• 2016 AA Editor Search
  • Get Ready for the Annual Meeting

    From t-shirts to journals, 2014 Annual Meeting Gear Shop Now
  • Open Anthropology
  • Latest AAA Podcast

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 18,303 other followers

Indiana Jones is to Anthropology as Fred Flintstone is to Neolithic Life

Below is a copy of the Letter to the Editor of the New York Times Magazine by President Mullings in response to the recent article by Emily Eakin.

To the Editor,

While we recognize that the figure of Indiana Jones is attractive, it is about as useful for understanding anthropology as Fred Flintstone is for understanding life in the Neolithic. Your article perpetuates an outdated and narrow stereotype of our profession. The 11,000 members of the American Anthropological Association alone actually spend their time doing a vast array of things. Today’s anthropologists can be found in such diverse endeavors as leading the World Bank, designing health care for areas devastated by disaster, or researching  the causes of the 2008 recession or the deaths of 100 boys in a defunct reform school in Florida. The  representation of a field paralyzed by  debates about  ‘science, ’ vs. ‘advocacy ’ is similarly inaccurate, given the non-polarized ways most anthropologists today understand ‘science’, ‘advocacy’ and the nature of the field. The article also misses one of Napoleon Chagnon’s lasting legacies to our field: the reminder to engage in constant reflection about anthropological ethics. The American Anthropological Association recently did just that, releasing its new Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility in October 2012. Finally, we consider lively debate neither dangerous nor self-serving: it is a key to knowledge.

Leith Mullings
President
American Anthropological Association
Distinguished Professor
Graduate Center, City University of New York

8 Responses

  1. Regardless of whether one disagrees with Chagnon’s theoretical orientation, behavior, findings and representations or not, I think it would be wise for the AAA to stay away from this, given their pathetic investigation (yes, it was an ethics investigation AND verdict) and treatment of him, which was repudiated and rescinded by the membership. The truth is the AAA botched this badly.

  2. Awww, shucks guys. I get why we needed to clarify some misunderstandings. I get why we had to speak out about anthro’s diversity. But why are we FIGHTING the imagery of Indiana Jones?!

    I mean, companies shell out millions to develop cool personifications for their stuff. Jarrod. Flo. The Most Interesting Man in the World. The T-Mobile Girl. Et cetera.

    Yet anthropology was simply handed Indiana Jones for free! Why aren’t we using this imagery to popularize our field?

    — Ashkuff | http://www.ashkuff.com | How to use anthropology, in business and ADVENTURE!!!!

  3. […] 2. Response to the NY Times piece by AAA president Leith Mullings. […]

  4. Thank you President Mullings, for introducing some reality into this melee. Anthropology is a system of knowledge that, over time, strives to understand more about the world and about itself. An early founder, Bronislaw Malinowski, concealed the extent to which his field site, the Trobriand Islands, were deeply influenced by European colonists and missionaries — he simply omitted their presence from the maps he included in his books. By now anthropologists have achieved better understanding of the interconnectedness of all parts of the world and the historical depths of those interconnections. Diamond and Chagnon describe “primitives” as isolated in a state of nature that owes more Hobbes” imagination than Rousseau’s. This is at the very least a misrepresentation of the world as anthropology has come to understand it. We might then ask about the political point of view of those who want to insist that violence and warfare are endemic to the human species apart from specific historical provocations.

  5. […] Indiana Jones is to Anthropology as Fred Flintstone is to Neolithic Life, President Leith Mullings, American Anthropological Association To the Editor, While we recognize that the figure of Indiana Jones is attractive, it is about as useful for understanding anthropology as Fred Flintstone is for understanding life in the Neolithic. Your article perpetuates an outdated and narrow stereotype of our profession. The 11,000 members of the American Anthropological Association alone actually spend their time doing a vast array of things. Today’s anthropologists can be found in such diverse endeavors as leading the World Bank, designing health care for areas devastated by disaster, or researching the causes of the 2008 recession or the deaths of 100 boys in a defunct reform school in Florida. The representation of a field paralyzed by debates about ‘science, ’ vs. ‘advocacy ’ is similarly inaccurate, given the non-polarized ways most anthropologists today understand ‘science’, ‘advocacy’ and the nature of the field. The article also misses one of Napoleon Chagnon’s lasting legacies to our field: the reminder to engage in constant reflection about anthropological ethics. The American Anthropological Association recently did just that, releasing its new Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility in October 2012. Finally, we consider lively debate neither dangerous nor self-serving: it is a key to knowledge. […]

  6. Survival International has compiled a list of materials from experts, anthropologists and the Yanomami themselves on the Chagnon debate, and how Chagnon’s work has been disastrous for the tribe.

    Visit http://www.survivalinternational.org//articles/3272 for statements from Davi Yanomami, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Philippe Descola and Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, and an open letter signed by over a dozen anthropologists who have worked for years with the Yanomami. They ‘disagree with Napoleon Chagnon’s public characterisation of the Yanomami as a fierce, violent and archaic people. [and] deplore how Chagnon’s work has been used throughout the years – and could still be used – by governments to deny the Yanomami their land and cultural rights.’

  7. […] has been forced to defend the besmirched media image of anthropologists and anthropology.  In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, American Anthropological Association President Leith Mullings critiques Ms. […]

  8. […] has been forced to defend the besmirched media image of anthropologists and anthropology.  In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, American Anthropological Association President Leith Mullings critiques Ms. […]

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 18,303 other followers

%d bloggers like this: