An establishment anthropologist, and a renegade–Hortense Powdermaker (bio1, bio2, bio3, bio4, bio5) worked on some unique projects that differed from the anthropological standard of her time (especially given her training by Malinowski, and the dominant influences of Radcliffe-Brown and Evans-Pritchard), and that differ from some of the standards even of our time, though her work has helped to change those standards. She was arguably the first to use anthropological methods to study people and institutions at home, and the first to study the mass media. She did not escape the straight-jacket of wishing her work to be objective, if you believe some of the biographic statements written by others removed in time, and her work probably excels for not pretending to reproduce the arid and mechanical fetishism of objectivity. Powdermaker as renegade, activist, and critical researcher has been a source of inspiration for others, like Nancy Scheper-Hughes.
In Hollywood, The Dream Factory, Powdermaker makes the following comments on the concern for method in the social sciences, linking it to the supremacy of the technological and the prizing of know-how, spanning mass media and academic knowledge production:
“The way in which Hollywood has mechanized creativity and taken away most of its human characteristics again exaggerates the prevailing culture pattern, which gives little prestige to creativity not technological. This, of course, does not apply to the genius: an Einstein, Picasso, or a Rachmaninoff is given due honor. But we do little to bring out the creativity which lies in all human beings. Most people-just the everyday garden variety, not the geniuses-have far more potentialities for being creative than they use. But very few of them have the courage or desire to carry through their own ideas, big or little, because they have been conditioned to think routinely and follow the crowd. Our society tends, particularly today, to prize uniformity in thinking more than originality. The concern with the ‘know-how’ rather than the ‘why,’ with technology rather than meaning, permeates much of the thinking even in the social sciences when method becomes more important than problems. The use of the most exact scientific methods on a sterile and meaningless problem is not too different from the employment of the most technically advanced camera work to produce a banal movie. It is the same when our educational system stresses the accumulation of facts rather than the meaningful relationship between them, and the taking of so many courses that there is little time for thoughtful reflection. The radio with its ‘Information, Please’ and other quiz programs continues the emphasis. It is not that factual knowledge or scientific methods are unimportant, but rather that they are of use only in the larger context of problems and meanings. Hollywood expands these two features of our society to such an extent that it discourages and sometimes even forbids creativity in the very people whom it presumably pays to be creative.” (p. 318)