[URBANTH-L]Necessary Abstractions

GABRIELLA MODAN modan.1 at osu.edu
Sun May 1 00:16:13 EDT 2005

It's not a zero-sum game. The conversations that we
have with each other are not necessarily the
conversations we have with people in the communities
we work in, although ideally those conversations
influence each other. It should go without saying
that just because researchers may have some
scholarly interests that may be abstracted from
practical issues (which is not to say that this was
even the case for the conference in question) does
not mean that those very same people are not doing
applied work, and applied work that is theoretically

Galey Modan

----- Original Message -----
From: M Wolf-Meyer <wolf0358 at umn.edu>
Date: Saturday, April 30, 2005 6:50 pm
Subject: [URBANTH-L]Necessary Abstractions

> Urban Anthropologists:
> I, for one, think it utterly necessary that
anthropologists think 
> more 
> theoretically about what they attempt to capture
> hence the 
> need for more abstractions, not fewer.
> My impression is that in the past 30 years
anthropology has become 
> increasingly insular (in part due to the
discipline's own self-
> critique), 
> and there is nothing more "navel-gazing" in my
mind than producing 
> library 
> dissertations and books that no one will read
(especially scholars 
> outside 
> of anthropology).  And I think that very
pragmatic, non-
> theoretical, 
> "applied" anthropology is more prone to this
critique than 
> anything remotely 
> "postmodern."  "Applied" anthropology often smacks
of anti-
> intellectualism, 
> engaging in the production of "facts" rather than
engagements, and 
> only 
> helping to produce in applied anthropologists
feelings of 
> intellectual 
> alienation (both from the people they attempt to
help and from the 
> discipline).  Compare the average contents in
> Anthropology to the 
> average contents of Medical Anthropology Quarterly
(a very 
> pragmatic 
> journal): The latter suffers from material that
engages in no 
> debates, and 
> comforts itself through a myopic empiricism that
assumes the lone 
> anthropologist publishing in a scholarly journal
can make a 
> difference in 
> the world.  The former, however, even when authors
are focused 
> geographically or topically, at least attempt to
engage in the 
> sort of 
> abstractions that allow a conversation to occur
(within the 
> discipine and 
> interdisciplinarily).
> If anthropologists want to make a difference in
the world, the 
> first thing 
> they need to do is enter into debates with the
people they attempt 
> to 
> understand and effect.  Facts rarely produce
> abstractions, 
> metaphors and theories often do.
> Best wishes,
> Matthew Wolf-Meyer
> Department of Anthropology
> University of Minnesota 
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