By Erin Michaels
Main Points Edit
Postmodernism developed in response to modernist ideas that arose during the Enlightenment, such as scientific positivism, the idea that sensory information and mathematical data is the only form of authoritative knowledge (Salberg, 2009).Postmodernists believe that it is important to understand the meanings of a group to be able to understand the group themselves (Spiro, 1996). Postmodernism in regards to anthropology is based on the belief that no one can truly be objective because everyone has a cultural bias, then it is impossible to use the scientific method truly (Salberg, 2009). The critique that postmodernism has about science and the scientific method is twofold, epistemological and ideological (Spiro, 1996). Firstly, according to epistemology, anthropology cannot be a science because of how subjective humans are (Spiro, 1996). Secondly, that because anthropology cannot be completely objective it would serve only those dominant social groups such as males, whites, and Westerners, instead of oppressed groups (Spiro, 1996). This then brought some anthropologists to doubt the scientific validity of fieldwork by the late 1970s and in the mid 1980s this idea created a crisis in the community on whether or not anthropologists can write “true social knowledge” (Salberg, 2009). This is because, postmodernists argue, that the anthropologist not only observes the natives, but the native observe the anthropologist therefore their fieldwork is not a one-way objective observation, but a two-way interaction (Spiro, 1996). So, the anthropologist must not only deal with the subjectivity of their subjects, but also the subjectivity of themselves (Spiro, 1996). However, some believe that postmodernism is meant to replace modernity and completely get rid of scientific anthropology, which is not true (Erickson, 2008). Postmodernists recognize the importance of the logic of modernity as it is rooted in Western beliefs and ideals about objective science (Erickson, 2008).
Key Figures Edit
Michel Foucault (October 15 1926 - June 25 1984)
Paul Feyeraband (January 13, 1924 - February 11, 1994)
Nancy Scheper-Hughes ( September 25, 1944 - Present)
Key Texts Edit
Foucault, Michel. 1994. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Vintage, Reissue edition.
Feyeraband, Paul. 2010. Against Method. Verso.
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 2001. Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. University of California Press.
Erickson, Paul A. and Liam D. Murphy. A History of Anthropological Theory. Toronto: Higher Education University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 2008. Print.
Salberg, Daniel, Robert Stewart, Karla Wesley, and Shannon Weiss. “Postmodernism and its Critics.” The University of Alabama. n.p. Web. 2009.
Spiro, Melfore. “Postmodernist Anthropology, Subjectivity and Science: A Modernist Critique.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 38.4 (1996): 759-780. Print.