Silver Dialogues Essay
What might be particular now to a sociocultural anthropological approach to the study of human differences and similarities? If we must write about the classic ethnographies largely in the past tense, because – for example – Aboriginal Australians no longer live as “hunter-gatherers” nor Trobriander Islanders as isolated from the Papua New Guinean nation-state and the tourist economy, what might a contemporary undergraduate textbook look like? Does it make sense to focus on the different levels of sociopolitical integration (“band societies,” “tribal societies,” “chiefdoms,” and so on), when these formations are no longer themselves living or contemporary forms? What, then, are (or ought to be) the objects of ethnographic and anthropological study? Or, if anthropologists are only to represent the “local voice,” “the native’s point of view” as Bronislaw Malinowski famously wrote, with what authority can we engage or contest other social scientists, planners, or policy makers? Imagination and fruitful metaphor have been the attraction of much recent innovation, but in my view, anthropologists need also to sustain our place in social science, as an empirical social science, reinvigorating bases of validity and legitimacy for anthropological knowledge. Despite the contributions of critical cultural theory borrowed from the humanities, it would be a mistake to give the powerful discursive field of “science” over to others. Consequently, anthropologists face the difficulty of finding methodological grounding that can support persuasively and forcefully the imaginative frameworks whose value we may perceive. Read More...