The American Anthropological Association has remove the word "science" from its official statement of long term goals, according to the New York Times. The article quotes the changes in the official statement:
Until now, the association’s long-range plan was “to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects.” The executive board revised this last month to say, “The purposes of the association shall be to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects.” This is followed by a list of anthropological subdisciplines that includes political research.
The purpose of the revision is to purposely include anthropological researchers who see themselves operating outside of science, including those who view anthropology as a form of political activisim on behalf of native peoples and minorities. In the United States, "anthropology" includes archaeology and physical anthropology under its umbrella as well as race, class, and gender studies. These areas have experienced tension over the role of science in anthropology.
I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of a discipline serving political ends, since choosing to say that a discipline forwards "public understanding" insttead of "stud[ying] humankind" seems to invite a semi-official understanding of what the public is supposed to understand--which, given the political views of many anthropologists, is a grab bag of post-colonialist theory and advocacy of the political rights of indigenous groups. These rights may be worthy in and of themselves, but they are subjects for political, rather than anthropological, discussion. Confusing the two can cast aspersions on the findings of anthropologists and archaeologists, which only makes more room for pseudoscientists and frauds to attack archaeology and promote their own extremist positions as morally and factually equivalent.
For now, the AAA will keep "science" in its official statement of purpose.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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