METHODS BELONG TO ALL OF US
As you go through this book, you’ll learn about methods that were developed in other fields as well as methods that were developed in anthropology. In my view, there are no anthropological or sociological or psychological methods. The questions we ask about the human condition may differ across the social sciences, but methods belong to all of us.
Truth is, from the earliest days of the discipline, right up to the present, anthropologists have been prodigious inventors, consumers, and adapters of research methods. Anthropologists developed some of the widely used methods for finding patterns in text, for studying how people use their time, and for learning how people make decisions. Those methods are up for grabs by everyone. The questionnaire survey has been developed mostly by sociologists, but that method is now everyone’s. Psychologists make the most consistent use of the experiment, and historians of archives, but anthropologists use and contribute to the improvement of those methods, too.
Anthropologists make the most consistent use of participant observation, but that method turns up in political science, nursing, criminology, and education. The boundaries between the social science disciplines remain strong, but those boundaries are less and less about methods and even less and less about content. These days, anthropologists are just as likely as sociologists are to study the values of working-class Americans in Pennsylvania and New York (Durrenberger and Doukas 2008), or environmental degradation in Arizona (West and Vasquez-Leon 2008), or how women are socialized to become modern mothers in Greece (Paxon 2004).
In fact, the differences within anthropology and sociology with regard to methods are more important than the differences between those disciplines. There is an irreducible difference, for example, between those of us in any of the social sciences for whom the first principle of inquiry is that reality is constructed uniquely by each person (the constructivist view) and those of us who start from the principle that external reality awaits our discovery through a series of increasingly good approximations to the truth (the positivist view). There is also an important (but not incompatible) difference between those of us who seek to understand people’s beliefs—the grand interpretivist tradition in the social sciences—and those of us who seek to explain what causes those beliefs and action and what those beliefs and actions cause—the equally grand scientific tradition.
Whatever our epistemological differences, though, the actual methods for collecting and analyzing data belong to everyone (Bernard 1993).