Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pascal Boyer asks, "Why is most cultural anthropology largely irrelevant?"

So begins a new paper by anthropologist Pascal Boyer (Washington University in St. Louis). Boyer analyzes three "modes of thought" that characterize modern anthropology:
  • Science mode
  • Erudition
  • Salient connections
I won't give away the argument; read it yourself, posted on Boyer's website. I find Boyer's observations helpful in sorting out the epistemological and theoretical territory of anthropology and archaeology today. It would not be hard to translate Boyer's argument into archaeology, and one could ask "why is most archaeology largely irrelevant?"

This paper is the written version of a talk Boyer gave a year or two ago at a session on integrating the sciences and the humanities at the University of British Columbia. The title of the lecture was "Three Styles of Inquiry in the Study of Culture. Explaining the Current Dismal State of Cultural Anthropology." It is highly entertaining (especially if you work in the science or erudition modes). The video is posted here.

The paper is:
Boyer, Pascal     n.d.    From Studious Irrelevancy to Consilient Knowledge: Modes Of Scholarship and Cultural Anthropology. In Creating Consilience: Reconciling Science and the Humanities, edited by E. Slingerland and Mark Collard, pp. in press. Oxford University Press, New York. .


Michael E. Smith said...

Oh, I forget to mention - I wanted thank Mark Collard for first turning me on to Boyer's video.

John Bintlifff said...

Dear Michael, another parallel to salient connexions is to see such scholarship as a revival of medieval scholasticism. I briefly commented on this in the context of Post Processual Archaeology is a paper quite a few years ago:
Bintliff, J. L. (1991). “Post-modernism, rhetoric and scholasticism at TAG: the current state of British archaeological theory.” Antiquity 65: 274-278.