why don’t you do a separate blogpost on corporate anthropology?


Yes, i agree with Daniel Lende’s.
The sub-disciplines needs proper communication and better engagement with each other, which would reduce the tensions. In Indian anthropology case it is even worse. We have regional bias within anthropology discipline, for instance, north indian universities dominates physical anthropology and in the south indian universities, it is social anthropology. Between these two regions other two sub-disciplines, Archaeological and Linguistic, lost their identity.

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