Thursday, March 10, 2011

Open Thread: So what's this anthropology thing all about anyway?

This is where you can add your own 2 cents (or more) about what anthropology is all about. Since this is an open thread, go for it. Tell us why you're doing anthropology, where you want to go with it, and what it means to you. Talk about how it's the most amazing discipline ever, or tell us why you finally kicked anthropology to the curb to pursue the study of neoclassical economic theory. Hey, it happens. In order to figure out what anthropology is all about we need to hear numerous voices. Anyway, let it roll...


Anonymous said...

i think anthropology is a method for rendering epistemic perspectives intelligible; it has unfortunately wasted over a century fretting about what its unit of analysis is while masquerading as a 'discipline' [whatever that is - Geertz only knows]. Far from being something with shrinking or even non-existent applicability, i believe this method will come increasingly into favor as disparate and rapidly changing assemblages of individuals need a way to hear or be heard in a way they may not be able to achieve otherwise. perhaps most importantly, though, is the recognition of the unidirectionality of flow that the hermeneutic character of this method has created - partially through institutional inertia and partially through the rebranding of colonial networks of domination - which can only lead to a reversal of such a 'flow' of epistemic translative power. such an event can only be accomplished by an 'undisciplining' of anthropology, and the initiation of a truly humanistic anthropology through the development of this method outside of an academic context. tall order, for sure.. but what else can you do with this bag of theories?

-Justin Quinn, graduate student, U of Florida, anthropology

Ryan Anderson said...

Funny: what CAN we do with this bag of theories? I like your argument that we need to push this anthropology thing outside of the strictly academic container that it's often stuck in.

Thanks for the comment, Justin!

Jeremy Trombley said...

I was going to submit a paper I read at a recent conference for this inaugural issue of Anthropologies, but I've had a busy few weeks, and it's not looking any better any time soon. I do want to share some thoughts, though.

So the question is "What is anthropology?"

First and foremost, I think, it should be seen as a practice, whether academic or applied (and I'm not as concerned about breaching the academic/applied barrier, but that might just be because I'm in an applied anthropology department here at UMD). That means that we do make a difference - we always make a difference - we cannot help but make a difference.

The question then becomes, what kind of difference do we make, and what kind of difference do we want to make? Turning to the first of these two questions, "what kind of difference do we make?" we have to look empirically at what it is we do. Not what we think or imagine we do, but what we actually do - Latour style. We produce texts, we attend conferences, we visit communities, we talk to people, we bring gifts, we form relationships, we tell people about our communities, we tweet, write blogs, use facebook..... I don't know if the list will ever be exhaustive or if the sum total of our movement in the world could be accounted (what is our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions? etc.) But you get the point - we look at what we're actually doing and look at the effects of those actions. It's why I'm particularly interested in theorizing methods following John Law's After Method - what are these things and what do they do in the world in addition to collect or create knowledge?

In any case, this leads us then to think about what it is we want to do in the world, and what kind of world do we want to contribute to creating (not unveiling here, because there is no world out there to unveil - this is the Modern illusion). Not imposing a vision upon the world, but collaborating with others to create a world that we all can share and continually working to overcome oppressive systems.

I take as examples of this kind of practice (though it's geography, not anthropology) the work of J.K. Gibson Graham and Sarah Whatmore. I hope that my own work will follow the same path.