From Science through Art to Literary and Discursive Interpretation: Rethinking Anthropology from Its Classical to Contemporary Trajectory

  •  Saiful Islam    


The emergence of anthropology as a separate discipline in the Enlightenment saw an attempt to establish this subject matter as a discipline of natural sciences. Functionalism, structuralism and structural-functionalism were some of the earlier rigorous theoretical frameworks for the scientific classification of anthropology. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, interpretives and postmodernists fervently opposed earlier claims that anthropology should be made a science, and critically raised questions of truth and objectivity in science. These theorists argued that anthropology is not an objective science; rather, they considered ethnographic data “text” that should be subjectively read, explained and interpreted. Questions of whether anthropology should be considered science or art, whether it is interpretive and discursive (as argued by the postmodernists) and whether it is a matter of universal law-making theory or more of a hermeneutic and humanistic discourse, are still very alive in and fundamental to anthropological literature. This article confronts these questions, examining the trajectory of anthropology from its classical to contemporary context.

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