Thursday, October 13, 2011

Suppose They Began the Twenty-First Century and Forgot to Invite Anthropology

 In 1973,  Thomas Weaver of the University of Arizona organized a symposium  in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings to be held in San Francisco in February 1974.  The theme/ title, "Anthropology in the 1990's: Conditions, Needs, and Prospects." with the subtitle "Suppose They Began the Twenty-First Century and Forgot to Invite Anthropology!!!" One of the people Weaver called upon was Dr. Edward H. Spicer, a fellow colleague from the University of Arizona and the President of American Anthropological Association, for his observations and thought about the future for cultural anthropology.

As reported by his widow in 1994, (Spicer, Rosamond 1994 Human Organization, Vol. 53. No. 4, pp. 388 - 395), Spicer took the assignment with the same degree of seriousness and dedication that he had displayed through out his professional career. He saw it as an opportunity to share his thoughts and impressions of the profession and in particular, to speculate on where he saw the profession going. On February 28, 1974, he presented his paper entitled, "Anthropology in the society of the 1990s".

Edward H. Spicer was a both a humanist and scientist whose work spans the traditional four field of anthropology, and who played a significant role in the formation and development of the fifth field, Applied Anthropology. Spicer taught those of us fortunate to be his student to appreciate and understand the connection between a people’s past, their present, and how these shaped their future. In his paper on that February day in 1974, he outlined 5 trends in the social and cultural environment that he felt would shape the next 20 years for professional anthropology.

Twenty years later, in 1994, the paper was republished in Human Organization with a forward by his widow, Rosamond Spicer, under the title, "Reassessing Edward Spicer's Views on Anthropology in the Society of the 1990s: How and Why This Paper by Edward H. Spicer Was Written"  From her forward, we can gain an insight into Ned's thinking and approach to the future.

In 1974, Spicer envision five major societal trends that would impact the development of the profession leading toward the 1990s were the following:

(1) increasing intercommunication among the peoples of the world;

(2) increasing occupational specialization with accompanying organic differentiation within societies;

(3) increasing failure of technological solutions for the resolution of human problems in acceptable ways;

(4) increasing assertion and self-expression of ethnic groups within nation-states; and

(5) increasing reaction against centralization in political and administrative structures.

He stated "In general, continuation of these trends will, I believe, result in a society more heterogeneous than it was in the 19th or any previous century, more aware of its heterogeneity, with stronger than ever tendencies to compartmentalization, with increased awareness of and interest in non-technological and non-economic factors affecting human life, and with a growing tendency to view the nation-state in a wholly new light, especially with reference to its ethnic components and its political and administrative units." (p. 389)

Now nearly 40 years later, it might be worth considering just how prescient Ned’s predictions were for the 1990s and for the 21st Century.

Was he right?  Partially right? Or, Did he miss the mark?

What are your thoughts?