AAA Schism Redux

The associated post, Schism in the American Anthropological Association, has become large and unwieldy. The following posts illustrate the poles of the controversy: scientific anthropology and the post-modern humanistic positions. – carlos


I think science is both valuable and appropriate.  The difficulty, at least in the little world I live in, is that science, or more accurately scientists, frequently overlook, ignore, or deny the value and appropriateness of native ways of knowing. 

What I and my associates are longing to find are ways that science will accommodate native knowledge and native ways of knowing.

At the most recent regional annual archaeology conference, a group of native anthropologists and their native undergraduate students (who had participated in a TCP study run by a major CRM firm) gave a presentation putting forth their experience as natives in the anthropological process.  Part of the presentation had to do with culturally appropriate protocols upon entering and departing sacred sites and the collection and disposition of material finds.  That was the easiest part for most of the conference attendees to understand.

Another part, and to me the most important, had to do with how one knows where one is and what may be there and what it means.  This was difficult because the presenters were reluctant to say the whole nine yards, probably (I’m presuming here) because some of these ways of knowing are easy to ridicule and dismiss (and also to be adopted by new age-ish folks who apply the words without the understanding that gives them significance).

Earlier this year the road I live on had to be torn up to replace several miles of water pipes.  The crew arrived, with a magnificently equipped van full of electronic equipment, ground-penetrating radar, video cameras that crawled through pipes and wirelessly sent images to monitors in the van, and so on.  The crew then set out with dousing wands.

They found what they were looking for with the wands, then returned to the van and its equipment and verified that they had indeed found what they needed to find.

This is not a native knowledge example, although the crew were indigenous.  But it’s an example of the way my associates and I work to accommodate the needs of science.  And this is not a problem.

The problem is that the process lacks reciprocity.  In fact, in the end it leaves out indigenous ways of knowing altogether, given that the studies and papers that result leave out the recognitions/realizations that led to the native person’s initial knowingness.  Martha Noyes == == ==


Sokal, Alan (2006)  ”Pseudoscience and postmodernism: antagonists or fellow travelers?”  In Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public, edited by Garrett G. Fagan.  Routledge: New York, pp. 286-361.While not about anthropology per se, I think the author makes a cogent and persuasive argument that departures from science and postmodern critiques open the door to all kinds of strange and even bizarre assertions, including ideologically driven New Age models for the structure of ancient Maya cosmology that are presented as if they werebased on academic scholarship, among other things.The author, by the way, is the clever physicist who was at the center of “The Sokal Affair”: ”The Sokal affair (also known as Sokal’s hoax) was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. 

The submission was an experiment to test the magazine’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to learn if such a journal would ‘publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.’

The article ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’, published in the Social Text Spring/Summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue, proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct.

At that time, the Journal did not practice peer review fact-checking and did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist. The journal’s Editorial Collective however to express concerns to Sokal about the piece, and requested changes, which Sokal refused to make.

Wishing to include the work of a physicist, the Collective decided to accept the article on the basis of Sokal’s credentials. On its date of publication (May 1996), Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as ‘a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense . . . structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics’.”

I think Sokal’s essay on pseudoscience and postmodernism should be required reading for those engaged in this debate.   John Hoopes

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About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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