Science, AAA, and Anthropology

I am not going to spend much time describing the controversy regarding the American Anthropological Association removing the word “science” from their long-range plan statement. What has been called #AAAfail is aptly covered by the great folks over at Neuroanthropology if you are interested in the details. My first reaction (also possibly my second and third) was more exasperation and disillusionment than outrage. It might be a problem of perception, but I share the feelings of exclusion and sometime condescension that archaeologists face when trying to reach out to our “parent” discipline, anthropology. If you are wondering about that tone of condescension, check out Savage Minds’s characterizing the critique of the AAA’s actions as having “as much complexity as an average episode of WWE Smackdown.” Bloggers get caught in the middle–how to complicate the public understanding of our practice and remain comprehensible is a fine art.

Anyway, I think there is a mostly good outcome of this controversy in that it has 1) made people really consider their ideas regarding science and the study of humans in present and past and 2) that there has now been a dialogue opened to discuss this apparent sore spot in the discipline. Perhaps a third beneficial outcome is that more people will read Neuroanthropology, and hopefully contribute to the wiki that they have created to discuss and edit the AAA Long-Term Plan.

Finally, I hope that there will be two other outcomes of this AAA PR disaster–that my fellow blogging archaeologists will (continue to) blog their research, demonstrating our own flavor of scientific truthiness, and that more anthropologists and archaeologists will read blogs and find them to be useful venues for discussion about our field.

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

One thought on “Science, AAA, and Anthropology”

  1. I am definitely not happy with the AAA. This latest move makes no sense to me, and only seems to create further divisions. I don’t get it. I wrote about this on my site already…but this whole split between the so-called hard sciences and the so-called soft sciences gets old. I think people make a bigger deal out of it than there needs to be. Ya, people look at things in different ways. So what? To me, it’s incredibly valuable to have these different perspectives under one tent. Well, I guess the AAA wants to reduce the size of the tent…or something.

    But I think you’re right that some good things can come out of this–including more people thinking about where they stand on the whole “science” issue. I also think that the reaction to bloggers from the AAA is pretty fascinating. I thought it was telling how one of the statements tried to dismiss bloggers completely–as if words need to be published on officially sanctioned institutional pages to be valuable and worth reading. In the end, to me the AAA came across as a monstrous organization that’s still stuck somewhere in the past when it comes to representing itself and communicating ideas.

    Thanks for posting this, Colleen.

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