2013 February 10 Sunday
Cultural Anthropology: Down An Intellectual Dark Hole

Razib Khan dismisses cultural anthropology for going beyond the event horizon of comprehension.

Many cultural anthropologists believe that they have deep normative disagreements with Jared Diamond. In reality I think the chasm isnít quite that large. But the repeated blows ups with Diamond gets to the reality that cultural anthropology has gone down an intellectual black hole, beyond the event horizon of comprehension, never to recover. It has embraced deconstruction, critique, complexity (or more accurately anti-reductionism) and relativism to such a great extent that whereas in many disciplines social dynamics and political power struggles are an unfortunate consequence of academic life, in cultural anthropology the fixation with power dynamics and structures has resulted in its own self-cannibalization, and overwhelming preoccupation with such issues.

Cultural anthropology has been overrun by ideologues. When academia gets gutted by the shift to online learning some colleges will close. Others will shrink. Faculty layoffs from cultural anthropology departments will be one of the many benefits.

One of Diamond's critics, Barbara King, rates a pretty reasonable-sounding Diamond statement as nonsense.

In point of fact, I was startled at this passage on the jacket of The World Until Yesterday: "While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgably wide, we can glimpse most of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies that still exist or were recently in existence." This statement turns small-scale societies into living fossils, the human equivalent of ancient insects hardened in amber. That's nonsense, of course.

I'm looking forward to the massive restructuring of higher education. Check out Coursera, Udacity, Western Governors University, and more.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 February 10 04:38 PM 


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