Critique of Postmodern Anthropology - in Defense of Disciplinary Origins and Traditions

Author: Sidky, H.
This book provides a focused critique of the currently fashionable literary/interpretive approaches in cultural anthropology and their challenge to science, scientific anthropology, and disciplinary origins and traditions. It takes on issues that must be addressed in light of what is shown to be the interpretivists’ unrelenting misrepresentation of the anthropological enterprise, science, and scientific paradigms in anthropology. The issues addressed encompass a number of highly significant intellectual/philosophical/theoretical questions with far-reaching implications for the discipline of anthropology as a whole. The challenge to disciplinary origins and traditions is emphatically addressed on empirical, theoretical, and epistemological grounds and in the context of the overall intellectual history and development of American anthropology. No other study engages the anti-science perspective in such an emphatic, uncompromising, jargon-free manner.


“Writing in a clear and easy to understand style, which is a sharp and welcome contrast to the obfuscating style of his opponents, Sidky outlines the ideological foundations of postmodern anthropology, item by item, and then proceeds to demolish them on historical, theoretical, logical, empirical, epistemological, and ethical grounds. The postmodernists’ many distortions and misrepresentations of scientific anthropology are revealed, one after another….The author supports his criticism of postmodern anthropology with many examples and quotations from a wide range of theorists on both sides of the debate… This is an important contribution to a diatribe in which the central issues are often fuzzy and unclear to many readers. This book is accurate and solid in its explanation and defense of science and the scientific approach in anthropology….a formidable challenge to interpretive anthropology….Interpretive anthropologists will no doubt be forced to respond to this devastating assessment of their theoretical philosophical position.” – Dr. Deborah S. Akers, The Ohio State University

“Sidky’s summary of the history of anthropological theory is well organized, clear and easy to read, and his willingness to respond to the post-modernist attack of scientific and other paradigms in the discipline is daring and commendable…. Sidky rejects the anti-science position and instead calls for a more careful and rigorous application of scientific analysis in the investigation of cultural processes. He makes a strong case for the importance of scientific analysis in anthropological research as a means of understanding the complex sociopolitical ‘real’ world, and effectively counters the postmodernists’ assertions that science and the scientific method are defunct and immoral and must be discarded. Sidky’s book is written in a highly polemical tone…. He views the post-modernists as moral foes, and gives no quarter because he feels they give none.” – Dr. James G. Foradas

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Foreword by John C. Messenger, The Ohio State University
1. The Challenge to Disciplinary History and Traditions
2. Disciplinary Traditions and Interpretivist Objections
3. Epistemology
4. The Sins of the Past? The Interpretivists’ Misleading Construal of the Historical Development of Anthropology
5. The Roots of Interpretivism: Franz Boas and the Unmaking of Scientific Anthropology
6. The Mead-Freeman Controversy: Interpretivist Misrepresentations of Science in Anthropology
7. Fieldwork and Writing Ethnographies: Bronislaw Malinowski and the Postmodernists
8. Symbolic Anthropology and the Interpretation of Culture: The Entrenchment of Anti-Science Anthropology
9. Postmodernism, Anti-Science and Anti-Reason
10. Postmodernism in Anthropology
11. Anthropology, Science, Anti-Science, and the Pursuit of Knowledge: Concluding Thoughts
Bibliography; Index