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DISCURSIVE RISKS: What are the epistemic assumptions of the analyst of collaboration?

Wednesday, September 13, 2023 - 2:50pm

this quote on p15 shows the biases in the authors' purportedly non-biased analysis of comparative ethnography; it shows the cultural coding of what they takes as their non-coded, neutral social scientific analysis of social science:

On the other end of the spectrum are forms of anti-realism. Postmodern anthropology often rejects the principles central to Durkheim's posi­tivism (Tyler 1986; Clifford and Marcus 1986; Reed 2010). Drawing on subjectivism and the egoism of strong phenomenology (i.e., Husserl 2015 [ 1931 ]), some question the notion of a real, or at least objectively know­able, external world (Husserl 2015 [1931]; Bunge 1993). They are less concerned with correspondence or causal explanation. They find greater value in literary or aesthetic merits and deconstruction of the taken-for­ granted (Clifford and Marcus 1986). This is often, though not always, tied explicitly to political projects, with a belief that analysis is intimately entangled with a scholar's position (de Beauvoir 1949). In anthropology, this is tied to reckoning with their colonial legacy (Said 1991), and the Foucaultian analysis of the human sciences as key components of modern power (Rose 1998). In sociology, this is tied to a longstanding concern with inequality and domination (Collins 1990). Many eschew explanation as a chief goal or a goal at all. 

There is so much wrong here, but first let's back up a paragraph.  In the paragraph previous to this one they first say they are discussing "traditions," yet the only reference is to Durkheim. His social facts are "real, discernable, extra-individual phenomena," putting him on the right [sic and sic] of the ontological spectrum. Sociology is a "positive science," the one exclusively suited to its domain, "society."  As a "realist and objectivist," Durkheim (and presumably those like the authors in this "tradition") "epistemic approach focuses on correspondence (i.e., models are evaluated by how they map onto facts," and explanations for him are "causal." Like other sciences, sociology produces "covering laws" that "reflect the objective nature of social reality...regardless of the values of individual researchers."  Comparison's purpose is to "get at invariant principles" behind or underneath variation.  All this amounts to a "social scientific positivism in the extreme."

So now to the other end of the spectrum; they left out the "extreme" descriptor but it's understood. There is more than one referent here, but they are an odd and dated assortment, probably because that's the only way they can make this completely wrong analysis work or at least appear plausible, and indeed "objective" and "real."  But in fact it is far from objective, and corresponds to no reality I'm familiar with, and I should know since I am as "(Clifford and Marcus 1986)" as they come. Note that they do not use the far more popular "relativism" to denote this other "postmodern" extreme at the perverse end of this normal spectrum, but "anti-realism." In fact, "Tyler 1986" refers to "postmodern anthropology" as "a form of realism" (p137); that they get this so wrong I can only chalk up to their "drawing" on some form of their own "subjectivism." I can't make any sense of the phrase "egoism of strong phenomenology;" if anything, I would say Husserl (and what is he doing in here anyway?) was intent on bracketing egoism.  But you go ahead and do your own google search and see if you can come up with anything connecting egoism to phenomenology, or any differentiation between a "strong" and I guess a "weak" form of phenomenology. I think they are not real.

Some might engage in the "deconstruction of the taken-for-granted," but certainly not Tyler, who was not a practitioner of deconstruction and, again, thought of postmodern anthropology as a "realism of the common-sense world" (p137). I think for many of us it is not a question of "value in literary or aesthetic merits," but more a matter of tthe utility and indeed necessity of the literary analysis of literary forms and genres, including the genre called "realism," employing methods such as rhetorical or discourse analysis, neither of which are discussed here.

It's true that we are interested in how "analysis is intimately entangled with a scholar's position," but there is a lot of disagreement about what constitutes a position, or how positions get constituted, and I think very few of us would reach back to 1949 even if Simone de Beauvoir was a great thinker and writer.  Many of us might reach for the more recent (Collins 1990), because she and many others do indeed care about and analyze "inequality and discrimination" as real social problems, and their careful analyses, far from "eschewing" explanation, value them greatly.  And we also have other "goals" we chew on ferociously, although these are not named here: thick description, new insights, fresh perspectives, provocative questions and hypotheses, etc.

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