Is anthropology a science, and does it matter?

Francis Sedgemore, Tuesday 14 December 2010 at 13:08 UTC

I have no knowledge of the internal politics of the American Anthropological Association, or the reason behind the organisation’s recent decision to “exclude from its new long-range plan the description of anthropology as a science”. Whatever the rationale, Norman Geras is right to describe the move as retrograde.

Anthropology is in its broadest aspect the scholarly study of humanity, and in particular the origins and social relationships of our species. It is a cross-disciplinary field, taking in zoology, evolution, ecology, archaeology and the humanities (or social sciences, if you will). With anthropology you cannot consider any of these sub-topics in isolation, and the end result is undoubtedly scientific. Whether it is natural, social or a combination of the two is neither here nor there. But however one defines anthropology, it is a fascinating field of study, and makes for some of the most exciting popular science in broadcast media and print.

Is the American Anthropological Association going all theological on us? To do so would be a distraction from the pursuit of anthropological knowledge, whether it be scientific or cultural.

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