October 23, 2008
Not just for anthropologists
If you are not a regular reader of Grant McKracken's blog or have never been there, now is a good time for a visit. He has recently been running what he calls a blog compendium, "How To Be An Anthropologist (for hire)", which is filled with tasty links to his past musings. There are hours of thought provoking stuff here and not just for anthropologists. The theme of one of the links that is particularly close to my heart and is central to the idea of purposive drift is the importance of noticing. The fact that it also features one my heroes, Marshall Sahlins, gives it that little bit more of oomph. Here is the crunch bit:
"... I found myself telling these young planners about the time I sat beside Marshall Sahlins, professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, as he read one of my papers. Professor Sahlins was traveling at speed through my paper, not because it was well written but because not even bad writing could slow him down. Suddenly, he stopped absolutely dead in his tracks and said, 'hm, I wonder why that is.'
I was watching a very smart man acknowledge the limits of understanding. You could almost hear him thinking, 'why can't I think this?' This is the secret of noticing. Spotting things that defy expectation, things that don't 'compute.' The temptation for the rest of us is to 'fake the results' and assimilate the anomalous to existing categories. Good noticers are fearless noticers.
Once we notice, anthropological or plannerly things can happen. It is not too late for us decide that what looks like something is really nothing, in Sahlins' case merely an artifact of a student's rhetorical incompetence. But we can also decide that the puzzle is genuine. Now noticing leads to the possibility of insight and this will engage the redeployment of old ideas or, more remarkably, the creation of new ideas. Potentially, every puzzle is stowaway with mutiny in its heart."Posted by richard at October 23, 2008 11:59 AM