Thursday, October 27, 2011


I spent the day at the "1st Berlin Symposium on Internet and Society" While the topics were in general very narrowly focused on policy and regulation, the session I attended this afternoon was on "CyberAnthropology -- Being Human on the Internet". While I am not in a strict sense an anthropologist, I have explicitly used methods from cultural anthropology for close to 40 years and thus found the topic interesting.

The session began with a critique of the presenters' paper in which the speaker noted that the presenters had done no original data collection of their own. In my own part of the academic world that criticism would probably be grounds for rejection from any serious scholarly symposium or conference.

It further became clear that the presenters had almost no background in contemporary scholarly anthropology. Their approach was to throw out the whole empirical basis of contemporary anthropology as too narrow and to replace it with a cloud of philosophers starting with Plato and Aristotle and ending with Paul Ricoeur and Derrida. (Note: I was at the University of Chicago during the years when Ricoeur was there -- his concepts are not entirely new to me.) The presenters believe that "philosophical anthropology" and their understanding of hermeneutics eliminates the need for standards for evidence and rules for persuasion. At least that is what I heard them say over and over again. Nonetheless it is interesting that they welcome data from others. I wonder why?

True to their law faculty roots, the presenters have already acquired the rights to Others have already captured the name, so the brand is not exclusive.

My objection to this symposium paper is partly that I regard it as an embarrassment to my own Philosophical Faculty 1, which houses the university's departments of philosophy and European Ethnography (cultural anthropology). It does not reflect our standards.

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