- Special projects (requires login)
ANTH 2700: Key debates in anthropology
Social Sciences Building 410 (A02)
Week of February 21, 2022 (Week 1)
Slides available at http://anthro.rschram.org/2700/2022/1
Everyone knows what anthropology is. It’s the study of human life in global terms, especially with respect to its diversity. Seems simple enough. Except…
It seems like anthropologists don’t agree about anything.
There are several different reasons.
Anthropologists ask the same questions but they don’t have to agree on the answers.
You become an anthropologist by figuring out how you want to answer these questions, and why.
This class is based on a weekly cycle. Get in the habit of following this cycle every week.
Committing to being present and being visible in every part of this class every week will make it feel important and give you a reason to keep at it.
Anthropology is a social science, so we should think about where science comes from to understand what anthropology is.
Science emerges from the distinction between normative inquiry and empirical inquiry, or ought questions and is questions.
Likewise, the social sciences are an effort to move away from asking what society should be to explaining what society is.
An example of a normative inquiry into society is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s On the social contract (Rousseau  1978).
How is anthropology different from Rousseau’s purpose in this work?
Who is it that says society is a thing, and that we should study society as an empirical fact and not an ideal?
Emile Durkheim is one of the most influential advocates for a positive science of society, one that looks for the causes of social forms and patterns in society.
If we approach society the way natural scientists examine nature, then we would not judge, rank, or evaluate society on a scale of goodness, morality, or value.
Durkheim develops a new idea of society that is appropriate for a new social science.
Durkheim says that society causes itself. “Society is a reality sui generis;” it is a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts, and has properties of its own which the parts lack (Durkheim  1995, 15).
There are indeed many unstated rules for stated rules and institutions of everyday life. All of us follow these implicit rules, or norms, without thinking about them.
Durkheim calls them “social facts” (Durkheim  1982).
These may seem like simple habits. But how do you feel when someone fails to do what people normally do?
They may seem like opportunities for self-expression. But can you really just do what you want?
Durkheim’s theory of society is also a theory of the human subject
Durkheim, Emile. (1895) 1982. The Rules of Sociological Method. Edited by Steven Lukes. London: The Macmillan Press. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-16939-9.
———. (1912) 1995. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Translated by Karen E. Fields. Reprint edition. New York: Free Press.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. (1762) 1978. On the social contract, with Geneva manuscript and Political economy. Edited by Roger D. Masters. Translated by Judith R. Masters. New York: St. Martin’s Press.