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The Appropriate Role of Outside Critics in Politicized Academic Disciplines:

I came across an interesting post by Professor Kenneth Dauber on a list to which I subscribe. I am reprinting it below with his permission. Professor Dauber's comments were prompted by the recent tenure controversy involving Barnard anthropology professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, and an obviously one-sided article in the New Yorker on that controversy, but I think have broader significance. Note that I don't know enough about anthropology to endorse Professor Dauber's view of that discipline [note that he takes no position on the quality of El-Haj's work]. But Professor Dauber's remarks go to a broader issue--the tendency of certain departments, or entire disciplines (see, e.g., Women's Studies), to be overtly politicized, and for academics who have participated in this politicization to then claim some sort of academic freedom right to autonomy not merely from outside interference, but from outside scrutiny and criticism. Here's Prof. Dauber:

1)Modern anthropology, founded, essentially, by Franz Boas — interestingly enough, a Jew and a professor at Columbia — took as its social good the appreciation of communities that the march of the West had relegated to the primitive.

Contemporary anthropology continues that tradition, but, now under the influence of a general academic agreement that the West equals colonialism, with barely a remainder of what else the West might be, it continues with the difference that it is less important to articulate the values of marginalized communities than to break down Western hegemony.

That the anthropological project of appreciating other communities is also a product of the West is what anthropology cannot admit. And that marginalized communities might adhere to values that are, actually, not to be appreciated is outside the discourse.

2) History: History is not particularly interesting to anthropologists. Since what anthropology is interested in is the way in which communities construct themselves, history and myth, fact and fiction serve equally well.

Anthropology is very bad at analyzing historical cultures--that is cultures for whom what actually happened is important. What actually happened is not exactly outside the discourse, but it is, if we may use the word, itself "marginalized."

3) Free speech: Within academic disciplines, free speech is highly constrained. There are norms, criteria of what counts as evidence, attitudes, and anyone violating these will have a hard time getting published or getting a job or getting promoted.

Depending on the criteria, this can be a good thing. It rules out the promotion of fantasy. When the criteria themselves are fantastic, however, they rule out the promotion of anything one might like to call truth.

Comparing the criteria you use with the criteria that those in other disciplines use is generally outside the discourse of your own discipline, not only in anthropology, of course, but very definitely in anthropology.

Let's put it bluntly: Whatever the particulars of the Abu-El-Haj case, whether her work is good or bad, to deny that a highly politicized discipline that evaluates the work of its practitioners from within the terms of that politics, to claim that experts with a vested interest in the blindness of their discipline necessarily are objective, to attribute to everyone and every objection an unholy commitment that contrast badly with the holy commitment of defenders is not only to be blind but either to blind yourself or attempt to blind others.

UPDATE: Post slightly edited for clarification purposes.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Norman Levitt on Nadia Abu el Haj and "Science Studies":
  2. The Appropriate Role of Outside Critics in Politicized Academic Disciplines:
Hoosier:
When a recent study looked at the political leanings of faculty by academic discipline, wasn't Anthro the most unblanced? 30 to 1, left to right?

Perhaps my memory is wrong. But if I am right about this, then the description of that discipline as slavishly following the leftish terms of debate in academia--cultural-turn, anti-West postcolonialism, politically correct limitation on speech--would not be much of a surprise.
5.5.2008 6:34pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Very nice, but in what sense is the penchant of professors in certain fields for pummling one another with inflated goat bladders important? The web is the new Academy.
5.5.2008 6:35pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Contemporary anthropology continues that tradition, but, now under the influence of a general academic agreement that the West equals colonialism, with barely a remainder of what else the West might be, it continues with the difference that it is less important to articulate the values of marginalized communities than to break down Western hegemony.

"All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"
5.5.2008 6:37pm
Mutaya (mail):
Dan Klein has done a lot of work in this area. I read several of his papers this year in preparation for a seminar where he presented "Groupthink in Academia: Majoritarian Departmental Politics and the Professional Pyramid." I think that piece is slated for a book project but is probably still available on the web at the seminar site. I won't try to add a link since it was only a working paper. An earlier paper is Klein, Daniel B. "The Ph.D. Circle in Academic Economics." Econ Journal Watch 2.1 (2005): 133-48, and the link is here.
5.5.2008 6:44pm
Cornellian (mail):
No need to mention the road, obviously the roads go without saying.
5.5.2008 7:19pm
Hoosier:
>>> but in what sense is the penchant of professors in certain fields for pummling one another with inflated goat bladders important?

It depends on where the bladder blather battle is published. If on the web, it doesn't "count."
5.5.2008 7:28pm
Chimaxx (mail):
"And that marginalized communities might adhere to values that are, actually, not to be appreciated is outside the discourse."

Shouldn't this BE outside the discourse? If you are going to "articulate the values of marginalized communities" or return to doing that, isn't it self-defeating to enter those communities with the notion that there is nothing of value for us to learn there?
5.5.2008 7:51pm
anym_avey (mail):
Shouldn't this BE outside the discourse? If you are going to "articulate the values of marginalized communities" or return to doing that, isn't it self-defeating to enter those communities with the notion that there is nothing of value for us to learn there?

In the context of point (1)'s entirety, I took him to be saying that in the profession, 'Western' is becoming a mindless slur while the virtues of 'Not Western' are being held as self-evident by tautology. This in spite of the fact that Western intellectual tradition is what enables an unprefaced cross-cultural assay to be made in the first place.
5.5.2008 8:11pm
EKGlen (mail):

he tendency of certain departments, or entire disciplines (see, e.g., Women's Studies), to be overtly politicized,

The most highly politicized departments (e.g. Economics) don't even imagine that there can be an opposing point of view.
5.5.2008 8:20pm
frankcross (mail):
EKGlen, if economics is so highly politicized, why did the Harvard study show econ professors were 34% Dem, 37% independent, and 27% Republican?
5.5.2008 8:45pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I think that it is important to add that the politicized views of postmodernist anthropologists, though nominally progressive and in favor of the marginalized, is frequently only an academic stance. The postmodernist position is often not beneficial,in the long run, to marginalized people, and individual postmodernists can be, in my experience, quite racist toward the very people whom they putatively support.
5.5.2008 9:03pm
grackle (mail):
It's difficult to tell what Prof. Dauber is on about here. Is he talking about physical anthropology or about cultural anthropology or about some vague imaginary anthropology which, I suspect, exists only in his own imagination, as that is what English professors are all about, having opinions about fictions, isn't it ?(To use his own method of "reasoning" as illustration) He says, "Anthropology is very bad at analyzing historical cultures--that is cultures for whom what actually happened is important." But, well, no, the actual difference between an anthropological approach and a historical one is that the latter relies on written records while the former was founded to study those which do not have such records. Physical anthropology studies the remains of material culture, particularly that which is non-historical. Studying history is done by historians and implies that -yes- there is a written (i.e. historical) record. It is just a fatuity to mis-define a discipline, and by doing so demolish a straw dog one has just set up. And in exactly what way is an English teacher an authority on other academic disciplines? It is similarly fatuous to point out that the study of human cultures might involve politics. Well, excuse me, duh! as the wise man said. That a discipline involves ordinary human activity does not in and of itself impeach the integrity of the discipline. Confusing one's own subjective opinion with fact kind of result in self impeachment. This little post Prof. is just the worst sort of self-fulfilling opinion mongering. Give me something with some substance. This is par for the course with the anti-Abu El-Haj crowd.
5.5.2008 9:04pm
Oh please:
Funny, i doubt Bernstein read that article, why, because the source he cites to as supporting the assertion of one-sidedness is a national review blog post which cites, in turn, its support an article at the Columbia Spectator, http://www.columbiaspectator.com/?q=node/26830.

Well guess what. That article is by Alan Segal, the same Alan Segal who was the lone professor at Barnard to get a shout out in the new yorker article as attacking Abu el-hajf on essentially political grounds. The same Segal who was made to look like a fool by the article.

So lets get this straight—Bernstein, who didn't read the article (because if he did, he would know he was citing a bogus source) claims an article pertaining to israel is one-sided, and as a source cites a source citing Alan Segal, the professor at Barnard who claims his "reasons for turning her down are professional, not political. They have everything to do with her inability to deal in any scholarly way with her stated data" (in the spectator article). Had he read the new yorker article, he would have noted that it addressed Segal's claim that she wasn't a good scholar with quotes to various colleagues at Barnard, and her thesis advisor at Duke, who rebutted any such notion.

The irony here, of course, is that Bernstein, in claiming, by proxy, that anthropology departments are all politicized, fails to acknowledge his own politicization in judging an article he hasn't even read.

Nice one bernstein!
5.5.2008 9:11pm
davidbernstein (mail):
"Oh Please," don't be an ass. I linked to the NRO piece because it's the first one that came up on Google when I blogged Abu El-Haj and New Yorker, and it happened to mention both that the piece isn't available on line, and that the author found it one-sided.
5.5.2008 9:17pm
davidbernstein (mail):
I meant "googled," not "blogged."
5.5.2008 9:17pm
davidbernstein (mail):
And yes, I read the piece in the New Yorker, and any idiot can see it's one-sided. The only question is whether there is only one side that has merit, in which case one-sidedness is not a sin.
5.5.2008 9:19pm
grackle (mail):
My post should have read Confusing one's own subjective opinion with fact results in self impeachment. This little post Prof. Dauber is just the worst sort of self-fulfilling opinion mongering.

I would add that the putative controversy over Prof. Abu El-Haj's work ironically centers on her study of the politicization of the allied field of archaeology in Israel. But then, Bennie Morris was vilified for pointing out the similar politicization of history in the same area. His work was, in the case, finally accepted. I imagine Abu El-Haj's will be too.
5.5.2008 9:20pm
Oh please:
I don't understand why you see fit to label the article as one-sided when you haven't read it. I don't understand the tendency of right of center pro-Israel types to refuse to engage their critics on their merits, and instead, simply dismissing their views directly or indirectly, as "one-sided," or better yet, crazy.

Its pretty clear most social science department are politicized. But that doesn't tell me anything about the merits of el-haj's work. What I do know is that a supposedly liberal magazine gave me oodles of quotes from people saying her book was balanced, including several quotes from Israeli anthropologists explaining that what she did is what they do. Where is the criticism of these turncoat israeli anthropologists? Oh right, their name isn't abu-haj.

Point being, you should probably read something before posting a viewpoint, admittedly on another website, but ascribable to you by association and lack of clarification, about that article.
5.5.2008 9:23pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
I note that Professor Dauber is the Director of his university's Institute for Jewish Thought, and speculate that Jewish thoughts include opposition to any ideas that may threaten a basis for a claim to the land of Israel. But even if his depreciation of anthropology stems from bias, Israel's right to exist does not and should not rely on the absolute accuracy of historic beliefs. ("No, Bethlehem was over THERE, so you guys are going to have to pack up and move your buildings 150 meters.") If Irish monks were the first to discover America, that doesn't mean we have to hand the deed over to the Taoiseach. Similarly, one's right of return should never have to depend on the accuracy of one's DNA match.
5.5.2008 9:25pm
davidbernstein (mail):
5.5.2008 9:25pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Oh, Please, if you would look again, you will note that I wrote that I DID read the article.

And btw, blogger Richard Silverstein, who is about as left-wing and hostile to Israeli policy as anyone who calls himself a Zionist can be, and who defended Abu El-Haj, wrote re the New Yorker piece "I tend to think that Kramer [the author] bent over backwards to portray Abu El Haj in the most favorable light possible."
5.5.2008 9:28pm
Doug Sundseth (mail):
DB: "And yes, I read the piece in the New Yorker, and any idiot can see it's one-sided."

OP: "I don't understand why you see fit to label the article as one-sided when you haven't read it."

"Point being, you should probably read something before posting a viewpoint, admittedly on another website, but ascribable to you by association and lack of clarification, about that article."

Clearly, it's Bernstein that has a problem with reading before commenting. Wait....
5.5.2008 9:30pm
davidbernstein (mail):
And here's the link where I originally read the article,
5.5.2008 9:31pm
davidbernstein (mail):
In any event, it's fine to criticize or even condemn Abu El-Haj's critics because (or to the extent) they engaged in hyperbole or misrepresentation (for example, one critic I read suggested that she doesn't know Hebrew; she apparently does, though perhaps not as fluently as would be ideal for her subject matter). But it's another thing for criticizing her critics for being "outsiders" who have no business criticizing El-Haj, anthropology more generally, post-modernist thought, etc. Prof. Dauber takes no position on the quality of El-Haj's work, but he does take the strong position that neither it nor the standards for what is considered "good" anthrology should be immune from criticism from non-anthropologists, especially because anthropology is so politicized. If commenters want to disagree with THOSE propositions, that would be a lot more interesting than turning this thread into another Israel/Palestinians debate.
5.5.2008 9:37pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Grackle:

Don't be intentionally dense: in the United States anthropology is usually divided into four fields: physical or biological, linguistic, cultural, and archaeology. (In many other countries archaeology is treated as a separate field, not part of anthropology.) The field at issue is cultural anthropology, which has indeed been overrun by postmodernists.

Those who attempt to write off Segal on ad hominem grounds should consider the specific points in his critique, many of which are easily verified. Even if he does have a bias, bias is irrelevant except where the personal testimony of the writer is at issue. When he points out that Abu El-Haj completely ignores all of the epigraphic evidence for Israel in the First Temple period and that she does not even claim to be competent to evaluate such work due to her ignorance of the various languages and disciplines, this is a factual statement that is easily enough confirmed. When he says that she cites only the tiny minority of minimalists in her account of what the real story is, you can look at her book and see that this is true. Unfortunately, ad hominem attacks and innuendo are typical of the protagonists of Abu El-Haj.
5.5.2008 9:44pm
tired of blogs:
It's a pretty crude stereotype to contend that anthropology as a discipline is ideological through and through. Sure, there are some politicized anthropologists who spend their time criticizing the West, just as there are some politicized English, sociology, political science, theater, art history, economics, and dare I say even natural science and law professors who spend their time criticizing the West, as a passing acquaintance with faculty club conversations should indicate to anybody. But the vast majority of professional anthropologists, in their professional lives, spend their time trying to understand what material remains tell us about vanished or changed cultures and how present cultural practices work, and do not knowingly inject their politics into their interpretive work. The vast, vast majority of professional anthropologists don't even write about the West, although there has been a trend in that direction in recent years. Anthropology *might* have a higher proportion of actively politicized academics whose ideologies infect their work than other disciplines, but I've seen no credible evidence to that effect.
5.5.2008 9:45pm
frankcross (mail):
I didn't read the piece in the New Yorker, but I can readily accept it is one-sided. Why do known of the bloggers ever recognize explicitly that NRO is one-sided? Is only one side one-sided?
5.5.2008 9:49pm
tired of blogs:
frankross: Well, duh!

People who agree with one's own views are rational, broad-minded, deeply intelligent people with a clear and objective view of the world.

People who disagree are clearly irrational, biased, partisan hacks blinded by ideology, if not outright stupidity or cupidity.

And always remember: only the other side has special interest groups. Special interests are simply interests with which you disagree.

(Hence my posting handle...)
5.5.2008 9:59pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
I link to a critique of modern cultural anthropology and a defense of it in this post at my blog.
5.5.2008 10:06pm
jasmindad:
Dauber's complaint makes no sense. The job of cultural anthrology is not to make value judgments about cultures, any more than it is the job of Zoology to make value judgments about animal species. Cultural anthropology, qua science, seeks to find a language in which to describe cultures, so that we discover the universals in human societies, both with respect to content and mechanisms. Even when properties of specific societies are identified that are hypothesized to be disfunctional in the sense of those societies disppearing, in principle that is no more a value judgment than a cosmologist identifying properties of stars that lead to their annihilation. I would assume that entrants to the field of cultural anthropology are cautioned not to go in thinking of their subject societies as better or worse, but to simply study them with empathy so that aspects crucial to a veridical description are not missed. If Dauber takes this as a liberal bias against the West, I'd assume Zoology departments should then be characterized as entertaining a liberal bias against mankind and in favor of animals.
5.5.2008 10:13pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
JD (and I ask this sincerely), does it matter to someone working in this discipline whether the "myths" created by a group are founded on reality or not? If one is going to critique Israeli archeologists for making up a history that suits Zionist purposes, it does matter whether that history is really "made up" or correct, no? I hear El-Haj is now working on a project claiming that geneticists have made up genetic links among Jews worldwide. It should matter whether the genetic research and conclusions are reliable and correct, no? It can be interesting to study how societies use even factual information for cultural purposes, but that's different from reasoning backwards--the information serves a cultural or political purpose, so it's presumptively false (or the truth is irrelevant). That's the critique I see folks like Dauber making, I'm just not up enough on anthropology to know how valid/common it is.
5.5.2008 10:23pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Of course NRO is one-sided. Let me repeat, I read the New Yorker piece and it's one-sided in my judgment. I am not relying on NRO's judgment.
5.5.2008 10:24pm
Hoosier:
grackle--"But then, Bennie Morris was vilified for pointing out the similar politicization of history in the same area. His work was, in the case, finally accepted. I imagine Abu El-Haj's will be too."

You imagine this why? There does not seem to be any debate that El-Haj has no training in many of the tools necessary for doing the archaeological work itself. Thus, one has some good reason to question her ability to assess that work as primary evidence. I honestly do not know Morris's background in those areas. But are you basing your prediction on the trajectory of Morris's reputation in this area? If so, how do El-Haj's limitations in the primary field in question relate to the question of Morris's scholarship?
5.5.2008 11:10pm
jasmindad:
David, I wasn't commenting on the specifics of whether particular departments or scholars of anthropology have politicized the field, or whether El Haj is a model anthropologist. I was referring to Dauber's characterization of Cultural Anthropology as a subject. For example:

1. Dauber: "Modern anthropology, ... took as its social good the appreciation of communities that the march of the West had relegated to the primitive."

Nonsense. The dominant idea in the West at the time of the start of anthropology was the superiority of the West. In fact, that was the moral basis of colonialism, that the West was bringing culture to the "benighted heathens." Boas's point (and that of people like James Fraser of the Golden Bough) was that (i) cultures, especially so-called primitive cultures, were key to elucidating the universal mechanisms of culture. Just as a Zoologist studies cockroaches, tigers, cats, to find commonalities and a general theory that would explain the commonalities and differences, anthropology's job is not to dismiss other cultures as primitive, but study them and describe them. This requires a non-sneering, empathetic attitude, just like Zoology and its subdiscipline, ethology, require a non-judgmental empathetic attitude towards the species under study. As it happened, it is hard to study many of those cultures without noticing, as a human being, the depredations of colonialism, and as a matter of fact, many of the anthropologists became advocates for the societies they studied. This is not different from Jane Goodall becoming an advocate of the apes she studied. But the scientific content of Goodall's work is independent of the advocacy.

2. Dauber: "..Since what anthropology is interested in is the way in which communities construct themselves, history and myth, fact and fiction serve equally well." Exactly. Myths, as Fraser and Campbell and modern Structuralists have been pointing out, reveal motivational structures. Looking for commonalities among myths from different societies, primitive and advanced, has been quite productive. I don't even understand what Dauber is complaining about. It is like criticizing chemists for looking at chemical structures. Duh, a significant methodological approach of anthropology *is* to look at myths as keys to human universals.

You get the idea, David. Dauber is upset that specific anthropologists and departments doing something bad to Israel -- he may be right about that, I don't know -- but he makes a poor critic by attributing the problem to anthropology as a scientific discipline by mischaracterizing it. Imagine various zoologists and Zoology departments are up in arms about some country, say C, whose practices with respect to rare animals they deplore, perhaps even mistakenly. Imagine a Dauber from, or sympathetic to, C wants to take these zoologists to task for what he regards as unfair attacks on C. If he were to attack Zoology as a discipline by saying that zoologists study animals when they could be studying humans, and Zoologists think animals are as good as humans, you'd say, Huh?

Anyway, a poor lawyer for your case is worse than no lawyer at all. Ask Dauber to shut up, and then find a better lawyer, preferably someone well-versed about anthropology, to argue against the specific actions of anthropologists that seem to you unfair vis a vis Israel.

PS: Anyone thinking of accusing me of "equating" primitive societies to animal species: don't. Focus on the logical form of the analogy. When one analogizes the atom and its electrons to the sun and the planets, one is not "equating" the electrons to the planets.
5.5.2008 11:13pm
Hoosier:
jasmindad--Cultural anthropology is NOT a science. Making comparisons to zoology and astronomy can't be of any benefit to the discipline.

As for the warnings given to entrants into the field, I'd be interested in any evidence you could present. It is very hard for me to find any counter-evidence to discredit the idea of a persistent anti-Western bias in the field. That bias doen't seem to arise naturaly in evolutionary or linguistic anth.

Archaeology, however, is showing signs of at least some sympathy to the post-colonial mentality. But I'll reserve final judgment until I've seen the new Indiana Jones movie.
5.5.2008 11:23pm
Hoosier:
jasmidad--"Anyone thinking of accusing me of "equating" primitive societies to animal species: don't. "

I may get to that. Right now I'm still amazed that you think cultural anthropology is a science. Your "zoologists and country C" analogy was, however, impenetrable for this weak, historian's mind. Like El-Haj, I may lack the linguistic training to engage in this dispute.

Or your example might just be confusing as Hell.

One or the other.
5.5.2008 11:28pm
jasmindad:
Hoosier,

I am not a cultural anthropologist, so I have no dog in the fight about whether cultural anthropology is a science or not. However, I do know enough not to take the obiter dicta of someone such as you who is an eager participant in the culture wars -- a judgment based on your postings in this blog -- as the last word on the subject of whether cultural anthropology is a science. Nothing wrong in being a culture warrior from the left or the right, but pronouncements from such warriors of the sort "Cultural anthropology is not a science" are not best taken as a result of thoughtful cogitation on the subject. No offense.

Jasmindad
5.5.2008 11:31pm
Hoosier:
jasmindad--Well, OK then. You structure your argument around a postulated parallel between c.a. and hard sciences. Then you respond with an ad hominem against a sweetheart like me when challenged, rather than attemtping to adduce any sort of evidence that c.a. shares methodology with the hard sciences. And, to top it off, your ad hominem is way off as a description of me and my posts.

Anything else I should know?
5.5.2008 11:38pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I haven't done anthro in a formal sense in forty years. But I recall various flavors of what is discussed above.
Forty years ago, we were much closer to the time of real colonialism and it could, with some merit, be blamed for local difficulties. But time has gone on and one would expect the malign influence of western colonialists to have dissipated. Zimbabwe, for example, shows little of western tradition, today, with the possible exception of marxism. Instead, it is the Big Man taking what he wants. Quite traditional.

I recall discussing various cultures' internal mechanisms and being told with wide grins of triumph, "See, it works." Well, of course it worked. If it hadn't, the wheels would have come off and the culture in question wouldn't have made the books. But, since the various and cherry-picked cultural mechanisms meshed, it was all good. No more need be said.
Talked to a nurse at the hosp where my grandaughter was born last summer. They occasionally have deformed babies born to a certain ethnic group who just...leave them there. This is a group which is famous for inbreeding (we are not in Pennsylvania) and whose numbers in the UK are eleven times the usual level for birth defects. This works. The detritus from one cultural practice is managed by another cultural practice. Isn't it wonderful!!
As has been said above, the moral or practical results of such practices are not considered.
5.5.2008 11:51pm
Orson Buggeigh:
The problem goes far beyond anthropology and Israeli - Arab relations. The general hostility toward the West and Western culture and thought seems to have a great deal to do with what passes for scholarship in politicized fields. Israel, as part of the West, is automatically viewed as suspect by the current crop of political propagandists who have taken over many humanities and social sciences.

Back to the basic premise, that the political activist turned academic is often a poor academic, and thoughtful people can spot the failures of their so-called scholarship, and they do. The internet makes it much easier to call the problems to the attention of a larger part of the public.

Anthropologists are arguing against the idea of working with the US military, claiming this violates their professional responsibilities.

The Network of Concerned Anthropologists argued for their profession to take a pledge of non-participation in counter-insurgency. This seems to have carried the day at the American Anthropological Association, who found the idea of anthropologists and other social scientists being embedded with the US Army in Afghanistan to be problematic.

Granted, plenty of academics may feel that working to fight wars is not for them. However, we might reflect on the generally overwhelming academic support for the military during World War II. The military had professional historians working with them. Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morrison was commissioned in the Navy, and oversaw the production of large parts of the US Navy's official history after the war. I can't say that I could imagine any of the academic historians I know taking such an opportunity today. More likely, they would be working the tables of Historians Against The War or ANSWER at the American Historical Association annual meeting.

Much of what passes for scholarship in overtly politicized fields, especially areas like ethnic and womens studies, or cultural anthropology, is open to criticism from anyone who is competent to read and follow footnotes. This, of course, has been proven repeatedly, much to the anger of the self-styled experts, who then call on their authority to reject the calls fro sanity and academic honesty from the people outside the ivory tower. For example, Clayton Cramer, who sometimes posts here, was one of the early critics of Michael Bellesiles. Mr. Cramer may not have wanted to spend his time getting a Ph.D. in American History, recognizing that the probability of his obtaining a tenure track teaching job were minute, but he had done first rate work as a student of firearms ownership in early America, and he recognized problems with _Arming America_. He was correct, and he helped publicize the failings of Bellesiles' politically motivated work of 'usable history.'

A former journalist, J. W. Paine has devoted his PirateBallerina blog to documenting the foibles and failings of ersatz Indian Ward Churchill. Churchill's much vaunted scholarship turned out to be much like Bellesiles', but unlike Bellesiles, Churchill largely published with non-peer reviewed garage presses specializing in radical politics.

Academics have participated in revealing the failings of political tracts masquerading as scholarship. Robert "KC" Johnson's politics are probably much more in line with many moderately liberal academics, but he is not popular with the advocates of politicized academic work. His Durham in Wonderland blog has detailed the excruciatingly bad academic work and crushingly insensitive if not outright anti-student activity of portions of Duke's administration and faculty, especially those in the ethnic and gender studies fields, and those who believe scholarship should support a 'progressive' political agenda.

Because the academy has been so willing to facilitate a sort of intellectual monoculture in many departments (see Mark Bauerlein's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Academic Groupthink), it is essential to have outside reviewers who will call the political activists to heel when they engage in academic dishonesty. Yes, I do think what Bellesile, the 88 signers of the Duke "Listening Ad" and Ward Churchill have done is dishonest. Since the public is supposed to be an informed and engaged public, it should feel that it has every right to stand up and demand a truthful response when dubious claims are made by academics. Especially when the academics are so slow to perform this kind of thorough critical analysis of the work of other academics,or there is a clearly one-dimensional political outlook in the academy.
5.6.2008 12:14am
jasmindad:
Hoosier,

Sorry if misidentified you. It is just that pronouncements such as "cultural anthropology is not a science" are too broad to be taken seriously. If you are the sweetheart that you say you are, you should be able to forgive a reader understandably taking such broad assertions as expressive of attitudes rather than considered judgments. Cultural anthropologist though I am not, I respect the impulses of people, such as Boas, who spent a lot of time in difficult circumstances with other cultures, with an attitude of trying to understand them, and with basic respect as fellow human societies, instead of simply buying into the colonial mindset of superior vs inferior. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not trying to say that in fact, today, we need to treat all cultural practices as equally precious. We need to understand them as *human* practices, arising from an interaction between certain universal cultural principles and the specifics of the environment and the times. Understanding that human societies often have a nexus between the priesthoods and the rulers requires studying various cultures with an open mind and seeing this fact and the underlying mechanisms. Understanding that societies often have an "other" who are dehumanized so that they can be take slaves is another common regularity in societies. However, that doesn't mean that we as individual human beings in the world, or even as anthropologists outside our labs so to speak, have to shrug our shoulders when priesthood-ruler nexuses tyrannize their citizens, or when slavery exists. One of the most common misunderstandings is that just because one can place a cultural practice as an instance of a human universal doesn't mean we can't also condemn it in the concrete current situation.

Anyway, my specific complaint was with respect to Dauber's poor argument. It was not even a specific defense of cultural anthropology as a science, let alone a defense of El Haj. But please, unless you are really quite knowledgeable about science in general and cultural anthropology in particular, no broad-brush dicta of the sort, "Cultural anthropology is not science."
5.6.2008 12:17am
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Chimaxx wrote:
"And that marginalized communities might adhere to values that are, actually, not to be appreciated is outside the discourse."
Shouldn't this BE outside the discourse? If you are going to "articulate the values of marginalized communities" or return to doing that, isn't it self-defeating to enter those communities with the notion that there is nothing of value for us to learn there?
You're conflating two different meanings of the word "value". The claim isn't that such communities have "nothing of value for us to learn", but rather that some of the values they hold are so repugnant that we should not equate them with other values that are more palatable. For example, if a group values sex between children and adults, Dauber would presumably want anthropologists to condemn that value rather than to discuss it neutrally as they would any other.
5.6.2008 12:45am
Mutaya (mail):
I found an ungated link to Dan Klein's paper "Groupthink in Academia: Majoritarian Departmental Politics and the Professional Pyramid" available online. Here is a link to the AEI conference "Reforming the Politically Correct University" last November. The Groupthink paper is in the inset on the right. Other papers look interesting as well.
5.6.2008 12:55am
grackle (mail):
Bill Poser, you may have a dog in some fight or other. I was only objecting to Dauber's ridiculously broad brush, his (and your) ad hominem attack against a whole discipline, not to mention Dauber's strange petulance that anthropology isn't history. All together, it doesn't make for much of a foundation for an argument. I'm a little jaundiced about any claims of objectivity for any side in these culture wars. I suspect the real objection to Abu El-Haj is either ethnocentrism or its close friend, common old racism, especially now that, against Arabs, it passes for the tres chic position on the right in America, given a little winking deniability.
5.6.2008 1:54am
Tony Tutins (mail):

Back to the basic premise, that the political activist turned academic is often a poor academic, and thoughtful people can spot the failures of their so-called scholarship, and they do.

The problem often is that the thoughtful people have their own axes to grind. Thoughtful people like Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, and Michael Behe, for example.
5.6.2008 2:01am
Alcyoneus (mail):
Every discipline is subject to criticism. No qualification whatsoever should be required to submit academic articles for peer review and publication, including academic study of the law. It should be the argument that makes for a good paper. A fortiori, anyone outside a field should be able to submit valid critiques subject to peer review.

I have personally listened to "Women's Studies" lecturers teach objectively false material (by the evidentiary standards of bio-chemistry and biology). This "academic approach" has two effects. First, if promulgates falsehoods, which is an intellectual evil in itself. Second, it undermines the credibility of valid academic work, thus decreasing the influence of independent researchers and the usefulness of their research.

That is a serious problem, and it needs to be fixed. Journals should publish valid and true outside critiques from anyone whatsoever. Researchers in all disciplines should aim to publish critiques in other fields.
5.6.2008 2:29am
Perseus (mail):
The most highly politicized departments (e.g. Economics) don't even imagine that there can be an opposing point of view.

EKGlen, if economics is so highly politicized, why did the Harvard study show econ professors were 34% Dem, 37% independent, and 27% Republican?


I'm guessing that economics departments are dominated by devotees of some form of--heaven forbid--neoliberalism.
5.6.2008 3:44am
libarbarian (mail):
Giod it is pathetic to watch a bunch of white people who style themselves independent people, sit around and complain about how Anthropologists have been hurting their feelings.


Does anyone need ice-cream? Want me to sing you a song? Can we stop the "Those egg-head academics don't appreciate my ancestors and boy does it make me sad" whine-fest?

Our ancestors didn't conquer the world sitting around crying. They would be more appalled at you bitches than at the anthropologists.
5.6.2008 12:01pm
Hoosier:
(Please don't feed the troll)
5.6.2008 12:25pm
HipposGoBerserk (mail):
Grackle,

My understanding of the objection to Abu El-Haj is that she wrote a polemic, dressed it up as anthropology, and yet was still taken seriously enough as a scholar to land a job with what one might otherwise consider a good school. She managed this, in large part, because she actually did a good piece of scholarship for her dissertation. She also managed this, in large part, due to her polemic's resonance with the political biases of those in power at that institution.

The question her case poses is the flip side of the Yoo case. When do non-scholarly activities make a person an inappropriate hire for a university? I think those who opposed hiring her based their objections on the fact that she was trying to pass her polemic off as scholarship. Put differently, they argued that anthropology departments ought not hire people who publish "studies" that are contradicted by the historical record because such "studies" ought not be considered weighty enough to qualify one as a serious anthropologist.

HGB
5.6.2008 12:46pm
libarbarian (mail):
But I'm hungry .... for hearing more about how those meanies in Anthropology departments are making people cry.


A fortiori, anyone outside a field should be able to submit valid critiques subject to peer review.


They are able to submit valid critiques that are subject to peer review. The problem is that most people who fancy themselves "outside critics" really are incredibly ignorant about some of the underlying details of the subjects they are criticizing, churn out crap, and then throw a hissy-fit when their peers say "this is rubbish".
5.6.2008 12:54pm
CJColucci:
any idiot can see it's one-sided. The only question is whether there is only one side that has merit, in which case one-sidedness is not a sin.

And the "only question" is the one no one seems interested in addressing. How good was el-Haj's work? By the normal standards of the discipline, did she deserve tenure? Were the "outsiders" who were so critical of her knowledgeable about the quality of her work? Did they even care about the quality of her work? The article may be one-sided, but it provides some material for tentative answers, (Yes. Yes. No. No.), which, if correct, amply justify the one-sidedness. Unless someone produces some other answers to these questions, the one-sidedness of the article is best explained as reflecting a bias in favor of reality.
5.6.2008 1:53pm
HipposGoBerserk (mail):
um - Abu El-Haj wrote that "reject[s] a positivist commitment to scientific methods" and that instead, her methodology is "rooted in ... post-structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism and critical theory and developed in response to specific postcolonial political movements." Check the Wikipedia entry on her book.

There is a delicious irony in arguing that praise of her work reflects a "bias in favor of reality" no?

HGB
5.6.2008 2:22pm
CJColucci:
um - Abu El-Haj wrote that "reject[s] a positivist commitment to scientific methods" and that instead, her methodology is "rooted in ... post-structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism and critical theory and developed in response to specific postcolonial political movements." Check the Wikipedia entry on her book.

There is a delicious irony in arguing that praise of her work reflects a "bias in favor of reality" no?

HGB


If this is the sort of thing people think answers the questions whether el-Haj's work is any good and whether, under the normal standards of the discipline, she deserved tenure, then that tends to confirm the "one-sided" answers to the other questions, whether her critics are knowledgeable enough to critique her work, and whether they care if it's any good.
5.6.2008 4:22pm
HipposGoBerserk (mail):
CJC,

I was going to be very snarky, but decided you simply hadn't actually read my comments. If you really read them, I simply suggest you reade some of the works of Foucault and others who might lable themselves "post-structural critical theorists" to understand the iron I referenced.

HGB
5.6.2008 4:40pm
CJColucci:
I've read some of those characters. I don't think much of many of them, to the limited extent that I think I understand them. I haven't spent the time or done the work to put forward a serious critique, and don't plan to. You see, there's a lot I don't know. I don't know if el-Haj's work is any good. I don't know if her general theoretical framework is just fashionable noise or if it is central to her project. And if it is central to her project, I don't know if it helps or hinders her in what she's doing. My ignorance is shared by millions, even billions, of people. Thousands of people who share my ignorance, however, don't know they share it, and seem to think that sniffing at admittedly unsavory jargon is a substitute for real knowledge. If someone who actually knows something would weigh in, we might actually get somewhere. Otherwise, people are just lining up the usual suspects and taking sides.
5.6.2008 5:21pm
Chimaxx (mail):
Edward A Hoffman:
Chimaxx wrote:



"And that marginalized communities might adhere to values that are, actually, not to be appreciated is outside the discourse."


Shouldn't this BE outside the discourse? If you are going to "articulate the values of marginalized communities" or return to doing that, isn't it self-defeating to enter those communities with the notion that there is nothing of value for us to learn there?



You're conflating two different meanings of the word "value". The claim isn't that such communities have "nothing of value for us to learn", but rather that some of the values they hold are so repugnant that we should not equate them with other values that are more palatable. For example, if a group values sex between children and adults, Dauber would presumably want anthropologists to condemn that value rather than to discuss it neutrally as they would any other.


The second use of the word "value" at the end of my sentence was a poor word choice, amking it seem that I was conflating the two meanings, as you contend.

As you say, "if a group values sex between children and adults, Dauber would presumably want anthropologists to condemn that value rather than to discuss it neutrally as they would any other."

I understood it in the same way. And it is there that Dauber is clearly wrong.

Rather than bringing his own cultural prejudices about the age of consent to bear on this other culture, the anthropologist SHOULD step back and withhold judgment, gather information about what particular forms of intergenerational sex are prescribed and proscribed in that culture, at what ages and times and for what purposes, and what are the real effects on the individual and community.

If you start out looking at other cultures with the assumption that they are primitive and backward, and your observations are scaled-over with value judgments deriving from your own culture, you are very unlikely to see what is really there but will instead reduce it to some familiar storyline from your own culture.

Really, this whole thread intersects with the recent discussion of anthropology at boxturtlebulletin.com between anthropologist Patrick Chapman and Focus on the Family's Glenn Stanton--with Dauber and Stanton taking the same side.
5.6.2008 11:03pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Climaxx

In your example, you refer to the anthropologist recording the effect on individuals and the community of this or that practice.
If the anthropologist brings a view of cultural relativism, rather than neutrality, the effects must be good. Always.

If you read Evans-Pritchard about the Nuer, you'll find that the society keeps itself more or less together by a practice of clan revenge. The older guys don't want to be fighting all the time, so they keep the younger guys in some kind of check. Still, as Evans-Pritchard said, almost all men have scars from the fighting. As far as he's concerned, this "works" for the sole reason that the goal, reduced fighting, is reached. He misses the point that if reduced fighting is good, less than that would be better and none at all would be best. But these morons can't figure out how to do it.
As far as I can tell, this is about as interested as anthropologists get in looking at effects.
The number of dead and crippled is apparently just one of those things.
And no multiculti is nuts enough to put his money in a Nigerian bank
5.7.2008 8:50am