The Quest for Anthropological Relevance: Borgesian Maps and Epistemological Pitfalls

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ABSTRACT

In this essay, I critique the currently dominant mode of American sociocultural anthropology. Through a historical reading of canonical texts from the 1970s to the 1990s, I trace some of contemporary anthropology's limitations and probe their implications for the possibility of a publicly engaged discipline. I focus my critique on the demand for ever-increasing complexity, identifying it as an implicit form of positivism that renders the results of anthropological inquiries increasingly irrelevant to the big questions of the day. Epistemologically speaking, contemporary anthropology is thus not radical enough. In conclusion, I mobilize the Weberian–Boasian tradition as the most viable alternative to sociocultural anthropology's status quo.

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