With Julia's PhD submitted (!!!) and Jodie back from her travels, the band is finally back together! Jodie starts us off, (2:04) asking if a theory from psychology be applied to a whole population--specifically, whether US president Trump's apparent reversal on family separation work as a negotiating tactic, the so-called "door-in-the-face" technique. She asks, can we expect a public response to such a gambit resemble a private one, or a mass response to resemble individual ones? Simon, citing the narrow and homogeneous populations that usually take part in psychology studies, argues against thinking such theories can be scaled up: "I think humans are constantly creating and redefining and troubling everything we do, and every time we try and say, ‘well, this is a hard rule for human beings,' we get astounded by how it’s not in fact the case."
Simon (6:14) recounts his recent appearance on Counterpoint from Radio National, during which the host asked him to predict what he thought might happen next in Iranian politics. It got him wondering about the role of researchers in the humanities, and whether our work is actually contributing to changing, even improving, the world. He asks, "can we, as anthropologists, have a more productive role in predicting how society can and should be?" Julia points to the development of theory in anthropology, and suggests that, while anthropology isn't an experimental science, we do test hypotheses against theories, and refine those theories in response to our findings.
Julia (11:34) brings up the recent controversy over ANU's rejection of a bequest from the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, and asks, why do people fall so easily into opposition to one another, even over topics they have no information about? "There’s this need to find a clear narrative quite quickly--it just seems that things are getting increasingly nasty, and I’m wondering if you guys think there is any hope for people slowing down a bit and finding the nuances rather than clutching for these quick opinions on topics?" One thing the whole table can agree on: we truly are living in the age of People Talking About Things They Don't Know About. Find ANU vice chancellor Brian Schmidt's statement on the Ramsay Centre negotiations here: http://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/vcs-update-our-viewpoints-on-ramsay
Last, Ian (17:42) talks about trying to bring the writings of the people he studies into his own dissertation. Should the emic, insider analyses written by the members of a society be treated as "cultural traces," or integrated with the peer-reviewed Western scholarship we're meant to draw on? As Simon notes, "as anthropology moves haltingly towards a greater decolonization, there is this greater attempt to incorporate Indigenous and non-Western ways of being and understanding the world. Making those academically equivalent to Western materials still requires you to push heavily against many years of accreted tradition in anthropology. Doing this, making them equal, I think in some ways is still a radical act at the moment."
This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the schools of Culture, History, and Language and Archaeology and Anthropology at Australian National University, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.
Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Show notes by Ian Pollock