Objectivity and Social Anthropology: J. H. M. Beattie

Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 17:1-20 (1984)
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This lecture is divided, roughly, into three parts. First, there is a general and perhaps rather simple-minded discussion of what are the ‘facts’ that social anthropologists study; is there anything special about these ‘facts’ which makes them different from other kinds of facts? It will be useful to start with the common-sense distinction between two kinds or, better, aspects of social facts; first—though neither is analytically prior to the other—and putting it very crudely, ‘what people do’, the aspect of social interaction, and second, ‘what—and how—people think’, the conceptual, classifying, cognitive component of human culture. Now in reality, of course , these two aspects are inextricably intertwined. But it is essential to distinguish them analytically, because each aspect gives rise to quite different kinds of problems of understanding for the social anthropologist. We shall see that the problem of how to be ‘objective’, and so to avoid ethnographic error, arises in both contexts, but in rather different forms in each



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