January 23, 2007

Going quantitative?

I keep receiving emails the NSF (the US National Science Foundation) about their methods courses for anthropologists. But on closer examination the methods they promise to be teaching seem quite far from what I understand as anthropological methods: instead of participant observation, interviewing techiques and gaining rapport, the NSF offers anthropologists SPSS and social network analysis. Now, I have no problem in incorporating quantitative methods into an anthropological study, but the fact that this is the only kind of methods training the NSF seems to be offering does have me wonder whether they hope anthropologists might still be coaxed into becoming more scientificcy and just pragmatically useful, instead of the at-first-glance clearly not particularly efficient and inherently vague hanging around our fieldwork tends to primarily constitute of. But then again they may just be worried about providing anthropologists skills that would help them find a job, also outside of academia. Not an easy task, as I am coming to realize after talking with friends I studied anthropology with in undergrad.

Still I do wonder what a quantitative anthropology would look like. Probably not anything like this hilarious "the root of all eval" equation a friend of mine just indulged me with. But how can you quantify social values??


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