ASA Decennial Conference - Anthropology and Science


Preparation of the proceedings is progressing - more news will appear.
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro's after-dinner speech, "AND" has been published and is available here.


There is no society in the world today where people do not have to confront the effects of scientific knowledge and innovation. But innovation fuels debate. The authority and expertise of scientific knowledge, including that of the natural sciences, are not accepted by everyone nor is science able to sustain the appearance of neutrality in relation to political, commercial and military interests. Faced with mistrust and hostility, scientists and their supporters are inclined to exaggerate the potential benefits of their discoveries for humanity at large, leading to equally magnified claims, on the part of their detractors, about the possible damaging consequences of scientific and technological innovations harnessed to major corporate interests it is claimed applications of science and technology have exacerbated pre-existing divisions between rich and poor and created new inequalities.

Anthropology has a vital role to play in contributing to a more measured debate on these issues. Current anthropological research is helping us to understand the extent and limits of science's impacts on social life in different regions of the world. It reveals how people receive, and make sense of, scientific knowledge, and how this knowledge is treated in relation to 'local' or 'indigenous' understandings. It is also leading to fresh, comparative insights into the organisation and culture of scientific communities themselves, and into the ways such communities are situated in relation to institutionalised structures of power and finance. Investigation of the links between science and capitalism have shown how emergent technologies can aggravate global injustice, affect patterns of social organisation, and transform the ways rights over persons and property are codified and exercised. But many questions remain. Is there such a thing as 'the western scientific imagination'? If so, can science ever be dissociated from the hegemony of western-derived paradigms and practices? Can there be a non-western science, or is any critique of western modernity necessarily a critique, even a rejection, of science as well? These are questions that can and should be pursued in both western and non-western contexts.

A further set of questions surrounds the status of anthropology itself. There has been much debate about whether anthropology is, or can possibly be, a science. The issue now concerns the authority of anthropological knowledge in the public domain. Is the task of anthropology to show how the prevailing divisions between the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities might be transcended? And with its emphasis on the social embeddedness of scientific practice, how is anthropology affected by the contemporary renegotiation of the boundary between science and society? These are questions not only for social and cultural anthropologists but also for biological anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists and historians of science.

The conference will cover the following broad sub-themes:

1. Sciences and technologies of the body, the person and the social.

2. The scientific imagination and the imagination of science.

3. Is science western? Can there be a non-western science?

4. How do the links between science and global capitalism affect science's impact on local and regional populations?

5. Beyond 'science' and 'indigenous knowledge'.

6. Cultures of science, scientific communities and the institutionalisation of knowledge production.

7. What does it mean to say that the knowledges and practices of science and technology are socially embedded?

8. Anthropology: art, science or social science?

9. Beyond 'biology' and 'culture'.