December 12, 2010

Rice positivism

Nice one over at Language Log: "Rice positivists" vs. "contextualized popular epistemologies", commenting on the latest teapot tempest among anthropologists of different stripes. It's nicely written (Mark Liberman's postings always are), and this bit makes me especially glad to NOT be in the game any longer:

What does remain troublesome is the normative quality of the positivistic ethos that dominates the major agencies funding anthropological inquiry. Since researchers need funding, they are driven to adopt the rhetoric and mindset of the dispensers. (In missionary discourse, they become "rice positivists.") "Applicants" (supplicants) are confronted with schedules whose headings conjure a fictive future of positivistic research: background (theories), problem, hypotheses, methods, measurements, data analysis, conclusions—in sum, the ideological rhetoric of natural science research within the positivistic mode. For natural scientists, the rhetoric is a convenient game its veterans can work retrospectively, offering to study the problems they have already resolved. But for anthropological fieldworkers, the application schedule can become an exercise in fantasy and falsification.

(Murray Wax 1997)

...which reminds me of one of my stable of quotations:
Oh, how he hated grant proposals. The hollow promises; the vaunting celebration of past success; the self-advertising emphasis on importance and significance; the absence of understatement; the omnipresence of exaggeration; the servile allegiance to tradition, formula, and established procedure; the utter predictability of every other sentence; the implicit greed of the genre...

(David Carkeet Double Negative, pg. 31)

Posted by oook at December 12, 2010 02:03 PM