For the past weeks or so my Mayanist colleagues of US descent have been upset by the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) decision to drop the word science from their long range plan. This decision has now reached New York Times as well. They write that “the decision has reopened a long-simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines — including archaeologists, physical anthropologists and some cultural anthropologists — and members of the profession who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights.” The long-range plan has been “to advance anthropology as the science that studies humankind in all its aspects.” Now the purpose of AAA is to “advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects.”
The decision to drop the word science is unfortunate and it is probably the result of it being associated with Western ideals and colonialism (at least according to postcolonial and postmodern anthropologists). This is disliked by many American anthropologists who focus on archaeology. I believe that this primarily is an American problem and perhaps in other countries where the archaeology is a sub discipline of anthropology. In Sweden, and Europe in general, archaeology is far more related to history and the humanities than to the social sciences. This difference, of course, has historical reasons since the American archaeologists primarily studied the “Other”, i.e. the Amerindian groups whereas Europeans studied their assumed historical ancestors.
In Sweden and Europe we have also a tension between “scientific” and “interpretative” archaeologists that mirrors the rift mentioned above. In my view, such a rift is unnecessary and simply mirrors dichotomized and arborescent thinking among both camps. I have absolutely no problem in combining palaeoclimatic data with studies of ethnicity. What mainly is needed is a return to ontological issues again. Cut down the hierarchical tree that separates the disciplines and use a flat ontology instead. And reintroduce science again. Erasing it is just contra productive in the long run.