1/30/2009

Armchair Anthropology: Is it so bad?

I was reading a very excellent post at a new favorite, which I can't believe I didn't find before, Ethnography.com. Great website anyway. The question the topic was posing was whether library research or travelling to a place, China given as the example, was the best way to learn about a culture? The post talks about an eyewitness fallacy and I have to say, I completely agree.

Malinoski's call for us to get up out of our armchairs and into the villages might have been very appropriate when anthropologists were concerned with small isolated villages, but when we're talking about interconnected nation-states, globalization, multiculutralism... an eye-witness-only approach simply isn't the way to go. Actually, the question was phrased a very specific way, as it was by the initial critic, Eric Jones: "can you learn more about Chinese culture by living in China or by reading everything you can find in the British Library?" My answer is an overwhelming "British Library!" Eyewitness experience as a world traveler is going to advance your understanding and grant you new perspectives, but I won't trust knowledge claims from an eyewitness anthropologists any more than I would a journalist or a blogger.

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