TWO CULTURES: A FALSE DICHOTOMY
We’ve become accustomed to seeing the sciences and the humanities as distinct faculties of academic study. Both camps, in fact represent different ways of knowing the world, different worldviews. Physical and social science have always complimented each other; think of the connection between genetics and social evolutionism. Sprung forth over the last 300 or so years, the modern sciences and humanities, reflecting particular worldviews, do not represent the pinnacle of human epistemology, but are rather historically produced intellectual cultures. Modern mathematics and philosophy are heirlooms of the academic legacy of ancient Greece, itself connected through history to the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Sumer, India, China and Egypt. Intellectual heritage is thus not frozen in time representing absolute epistemologies, but changes and transforms over time, produced by cultural diffusion, interaction and hybridization.
When we examine the term “science”, we uncover a distinctly Western framework for explaining the world around us (Kuhn 1962). Indeed, one of the central revelations of anthropology is that our western, modern way of thinking and knowing about the world is but one model of reality, and that alternative ways of thinking about the world, alternative knowledges exist (Davis 2001; Huxley & Narby 2001; Santos Granero 2006). Modern, western science then, is embedded in a heritage of epistemic historicities, layered over time to forge the intellectual edifice hailed as it is in our digital space age.
From this perspective we can see how the sciences and the humanities overlap and are moreover contingent on historically specific contexts.
Anthropology attempts to harness epistemological capital from a wide range of field, stretching across its four fields (Kehoe 1998) and can thus rightly be considered the science of humanity. That its ‘science status’ is continually debated should not detract from its theoretical and methodological potential and praxis; it can only be compelled to deepen its commitment to studying human culture. Anthropology’s import and ambition is not to be constrained by definitional quandaries within the academy; as a discipline it must and will go on.