Issue 16.4, November 2001

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Essay Excerpt

After Culture: Reflection on the Apparition of Anthropology in Artificial Life, a Science of Simulation

by Stefan Helmreich

The anthropology of science often scrutinizes the practices of people for whom "culture" has become a common-sense term. In North America and the United Kingdom at least, where the concept has traveled from anthropological enunciation into popular consciousness, most scientists are happy to describe their work as emblematic of their disciplinary culture or as textured by its location in academic, corporate, and/or military cultures. They have accepted C. P. Snow's founding assumption in The Two Cultures (1959) that science, like the humanities, is a cultural formation. So, although Sharon Traweek famously found that the American physicists of whom she wrote possessed "a culture of no culture" (1988:162), we might note that many scientists have in fact come self-consciously to dwell in "culture," to view themselves through an anthropological optic. Moreover, a recent volume of interviews with contemporary scientists entitled The Third Culture (Brockman 1995) suggests that such figures as chaos theorist J. Doyne Farmer and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins have taken on the work of bridging the gap between Snow's estranged humanists and scientists, creating the "third culture" that Snow, in the second edition of his book, The Two Cultures: A Second Look (1963), hoped would emerge from the ranks of literary intellectuals and social historians.1 John Brockman, editor of The Third Culture, declares that "what traditionally has been called 'science' has today become 'public culture' " (1995:18), "rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are" (1995:17).2 But if many scientists have come to see science as culture, it is only in partial connection with their anthropological interlocutors. The science wars of the 1990s made this much clear. Nonetheless, tuning into how scientists invoke "culture" in their self-descriptions is essential if anthropologists of science are to understand "science as culture" as well as the public legacies of their own discipline's articulations of the culture concept. (612)

Helmreich, Stefan. "After Culture: Reflection on the Apparition of Anthropology in Artificial Life, a Science of Simulation." Cultural Anthropology 16, no. 4 (2001): 612-627