The Human Enterprise: A Critical Introduction to Anthropological Theory

The Human Enterprise: A Critical Introduction to Anthropological Theory

The Human Enterprise: A Critical Introduction to Anthropological Theory

The Human Enterprise: A Critical Introduction to Anthropological Theory


The Human Enterprise presents a wide-ranging but well-integrated analysis of contemporary anthropological theory. The author explains clearly and cogently how to evaluate scientific theories and encourages students to think critically about the nature of theory itself. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, this text should be a stimulating addition to courses on anthropological theory. Part One examines the philosophical foundations of anthropological theory, with particular attention to the nature of scientific inquiry and the mechanisms of scientific progress. The author proposes an original approach to the comparison and evaluation of competing scientific paradigms. Part Two explores the nature of social science and describes distinctive features of anthropology such as the concept of culture and the emic/etic distinction. The author then surveys the range of research strategies employed by anthropologists and presents a detailed analysis of cultural materialism, structuralism, and symbolic anthropology. The final section uses two celebrated issues- the argument about the image of limited good and the sacred cow controversy- to illustrate the current nature of paradigmatic debate and to indicate how a clearer understanding of the nature of paradigms and theory might resolve such controversies.


All order, I've come to understand,
is theoretical, unreal--a harmless, sensible,
smiling mask men slide between the two great,
dark realities, the self and the world.

--John Gardner, Grendel

This is a book about theory in sociocultural anthropology, although it is not a history of anthropological thought, nor is it a catalog of the many anthropological theories in vogue today. Instead, this book is about the philosophical foundations of anthropological theory. My aim is to describe the basic building blocks of theory and to lay out the essential architectural principles of paradigm construction. I do not offer a blueprint for a particular theoretical edifice (although I do not hesitate to point out the designs that I consider to be most promising)--instead, I try to identify what seem to me to be the essential engineering requisites for sound theoretical structures.

This is, then, an abstract book, but I have tried to make it as practical and down-to-earth as possible. I analyze particular anthropological paradigms in some detail, and I have included specific concrete illustrations wherever I could. The purpose of this book, however, is not to persuade you to adopt a particular theoretical perspective, or to provide you with a comprehensive survey of anthropological theories, but to teach you to think clearly about the nature of theory itself and then to show you how to apply that lesson to any and all theories you might encounter in the pursuit of the anthropological enterprise. I have . . .

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