The Rhetoric of Anthropology

Saturday, September 30, 2006

I recently found myself observing a discussion on the AAA Environment
and Anthropology (EANTH) list regarding the concept of the “other.” At the
same time I was reading a new Econophysics piece by econophysicists Joe McCauley.

As with so much in Anthropology influenced by French rhetorical style, I
find the use of the idea of “other” by itself as not right to my conceptual sensibilities.

Now, (if I can be indulged)let me move to the Joe McCauley piece I mentioned.
McCauley’s response was to four economists who wrote about “worrying trends
in econophysics.” McCauley’s piece is itself a study in rhetoric, not to
mention the difficult substance discussed. McCauleys piece is available at

Take for example the following item from McCauley’s paper:

“Conservation laws [in physics] follow from invariance principles [8], so one should not expect conservation laws in socioeconomic ‘motions’ like financial transactions or production and consumption [4,5]. We have identified exactly one invariance principle in finance: no arbitrage is equivalent to a discrete version of rotational invariance of the price distribution [see [4], Ch. 7). For inviolable mathematical laws of motion rather then era-dependent mathematical modelling we know from Wigner’s explanation why mathematics has been so ‘unreasonably effective’
in physics [8] that we would need the equivalent of all four space-time invariance principles: translational invariance, rotational invariance, time translational invariance, and Galilean invariance. Those local invariance principles are the foundation for the discovery of mathematical law in classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and general relativity, as Wigner has explained.”

I find reading McCauley (needless to say, I can’t do any of the math he speaks of) less difficult to read than an anthropology articles in the rhetorical-conceptual style of Foucalt, or the current narrative of post-modern story telling. All of which brings me to my final though: The more I read extensively in multiple non-social science disciplines — the more that contemporary anthropology appears to me as an “other.”

Which I guess is a bit ironic.


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