Debating Public Anthropology: American Anthropologist

In connection with the items below, see:

“NOT RADICAL ENOUGH”: DISENGAGED ANTHROPOLOGY

Newly published articles:

American Anthropologist
March 2008, Vol. 110, No. 1, pp. 53-60
Posted online on May 8, 2008.
(doi:10.1111/j.1548-1433.2008.00008.x)

The Quest for Anthropological Relevance: Borgesian Maps and Epistemological Pitfalls

MATTI BUNZL

Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, IL 61801

Concepts: sociocultural anthropology, positivism, Boas, Geertz, Writing Culture

In this essay, I critique the currently dominant mode of American sociocultural anthropology. Through a historical reading of canonical texts from the 1970s to the 1990s, I trace some of contemporary anthropology’s limitations and probe their implications for the possibility of a publicly engaged discipline. I focus my critique on the demand for ever-increasing complexity, identifying it as an implicit form of positivism that renders the results of anthropological inquiries increasingly irrelevant to the big questions of the day. Epistemologically speaking, contemporary anthropology is thus not radical enough. In conclusion, I mobilize the Weberian-Boasian tradition as the most viable alternative to sociocultural anthropology’s status quo.


American Anthropologist

March 2008, Vol. 110, No. 1, pp. 61-63
Posted online on May 8, 2008.
(doi:10.1111/j.1548-1433.2008.00009.x)

A Response to Matti Bunzl: Public Anthropology, Pragmatism, and Pundits

CATHERINE BESTEMAN

HUGH GUSTERSON­

Department of Anthropology, Colby College
Waterville, ME 04901-8840

Department of Anthropology, George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

Concepts: globalization, neoliberalism, public anthropology, media, inequality

Discussing only two out of 11 chapters, Matti Bunzl argues that Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong (2005) embodies an excessively deconstructive approach that undermines public anthropology by opposing all generalization. In fact, the contributors to the Pundits volume come from a variety of intellectual positions, some unfriendly to deconstructionism. In a book that is deliberately jargon free, the contributors are unified not by postmodernism but by pragmatism. They oppose generalizations that are manifestly ideological and untrue, not all generalizations. The point of the book is not to nitpick generalizations but to unmask media apologetics for neoliberalism and neoconservatism that misuse core terms (e.g., culture, ethnicity, human nature, gender) from the anthropological lexicon. We advocate a revitalized public anthropology based on grounded research, translation of sophisticated anthropological knowledge into accessible English, and a passionate concern for the well-being of those at the sharp end of neoliberal globalization.


American Anthropologist
March 2008, Vol. 110, No. 1, pp. 64-65
Posted online on May 8, 2008.
(doi:10.1111/j.1548-1433.2008.00010.x)

A Reply to Besteman and Gusterson: Swinging the Pendulum

MATTI BUNZL

Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, IL 61801

Concepts: epistemology, politics, the public sphere

In this rejoinder to Catherine Besteman and Hugh Gusterson, I clarify that my essay “The Quest for Anthropological Relevance: Borgesian Maps and Epistemological Pitfalls” is not primarily a critique of their volume Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong (2005). Instead, I maintain that it takes issue with the current state of sociocultural anthropology and its inability to communicate with a larger public sphere. In conclusion, I reflect on the historical location of my argument, likening my position to advocacy for a swing in the discipline’s epistemological pendulum and finding additional cause for such action in the realities of the current political moment.