American Anthropologists and American Society

Eric R. Wolf

in Pathways of Power

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780520223332
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520924871 | DOI:
American Anthropologists and American Society

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This chapter generates an interest in the sociology of anthropological knowledge and reveals the three different phases of American anthropology that correspond to three different phases of the development of American society. It stimulates thinking about problem setting in the discipline not merely in terms of the truth and falsity of answers, but in terms of whole intellectual enterprise as a form of social action, operating within and against a certain societal and cultural contexts. To each of these three phases, American anthropology responded in its own way: to the intellectual mood of social Darwinism, with the elaboration of evolutionist theory; to Liberal Reform, with theories that stressed human flexibility and plasticity; and to the present phase, with uncertainties and equivocations about power. The renewed interest in cultural plurality and relativity celebrated the malleability of humans, thus celebrating also their vast potential for change. This period is characterized by two opposing yet interconnected trends.

Keywords: sociology; anthropological knowledge; American society; cultural plurality; evolutionist theory

Chapter.  3934 words. 

Subjects: Theory and Practice of Anthropology

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