Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sociology vs. anthropology: the invisible subject

Recently I have started teaching social theory to Sociology students. I found myself having to make some adjustments. Although Sociology is adjacent to Anthropology, there are serious differences. First, thanks to Durkheim's poweful thrust to establish the former as a proper science, there is a lot more emphasis on quantitative methods. (Yeah, 'coz numbers are the way prove it's scientific.) Well, it's something most know anyway. However, there's more.

As I started reading more sociological articles, I kept coming across evidence of unabashed Eurocentric views that would make any anthropologist cringe. Terms like development, human rights and international community are used in entire seriousness. Apparently unexposed in any significant ways to any society but their own, sociologists completely buy into their cultural yardstick being the truth. Even worse, they don't seem to realise it's a yardstick, to them it's the scientific method.

Anthropologists, on the other hand, as has been noted by some, including Bourdieu before, are blissfully unaware of the workings of their own society. Meticulously trained to write up cultural difference, many seem forever to be engaged in describing how their village is different from what they believe they know as the world, basically their own home country. Although, a considerable part of anthropological training is dedicated to de-eurocentrising, in other words, the epistemological debunking of one's cultural yardstick as the yardstick, what is lacking is a systematic knowledge of that yardstick, beyond the received common sense.

So, in reality, there's no structural difference between the two: both observers, anthropological and sociological, still remain, for  diametrically opposite reasons, invisible to themselves. And no one seems to be aware of that invisibility, probaby by its very virtue of being invisible!

In other words, there is another layer of the scientific observer's invisibility, besides the unawareness of one's Self that stands in the way of merging the subject and the object.  "Dark is the base of the lighthouse."

(There also does not seem much theoretical exchange between the twain, despite all methodological similarities. Fads and turns do not synch up and while functionalism (gasp!) is still big in sociology, Levy-Straussian structuralism has even not brushed it, in the Anglophone world anyway. I will write about it later.)

No comments:

Post a Comment