Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Anthropologists who venture into the less humanistic branches of the social sciences are faced with a double bind. On the one hand, anthropology continues to be imagined as cultivating valuable forms of knowledge gleaned from the prolonged, proximate encounters of fieldwork, and this despite the discipline’s now defunct monopoly on ethnography as its methodological sine qua non. On the other hand, the questions to which anthropology’s empiricism is often directed remain incommensurable with those posed by its sister social science disciplines. The stumbling block then is often not method but the ends to which such method is marshaled. The allure of ethnographic empiricism—our hoped-for relevance in the eyes of academics outside of anthropology—often triggers disappointment for those disinterested in questions less susceptible to measurement or less revealing of causality, and therein lies the double bind. While it is easy to place the blame on the all too rigid positivist tendency to make interesting what can be measured when one cannot measure what is interesting, perhaps we might also ask the following question: what of our own methodological parochialism? In this paper, I inquire into the potential of an openness to methodologies written off as positivist, and thus as anathema, within a humanistic anthropology, albeit an openness that would not subsume anthropology within the hegemonic domain of quantitative empiricism. What might such a calculated, and ironic (in the Rortyan sense of the term), methodological catholicism do for ethnographic ways of asking, knowing, and not knowing?