Epistemic Paradigms: Some Problems in Cross-cultural Research on Social Anthropological History and Theory1


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    A preliminary version of this paper was originally presented at the annual meeting of the History of Science Society on December 29, 1965. The author wishes to acknowledge the financial assistance of the Social Science Research Council and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, which in part made the writing of this essay possible.


Anthropological premises and assumptions generally involve intellectual-historical, philosophical, or “paradigmatic” choices and commitments. More specifically, in cases of theoretical and practical differences between rival paradigms of social anthropology, these choices and commitments must be empathetically understood and systematically explicated before an intelligent or fruitful debate is possible. This paper briefly and tentatively outlines the major premises and assumptions of structuralism and empiricism in French-continental and Anglo-American cultural anthropology. It also suggests possible means for the improvement of debate between these rival schools and points out that in exchanges of differing opinions, the social anthropologist must be aware of both the explicit socio-anthropological and the implicit historicophilosophical issues involved.