Anthropology

With the rise of science, we moderns believe, the world changed irrevocably, separating us forever from our primitive, premodern ancestors. But if we were to let go of this fond conviction, Bruno Latour asks, what would the world look like? His book, an anthropology of science, shows us how much of modernity is actually a matter of faith. What does it mean to be modern? What difference does the scientific method make? The difference, Latour explains, is in our careful distinctions between nature and society, between human and thing, distinctions that our benighted ancestors, in their world of alchemy, astrology, and phrenology, never made. But alongside this purifying practice that defines modernity, there exists another seemingly contrary one: the construction of systems that mix politics, science, technology, and nature. The ozone debate is such a hybrid, in Latour’s analysis, as are global warming, deforestation, even the idea of black holes. As these hybrids proliferate, the prospect of keeping nature and culture in their separate mental chambers becomes overwhelming—and rather than try, Latour suggests, we should rethink our distinctions, rethink the definition and constitution of modernity itself. His book offers a new explanation of science that finally recognizes the connections between nature and culture—and so, between our culture and others, past and present. Nothing short of a reworking of our mental landscape. We Have Never Been Modern blurs the boundaries among science, the humanities, and the social sciences to enhance understanding on all sides. A summation of the work of one of the most influential and provocative interpreters of science, it aims at saving what is good and valuable in modernity and replacing the rest with a broader, fairer, and finer sense of possibility.
While the world has undoubtedly been shrinking, at the same time it has grown more complex. The likelihood of culture clashes leading to outright conflict is high, perhaps higher than ever. As Andrea L. Smith convincingly argues in her new introduction to this classic work, certain questions are as valid today as in 1949, when Mirror for Man was first published. Can anthropology break down prejudices that exist between peoples and nations? Can knowledge of past human behavior help solve the world’s modern problems? What effect will American attitudes likely have on the future of the world?

In Mirror for Man, Clyde Kluckhohn scrutinizes anthropology, showing how the discipline can contribute to the reconciliation of conflicting cultures. He questions age-old race theories, shows how people came to be as they are, and examines limitations in how human beings can be molded. Taking up one of the most vital questions in the post-World War II world, whether international order can be achieved by domination, Kluckhohn demonstrates that cultural clashes drive much of the world’s conflict, and shows how we can help resolve it if only we are willing to work for joint understanding.

By interpreting human behavior, Kluckhohn reveals that anthropology can make a practical contribution through its predictive power in the realm of politics, social attitudes, and group psychology. Andrea L. Smith’s new introduction provides convincing evidence for the continuing importance of one of the earliest “public intellectuals.”

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