[Air-L] anthropology is not a science?

Christian Nelson xianknelson at mac.com
Mon Jan 21 12:57:56 PST 2008

Hi Denise,

I didn't deny that "science" has a material referent, and certainly  
didn't deny that there is a tangible referent to the term "material  
world." Indeed, I don't know of any social constructionist who would  
do so, despite the army of objectivists who busily construct straw  
social constructionists  who do do so.

What I did do was claim that whatever material thing or set of  
material practices we conjure in our heads or reference by the term  
"science" is something whose boundaries have been set by people  
rhetorically struggling over the use of the term. As an extension, I  
would also claim that the realm of things and concepts to which we  
apply any term  is shaped by the discourses in which we use each  
term, and that those discourses--even scientific ones--can be  
politically fraught. Consider past discourses about "phlogiston" or  
current discourses about "fibromyalgia." However, I don't claim that  
the use of every term is politically fraught--political wrangling is  
not the only process by which meanings and things are socially  
constructed. Further, and more importantly, to the contrary of  
Hobbes, I claim that politics and science are not polar opposites.  
Indeed, if one's use of a term leads to a culturally valued result  
(like the building of a significantly more steady bridge), then one's  
political stock within science (as understood to this point) will  
often (though not always) rise, albeit often only after a great deal  
of resistance from the scientific establishment (e.g., the  
establishment's resistance to Einstein's unique use of the terms  
"mass," "energy," "time," "space," etc. both individually and in  
concert). That is, the politics of science, as that has been  
variously constructed in our society, has till now actually led,  
however spasmodically, to scientific "progress."

Whatever the case, I also claimed that a lot of variable analytic  
social scientists have a funny way of constructing the referent of  
the term "science"--they often do so by limiting the referent to  
variable analytic studies, despite the fact that those "scientists"  
they look up to--physicists, etc.--do not construct the referent of  
science thus.

--Christian Nelson

On Jan 16, 2008, at 6:39 PM, Denise N. Rall wrote:
> Yes Christian,
> I couldn't agree more about the boundary work. But
> when I hope that the bridge will stay up, and the
> airplane will stay in the sky, I want the scientific
> method. That limits the domain of understanding
> considerably, but for material processes, I am more
> than happy to make the exception.
> That doesn't lessen the political burdens, but perhaps
> puts a box around it. It's our job as social
> scientists to make sure it's not a black one.
> Ok, that's me done.
> Cheers, Denise

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