The Production of Knowledge & Indigenous PeoplesSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. :
For more information, read MPublishing's access and usage policy.
After the Dialogue: Reflections on Two Memorable EventsFernando Coronil, Director of the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History and Member of El Dorado Task Force, created by the American Anthropological Association to inquire into Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado
Two memorable events took place at the University of Michigan last semester. First, in the context of a polarized national debate ignited by the publication of Patrick Tierney's book Darkness in El Dorado, scholars from the U.S. and abroad managed to engage in a productive dialogue during a three-part colloquium series titled "Science * Ethics * Power: Controversy over the Production of Knowledge and Indigenous Peoples." The series was organized by the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History and sponsored by the Office of the Provost (with the additional support of CSST, LACS, Rackham Graduate School and a Ford Foundation Crossing Borders grant).
Second, largely in response to these discussions, the Office of the Provost, which at an early point had released official statements disqualifying Tierney's book, modified its position and released a new statement that affirms that the role of the university is to promote the scholarly discussion of complex questions, not to settle them administratively. These two events confirm the commitment of the University of Michigan to open discussion and scholarly excellence.
It may help contextualize these events to note that the national controversy began even before the publication of Tierney's book. On the basis of the book's galleys, Professors Leslie Sponsel (University of Hawaii) and Terence Turner (Cornell University) e-mailed their summary of its claims to officials of the American Anthropological Association to alert them to its imminent publication. The unauthorized public diffusion of their confidential e-mail called attention to Tierney's most explosive suggestion, namely, that a research project involving two scholars of international reputation, geneticist James Neel (University of Michigan), and anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon (University of California at Santa Barbara), had intentionally caused or intensified a deadly measles epidemic among the Yanomami in 1968. This irresponsible allegation of criminal conduct was quickly refuted by the broader academic community. Tierney dropped it from the book before its publication at the end of last year. In recognition of Dr. Neel's productive and valued association with the University of Michigan, the Office of the Provost carefully examined this charge and refuted it in all its official statements. This false claim damaged not only scholarly reputations, but also the book's credibility, leading some to dismiss it in its entirety. This has meant dismissing as well claims based on careful documentation, including reports by Brazilian and Venezuelan scholars and anthropological associations long concerned with the impact of research on the Yanomami.
It is understandable that the controversy in the United States has focused attention on U.S. scholars whose reputations had been tarnished by these allegations. Yet this focus has often diverted attention from the larger issues by casting discussions in terms carried over from the "culture wars" between modernist science and its post-modern critics. A Wild West conception of embattled individuals engaged in the culture wars of science and facts against anti-science and morals led to a polarization and personalization of the debate, provoking unwarranted speculations about hidden personal intentions and undermining the scholarly examination of evidence and attention to fundamental problems. In this polarized context, the colloquium series succeeded in creating a space for an open examination and exchange of facts and ideas.
At the end of his life, Jorge Luis Borges, the writer of the fantastic and thinker of the paradoxical, stated that "polemics are useless." By this he did not mean the exchange of ideas, but the battle over ideas among people with fixed positions "who listen to the conversation as a polemic, as a game in which someone wins and someone else loses." Instead, for Borges, a dialogue, like any other vital activity, must be joyous andopen-it has to be an exploration. As he said, "a dialogue has to be an investigation, and it matters little if truth comes from the mouth of one or the other. I have tried to think that when having a conversation, it is indifferent who is right; what is important is to reach a conclusion. What side of the table this came from, or from which mouth, or from which face, or from which name, has no importance."
This issue of the Journal of the International Institute presents selections of the comments prepared by the colloquium participants as well as the new statement issued by the Office of the Provost. They are offered here as a testimony of an exceptional dialogue among faculty, students, and administration and as a contribution to an ongoing conversation about the epistemologies, ethics and politics of Western scholarly practices.
About Ethics in Ethnographic ResearchAlcida Rita Ramos, Universidade de Brasília
The issue of ethics in ethnographic research has been a long-standing concern for Brazilian anthropologists. Part of this concern is our awareness that anthropologists are political actors whether they like it or not. In Brazil as in other Latin American countries, professional anthropologists take on, as a matter of course, the social responsibility to both respect and defend the rights of our research subjects, particularly, indigenous peoples.
As an example of how different the responses of Brazilian and U.S. anthropologists have been to ethical issues, let me recall the repercussions of Napoleon Chagnon's 1988 Science article ("Life histories, blood revenge, and warfare in a tribal population," 26 February, pp. 985-992). The press sensationalism that erupted about that article both in the U.S. and in Brazil, precisely when the Brazilian military were planning the demarcation of indigenous lands in the Amazon, fed the government with a justification to chop up Yanomami land into small parcels surrounded by corridors for development. The military's argument came straight from news items: the Yanomami fought each other too much and hence had to be separated.
The Brazilian Anthropological Association sent a letter to the Ethics Committee of the American Anthropological Association, published in the Anthropology Newsletter (March 1989), pointing out the harmful effects of irresponsible ethnographic representations. But while the correspondence editor gave Chagnon space to counterattack, he denied the same right to Brazilians. Not only did the AAA pay no heed to that warning, but Brazilian and Brazil-based anthropologists were heavily criticized for it (see, for instance, Chagnon's 1993 presidential address to the Human Behavior and Evolution Society). In fact, some U.S. anthropologists have been outright offensive while showing a glaring ignorance of the facts. In his defense of Chagnon (at the time under attack by Venezuelan Salesian priests), Robin Fox published a letter (Anthropology Newsletter, March 1994), where he referred to us and our ethical concerns as "Brazilians with their own confused grievances" (p. 2).
It is deplorable to observe a second-rate piece of journalism such as Darkness in El Dorado succeed where a serious academic community had apparently failed, namely, to jolt U.S. professional anthropologists out of their ethical apathy. It is sad to notice the irony of the situation as we witness a typical case of poetic justice. We hope our northern colleagues will apply their unquestionable wisdom to taking full advantage of this bitter lesson.
The Yanomamo and the Global UniversityMichael D. Kennedy, Director, International Institute
This debate and its accompanying issues help us to think through what it means to be a global university. To an amazing extent, the debates in the publications I have read have focused the matter on concerns of the American Anthropological Association. Are the concerns of the AAA the same as those as their Brazilian and Venezuelan counterparts in this inquiry? Does anthropology have the same academic and political space within Brazil and Venezuela with regard to these matters as it does within the U.S.?
For example, what happens to the debate about knowledge politics when the state is so much more directly involved in the relationship to the people in question, as it is in Brazil and Venezuela? Does it matter that the Yanamamo and some of their leading figures, like Davi Kopenawa, are part of a national public space in ways they are not in this country? How do these things matter, and how might they be brought into American discussions about the effects and value of our academic work? That's one set of issues, but it's not only an international question to be resolved along particular disciplinary lines.
To what extent are the disciplinary confines of the debate enabling, or constraining, what we ought to be learning? To the extent this debate is cast as a war within anthropology, we all lose. But this does not mean that I seek to measure university work by forcing issues into particular transnational issue networks like human rights work. That is worthwhile considering, but one might also imagine matters more squarely located within the university in general, and ours in particular. For instance, under what conditions might basic research in the life sciences ultimately work for the benefit of the Yanamamo? That space has been made within the Life Sciences Initiative, for example, by putting ethics and values at the core of its mission, but I have not yet read any Tierney-inspired debates that address issues around the geopolitical ethics of the life sciences. We can rethink the global university by linking scholarly inquiry to that most direct of political concerns in human rights. We might also, however, rethink it by asking how our basic research in the life sciences and elsewhere is rooted in, or might transcend, the cultural politics of the American state and nation.
This debate asks us not only to engage our familiars. It asks us to extend our vision and work with our colleagues from across the University, and from across the world, to rearticulate our answers to those enduring questions of knowledge for what, and for whom. I'm grateful to have colleagues who seek to do just that.
The Politics of TranslationDavid Pedersen, Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History, U-M
What is at stake is not just the study and our knowledge of being human (a domain in which anthropology has certainly made a substantial claim) but rather the meaning and compass of human life itself. This includes not only questions about what we know, but also who we are, what we share and what are our grounds for hope. These are grand questions, but they suggest that we are immediately confronted with the obligation to define as broadly and as precisely as possible who makes up this "we"-what the practicing scientist Charles S. Peirce called a "community of inquirers."
These presentations and this colloquium series are about expanding that community of inquirers and deepening our dialogical engagement. In the context of neoliberal restructuring throughout the world-what is popularly known as globalization-it may be yet more difficult to follow propositional logic, to divide up debates and to separate questions about what life is from what it ought to be and become. In this revisiting of the problematic of value on a global scale, there is always an ethico-political obligation and stance contained in any representation, even if it is the translation of a single word.
To help frame our discussion around the politics of translation, I wouldlike to juxtapose two statements. The first is from the U-M news releasethat we have reproduced on a poster advertising the colloquium series.We have already established that Chagnon was not the first author todescribe the Yanomami as violent. In fact, critics who have accused him ofthis characterization forget that the Yanomami refer to themselves aswaitri, "fierce and valiant." What Chagnon did was translate the term intoEnglish.The second excerpt is from a review of Patrick Tierney's book written byMarshall Sahlins and published in the Washington Post.Good and other Yanomami specialists make it clear that the supreme accoladeof Yanomami personhood-the term waiteri that Chagnon translates as "fiercepeople"-involves a subtle combination of valor, humor and generosity. Allof these moreover are reciprocal relations.I conclude by asking that we take seriously today the counterpoint createdby these two statements, not by choosing a side, but by asking what doesthis opposition tell us about what is at stake in our discussion and debate.
Ethics in El Dorado: The Ensuing ControversyTerence Turner, Anthropology, Cornell University
Patrick Tierney's book, Darkness in El Dorado, his New Yorker article, "The Fierce Anthropologist," and the controversy to which they have given rise have raised a series of ethical issues, some stemming from the content of Tierney's writings, and some from the conduct of those involved in the controversy. Amid the barrage of charges and counter-charges, the most important ethical issue, namely what, how and why the Yanomami have suffered from the actions of those who have come to study, document, film, convert, aid and otherwise impinge upon them over the past thirty years, has tended to get lost.
Very few of the messages and postings relating to the controversy have paid serious attention to the condition of the Yanomami themselves or their views, and most have tended to ignore ethical issues altogether. Instead, the outpouring of e-mail messages and postings by defenders of Neel and Chagnon over the past several months has been almost exclusively concerned to defend James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon against Patrick Tierney's allegations. The most common basis for dismissing the criticisms has been the charge that Tierney, and other critics of Chagnon such as Leslie Sponsel and myself, are primarily motivated by some combination of hostility to "science" and unwillingness to face the hard truths about the Yanomami and other primitive people revealed by Chagnon's scientific approach. The implicit sub-text seems to be that if the critical allegations against Neel and Chagnon can be refuted on scientific grounds, then the ethical questions raised by critics about the effects of their actions on the Yanomami can be made to go away. This tropic use of "science" is epitomized by the attempt of leading partisans of Neel and Chagnon to use Tierney's errors in the chapter on the measles epidemic concerning such scientific matters as whether the vaccine used by the expedition to vaccinate the Yanomami could itself have caused the ensuing measles epidemic to discredit his entire book.
The main issues raised by Tierney's critical accounts of the 1968 AEC expedition and Chagnon's actions, however, concern the ethics of scientific practice: they imply no attack on science as such. Any discussion of the ethical issues raised by Tierney's work ought to begin by giving Tierney credit for raising important ethical issues. Science is not a substitute for ethics, scientific findings do not obviate ethical issues, and scientists, particularly those who work with human subjects, have ethical responsibilities. In this connection, the words of the report of the Brazilian medical team of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro on Chapter 5 of Tierney's book (his account of the epidemic), otherwise highly critical of Tierney, are apropos:
The ethical issues in this controversy, however, have not been confined to the actions of Neel, Chagnon and others toward the Yanomami. The conduct of the controversy has raised important ethical issues of its own. One ethical imperative is clearly to correct the errors of Tierney's account (and the memo that Leslie Sponsel and I sent to the leaders of the AAA summarizing Tierney's allegations and calling for their investigation by the Association), to prevent the damage to individual reputations they might cause. As the authors of the memo that became the vehicle for the dissemination of these errors (albeit against our wills and without our consent) we have assumed responsibility for researching and publicizing relevant aspects of the conduct of the 1968 AEC Orinoco expedition. Another ethical issue was posed by the leaking of our confidential memo on the Internet by a party or parties unknown. This was a breach of trust as well as a legal breach of copyright. The consequent distorted exploitation of the contents of the memo in the media led to a number of sensationalized and untruthful reports, which Sponsel and I have sought to correct at every opportunity (e.g., in lectures, letters to the editor, postings on the web, published columns and articles, and media interviews).
Finally, the outpouring on the web in defense of Neel and Chagnon has not stopped at correcting Tierney's errors, but has produced a rich crop of tendentious prevarications and untruthful assertions that raise ethical problems all their own. Some of the loudest defenders of Neel and Chagnon have attempted to discredit the book as a whole by reference to its flawed treatment of the epidemic, while avoiding discussion of the many parts of the book for which there is abundant evidence in the public record and the testimony of other anthropologists, missionaries and Yanomami. Some of the most violent attacks on Tierney's book, in sum, seem directed as much at distracting attention from the truth of many of its allegations as at exposing its relatively few (but important) errors. There has been a good deal of "spin," in short, along with some well-founded criticism, in the attack on Tierney.
The Ethics of KnowledgeFernando Coronil, Director of the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History and Member of El Dorado Task Force, created by the American Anthropologica Association to inquire into Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado
Our goal in organizing this series is neither to evaluate Patrick Tierney's book-the AAA has recently created a special committee, the El Dorado Task Force to do this-nor to stand in judgment about the individuals whose work he criticizes. Instead, our goal is to use this book and the controversy it has generated to open up a space at the University of Michigan for a public discussion of some of the political, ethical and epistemological questions implicated in the production of scholarly knowledge. Rather than rushing to judge the ethical behavior or the scholarship of specific individuals, we wish to examine the criteria by which such judgments can or ought to be made. Since criteria about individual responsibility are inseparable from the contexts within which scientists are formed and do their work, we wish to attend to these cultural and political contexts. We are concerned not just with the ethics of individuals, but also with the ethics of disciplinary practices, of scientific work, of scientific ideologies.
While the discussion in the U.S. so far has centered on the role of U.S. scholars, in Venezuela and Brazil it has focused on the Yanomami, their rights and welfare. Our colloquium is an effort to link these concerns, to pluralize a debate that has been dominated by a few voices. We seek not only to include more voices, but also to modify the terms of the debate so as to make each voice more democratic and inclusive.
In our colloquium two weeks ago, David Pedersen urged us to examine rather than reproduce the polarized terms that have characterized the debate so far, in particular its tendency to become defined in terms of a Manichean opposition between science versus anti-science, facts versus morals. Michael Kennedy, as director of the International Institute, reminded us of the responsibility of Michigan as a global university for research carried by its members and asked us to keep in mind fundamental questions: knowledge for what, for whom? A forceful answer to this question came from Alcida Ramos, who insisted that because our work impacts the people we study, we are therefore responsible to them for the knowledge we produce. This idea, that we are accountable for our accounts, that our knowledge should serve or at least not harm the people we study, is no different from the response to Tierney's book by the Direccion de Asuntos Indigenas de Venezuela— The office of Indigenous Affairs of Venezuela-"In the controversy surrounding the contents of this book, the rights of the Yanomami should be our principal concern."
Yet as scientists or scholars, we have multiple and often conflicting concerns. We may care about the people we study, but we also care about testing our hypothesis, or producing a particular body of knowledge according to specific institutional and professional concerns. It is often the case, particularly in contexts characterized by unequal relations of power, that our multiple aims may enter into conflict with each other and that we may have to make hard choices. Clifford Geertz, in a subtle review of Tierney's book, noted that "the problem was that the anthros (and the medicos) reductionist to the core, conceived the object of their study not as a people, but as a population. The Yanomami, who indeed had the requisite sort of brains, eyes, and fingers, were a control group in an inquiry centered elsewhere."
What are the uses and the limitations of this distinction between people and population, between subjects and objects? How decisive is the existence of a gap between metropolitan centers of research and peripheral areas to be researched? In the context of unequal power relations, who defines the aims of research, whose interests are at stake?
Consequences and CredibilityRandolph Nesse, Dept. of Psychiatry & Institute for Social Research, U-M
The main facts of this episode are clear. This affair started when Turner and Sponsel sent an e-mail supporting Tierney's accusations that Neel and Chagnon killed hundreds or thousands of Yanomamo on purpose as a part of secret Atomic Energy Commission eugenic research. A predictable firestorm of publicity ensued. The second event was investigation of the charges. Several major respected organizations quickly showed that the most lurid ones were completely false, and that much-purported documentation in the book was bogus. This conference seems to be an attempt to take us to a third stage in which the original accusers express regret at their errors, but demand attention to other charges and new charges.I admire Turner's willingness to admit he was wrong. His mistake is, however, very, very serious. The main accusations proved embarrassingly easy to refute. Measles cannot be started by a vaccine, and the vaccine probably saved hundreds of lives. Neel was an opponent of eugenics. To have made such accusations without checking sources is nearly unforgivable in academia. How would most of us respond if we realized that we had spread and supported lurid accusations of mass murder that turned out to be false? We would be mortified. We would fly to the homes of the accused and offer abject apologies and reparations. We would write articles trying to undo the harm we had inflicted. We would go to a quiet place and stay there, humiliated, trying to understand how we could have done something so evil. But Turner, after expressing regret for his prior errors, has gone looking in the Neel archives for new damaging material. And he is here today asking us to take Tierney's other accusations seriously. Someone should look into the lives of the Yanomamo and who has harmed them. But Tierney and Turner are disqualified. Their credibility is nil, and there are good reasons to think that their motives are based in large part on personal malevolence and ideological tribalism. What they have done is the equivalent of dumping a truckload of garbage on a delicate archeological site and stirring it with a bulldozer. It may never be possible to sort it all out. From now on, any responsible attempt to criticize what anthropologists have done to the Yanomamo, or any other group for that matter, will bring up this venomous controversy. It will be very much harder to convince thoughtful people that serious breaches have occurred, and that serious attention to standards of inquiry are needed. And, it will be harder than ever to convince people that anthropology is a serious and important science.
Contextualizing the ResearchJoel Howell, History & Internal Medicine, U-M
It would be misleading to consider the actions of Neel, Chagnon, Tierney and Turner in isolation from other, contemporaneous biomedical research. In the case of the original experiments, one must attempt to put them in the context of a whole set of ideas about nature, medicine and the dominant ethos of scientific experimentation, one in which egregious abuses such as Tuskegee experiments not only persisted for decades (up until 1972), but did do with results regularly appearing in the published literature and with the explicit approval of U.S. federal agencies. In other parts of the U.S., children were being fed feces to induce hepatitis and adults were being irradiated and injected with cancer cells, all without consent or therapeutic intent.
In that context, Neel and Chagnon went farther than many other experimenters in attempting to enhance the health of those people whom they studied. The current affair raises its own set of ethical issues. Tierney's language seems to have changed over time, reflecting (although not explicitly responding to) the almost trivial ease with which others were able to falsify the outrageous assertions that brought the whole issue into the glare of public scrutiny, in so doing raising serious issues of reportorial responsibility as well as calling into question the accuracy of the entire manuscript.
The Perils of Engaged AnthropologyKay B. Warren, Anthropology, Harvard
The goal of my intervention was to widen the focus beyond the particulars of the Tierney-Turner-Neel-Chagnon dispute by outlining a way to situate anthropology and its researchers at this historical juncture. A wider contextualization of the Tierney debates might help explain some of the intensity and polarization of the moment-the surplus of meaning and motion that has become integral to the dispute across cultural and biological anthropology-while it could not offer a magic resolution. Moreover, it might encourage other attempts to historicize the paradigmatic clashes of fields that the academy is currently experiencing.
As the colloquium proceeded, I was fascinated by the fact that Professor Nesse's commentary outlined an alternative framework for understanding the continuing debate. Arguing from an evolutionary psychology perspective, his observations drew attention to each side's partisanship and to the intense group loyalty to Napoleon Chagnon and James Neel among the evolutionary biologists, and to Turner among the cultural anthropologists. As an alternative to historical modes of explanation, this universalizing schema sees adaptive advantages to these dynamics and the resultant antagonism toward outgroups. Here we have a second encompassing model. The contrast between our two attempts to contextualize the debate and its partisanship-one historicized and another evolutionarily grounded-is telling in and of itself.
As the discussion played itself out that afternoon, the impulse to find some common ground emerged from time to time. In effect, representatives of each side were tacitly agreeing that the other point of view, in and of itself, was not beyond the pale. They also seemed to agree to disagree in areas of research agendas, methods, and goals. This, in my view, is an important step forward from earlier characterizations of one side as "science" and the other simply as "politics."
Professor Turner in his keynote presentation and subsequent discussion described his review of James Neel's papers at the Philadelphia archives as part of a process of fact checking for a rational, empirical consideration of Neel's practices in the Amazon. He stressed that the allegations and inflammatory language in the original Turner-Sponsel email, which was circulated widely without their consent, were not meant for public consumption. While Professor Nesse wanted more than this public apology, many others that I talked to were impressed by Professor Turner's conciliatory tone, which was echoed in other comments during the discussion. For Professor Turner, however, there are other, very important open issues concerning the ethics of anthropological research practices by Napoleon Chagnon, which are the unfinished business of this controversy. For all our differences, I do think this colloquium was a constructive engagement and an airing of difficult issues for anthropology as a whole and for three- and four-field departments, in particular. Avoiding these discussions in multi-field departments is a mistake. The trick, of course, is to find a way for hotly contested debates to air multiple conflicting points of view with room for maneuver for those who want to explore strong differences without intractable polarization. On some issues, continued polarization risks obscuring areas of common ground and creates an excluded middle that, if explored, might yield a richer range of possibilities than the extremes.
Identifying the AudienceCaroline Jeannerat, Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History, U-M
I have been quite confused by this debate. I followed it through the emails and the web, yet had the sense that I did not understand what it was about. I then began to reflect what the debate would mean in terms of South Africa, a context a bit more familiar to me. And when I imagined this debate and the research it was based on in South Africa, it made little sense-or, perhaps, it made too much sense; and it seemed to make all follow-up questions superfluous.
The difference between this debate today in America and its hypothetical transposition into the apartheid South Africa of a few years ago is that the South African context highlights the political nature of research so dramatically and thus its ethical implications (and perhaps even a transposition into today's South Africa would highlight this as well, as evidenced by the debate on AIDS drugs in South Africa at the moment).
So the question this then leads to is why would the political and thus ethical implications of research be so clear in South Africa of the late 1960s, at the same time as it did not seem necessary to reflect upon them in research in Latin America at the time. Why does it seem that the political nature of research was not of the same importance in American anthropology?
Was apartheid South Africa just such an archetype of an aberrant state that the issues were so clear, or were the structures of domination by the North Atlantic countries, and in particular by the U.S., so subtle that the implications of research were much harder to recognize? Might there also be a suggestion that debates in anthropology in Africa were separated from and did not impact upon American anthropology-especially the debates around the political nature of anthropological research that were triggered in the 1950s and 1960s with decolonization in Africa?
The question I suggest this leads to is that of who is the audience of the research? And what difference does a consideration of the audience make? The various answers to this question lead to different ethical approaches to research. The issue I see this speaking to is that of the engagement of the researcher with the community being studied, an issue already raised in the first colloquium by several of the speakers and from within the audience. Thinking about the role of the community being studied as an audience for the research results implies that we need to think about how knowledge is conceptualized-what is it? what is it seen to achieve? what is it imagined to effect in the future? a future for whom? and as defined by whom? But also, how is knowledge established, and how can knowledge be abstracted from those from whom it is gained? And, perhaps in more concrete terms, how do we conceive of the relationship between the accounts we produce and the community we study: are we writing for them, about them or are we listening to them and writing with them?
Historicizing the PresentFernando Coronil, Director of the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History and Member of El Dorado Task Force, created by the American Anthropologica Association to inquire into Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado
I agree with Professor Warren that we need to historicize and contextualize the present controversy. I also view the surplus of emotion that characterizes this controversy as a symptomatic expression of deep anxieties concerning the reconfiguration of academic disciplines in this age of neoliberal globalization. I believe that the structures of knowledge we have inherited from the 19th century, characterized by a tripartite division into the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences, are being challenged by a number of processes linked to the reorganization of geopolitical units and transformations in the domains of technology, economics and culture. The culture wars between modernists and postmodernists have produced deep uncertainties concerning the nature of Western knowledge, undermining canons in literary fields as well as the foundations of truth claims and even units of study in the social sciences.
Just at a time when feminist and postcolonialist critics have seriously challenged the univeral assumptions of Western knowledge, the development of new technologies has facilitated the explosive development of big Western science-the one-billion dollar project to develop the life sciences at Michigan is a case in point. The tensions generated by these conflicting processes affect in particular a four-field discipline like anthropology, but they also express themselves in the hypervalorization of technical expertise in professional fields and in separation of the life sciences, as a growing field, from the humanities and the social sciences, as fields struggling to redefine their significance in the present context. Given the importance of these changes, after this colloquium series, the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History intends to explore the ongoing reconfiguration of the academic disciplines through our reading groups, colloquium series and a major conference next academic year. So the question this then leads to is why would the political and thus ethical implications of research be so clear in South Africa of the late 1960s, at the same time as it did not seem necessary to reflect upon them in research in Latin America at the time. Why does it seem that the political nature of research was not of the same importance in American anthropology?
Science vs. Anti-scienceBrian Ferguson, Anthropology, Rutgers
I am an unabashed advocate of anthropology as science. My view of science is nothing fancy—mainly clear, testable hypotheses, organized into broader theory, evaluated against the best information available. Regarding war, it is my view that science must be historic, that our facts must be firmly contextualized in the time of their occurrence. Archaeology allows us to do that only in a broad sense, but even so, indications of war can be very misleading if ripped from context. Through archaeology and history, we can see war develop as a cultural institution and see its occurrence or absence as responses to concrete material conditions. By science, by history, war cannot be taken as the "natural state" for humans or for society.
Toward a Portrait of the University as Author of the TextDavid William Cohen, Anthropology and History, U-M
I am intrigued by the situation of the University as author and critic. Let me look at the first statements it produced a bit more closely. In the second sentence of the November 13, 2000 text, the official statement identifies several units responsible for conducting "the supporting research" on which the first two statements were based. In the third sentence of the November 2000 statement, the text reads, "The University of Michigan takes allegations of impropriety in research very seriously."
How are such allegations picked through such that some call upon extensive resources of the University to be dedicated to investigation while others may linger unintended? What about prior allegations regarding Chagnon, extending back decades? Did the University enter into deliberations regarding whether it should investigate such allegations when they were widely voiced 15 and 20 years ago? But once undertaken, by what standards are such investigations expected to proceed? And what are the appropriate temporicities of investigative practice? While the reader of the official statements will find citations following most paragraphs of the first two statements, the actual procedures that the investigation employed-as well as the names of those participating-were unannounced. Both official statements, but especially the October 20, 2000 document, deploy material regarding the careers and behaviors of various investigators-Chagnon, Neel, Turner, Sponsel and Tierney-and connote critical importance to such specific personal and professional detail, yet the specific interests and careers that surely inform the contributions of the respective members of the Michigan team or teams are unrevealed. Historians will seek to understand how chief officers of the University entered the discussion at its beginning, and there are already threads of different accounts in the materials we have available.
Others will surely be attentive to how these first two official statements were produced between mid-September and mid-November, 2000, and the third and most recent statement produced by the University in late spring. We may be moved beyond an engaged reading of these statements toward a close reading of how these teams read the Turner-Sponsel letter to the AAA and how they read the various Tierney scripts, as well as how University administrators read various materials including scripts from the three part symposium series. This seems, for a university, a highly specious intervention in on-going scholarly and public discussions. But where is the University of Michigan to go? Is it to be drawn, or appropriated, into the teleologies of this reduction to absurdity of a range of different kinds of work within anthropology, or is it to encourage continued discussion, not only of the nature of the discipline has it has developed, or now exists, but also of its future?
Denial in Space, Denial in TimeJennifer L. Gaynor, Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History, U-M
I studied documentary film and visual anthropology with Tim Asch in the two years before he died in 1994. Part of what his students learned from him was the crucial point that documentary realism is, after all, a genre of representation, its realism in part an effect of using certain techniques, that an audience also "reads" through certain genre expectations. Tim showed us how in representing the "real," filmmakers had found it necessary to deny their own presence in the same space as what was being filmed. I want to pick up on this point because there is an analogy I'd like to draw out here, with what Johannes Fabian writes about an anthropological denial of shared time.
Johannes Fabian pointed out that anthropological writing makes its object of study by a kind of denial of living in the same time, or what he called a denial of co-evalness. Napoleon Chagnon's research on the Yanomamo was a special instance of this more general and problematic practice. His research, linked to Neel's, required the presumption that the Yanomamo were living in the same sort of conditions in which some pre-historic evolutionary human ancestors lived.
As Terry Turner reminded us two weeks ago, there is an underlying theory of Chagnon's and an explicit theory of Neel's about social organization, that he felt the Yanomami perhaps best represented. This theory concerned small endogamous groups and breeding isolates, and an "index of innate ability" which, among individuals who had risen to headman, allowed them, through polygamy, to put relatively more of their genes into the gene pool. Such at least was the theory. Chagnon's "fierceness," or rather his description of Yanomamo "fierceness," fit with this theory.
This made the relevant analytic frame for examining questions regarding Yanomami warfare one of evolutionary, rather than historical time, or the shared time of their field research. The methodology required that the Yanomami be viewed by the researchers as, or as if, from another time; an example of what Fabian would have called an allochronic perspective. There is a moral issue here, but there is also more than that.
Like the framing techniques of realist documentary, the presumption of evolutionary and not historical time as the relevant analytic frame, leaves too much out of the picture. The problem isn't simply that this appears to be yet another Eric Wolfian instance of people without history.
As Chagnon's "fierce people," the Yanomamo represent a kind of survival, and this convenient myth of anachronism effaces another history, that may, it ironically turns out, be central to understanding Yanomami warfare. This history, as Brian Ferguson argues, explores the connections between Yanomami warfare and changes in the Western presence in the region. It focuses our attention on steel goods, which revolutionized Yanomami subsistence and became critical means of production, so that access to these goods became a crucial factor in generating hostilities as well as alliances.
When we look, within this wider framework, at the recent history of social relations, it is clear that anthropologists have been part of the picture, interacting with Yanomami people in a shared time, distributing steel goods, and producing knowledge about the Yanomami. Another part of this recent history is about pictures. And as the stakes of media representation have risen, it has become increasingly important to Yanomamo and other Amazonian people to gain access to the means of making representations.