March 23, 2007

Relevance

This unfortunate story, in which a German judge ruled that a physically abused wife was beyond the protection of German law by virtue of being Muslim, reminds me of a book I came across in a university bookstore a while back.

The title escapes me, but the theme was that in the post-September 11 world, anthropology and anthropologists had to step up and prove their relevance, indeed, that what had gone wrong post-9/11 had been due, in no small measure, to the lack of attention to the expertise anthropologists had to offer.

Intelligence and perspective is always welcome, but I'm not sure that anthropology is well-suited to understanding conflicts among cultures (and I use among intentionally). I tend to think most anthropologists would be uncomfortable with the notion that Western standards of justice, ideas about the equality of women and marriage, should be applied universally to other cultures--even to immigrant groups living in the midst of another culture.

The husband in this case may well be acting consistent with the expectations of a man of his culture--but that is, by and large, a problem with anthropology can't address (and regrettably, that a German judge couldn't address).

Nevertheless, I think anthropology has a great deal of relevance, but it must be an anthropology with sharp elbows.

Posted by Ideofact at March 23, 2007 12:24 AM
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