A Beginning

Essay Excerpt

Choosing a way to inaugurate this journal would be a daunting task, amid the array of existing journals and in financially precarious  times, if it were not such an interesting  moment in the history of anthropology, both in the United States and abroad. In this country we have witnessed during the past two decades compelling  intellectual challenges to ideas and methods, dominant at least since World War II, about how we conduct and think about research. Formalism, pos­itivism, and an idealized  natural science model of method and progress are the most prominent targets of critiques,  fueled by concerns with language,  symbols, and meaning. These challenges, originating largely in European philosophy and social theory, and their implications for the social sciences have been well ex­plained in works such as Richard Bernstein's The Restructuring of Social and Po­litical Theory and Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Practice; Anthony Giddens's The Central Problems of Social Theory;  and Alvin Gouldner's The Coming Crisis in Western Sociology. Having thus absorbed a thorough critique and revision of our practices, we now face a problem of un­ certain direction,  or rather, directions. Systematic ideas and theory are not lack­ing-to the contrary, the challenges to a more behaviorally oriented anthropology have been developed through a surfeit of very complex and fully elaborated the­ oretical systems. Rather, a particular model of theory and practice has been dis­rupted-that of the paradigm, described by Thomas Kuhn, in which research pro­ ceeds under a regime of a recognized set of problems and methods (3).

George Marcus is Chancellor's Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine

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