Friday 13 January 2012

Touchstone Thursday: Clyde Kluckhohn's The Place of Theory in Anthropological Studies

I got some grief a while back for using the word 'enthymematic' in one of my posts. I used it then, and I always use it, when I'm trying to underscore the concept that it denotes. It means, essentially, thinking using theories that you don't even know you're using, and with little concern for the way they determine your choice of research questions, the materials and circumstances that you believe will have a bearing on those questions, and the interpretations that ultimately determine your research results. I first encountered the term in print when I read Clyde Kluckhohn's 'The Place of Theory in Anthropological Studies.' But I first heard the word in one of Alison Wylie's seminars at UC Berkeley in 1989. 
     Oddly enough, Kluckhohn was the author of the first anthropology book I ever owned. It was assigned in Professor Alan McMillan's 'Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology' at what was then the Richmond Campus of Douglas Collegein its very first year of operation. In fact, it was the first 'junior college' in B.C. It was my first year at university. And it was McMillan's first academic appointment. A lot of firsts. Thanks, Alan.
     'The Place of Theory in Anthropological Studies' was a revelation for me, mostly because it was published in 1939, about thirty years before the name Binford became well known in archaeological circles. Despite that, Kluckhohn raised many of the questions that would later become the impetus for the New Archaeology, as processual archaeology was called in those days. In fact, one of Wylie's  principal contributions to that point had been to detail the long history of debate and enquiry regarding the philosophical and scientific basis of anthropology (and archaeology) that most of us thought had its start in the 1970s and later.
     This paper is not an easy read. But it's not the worst philosophical treatise you'll ever come across, either. Besides, it's by an anthropologist--and the wit shows. It's also likely to be the only Thursday touchstone that most of you have never seen or heard of. That's why I think you should give it a look. You'll be surprised, as I was, by the commitment to a rigorous anthropological discipline evident in Kluckhohn's prose, so long before Binford. And I'm sure you'll be especially taken by the sensible arguments that this author makes (you might even want to call it common-sense, but you'll be forestalled in that effort).
     This Thursday's touchstone:
Philosophy of Science, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Jul., 1939), pp. 328-344.
  A golden Marshalltown to the first person who finds the word 'enthymematic' in this piece and leaves the citation in the comments.

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