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Schaffer on Gestural Knowledge and Philosophical Ideologies, and Their Historiographical Ramifications October 27, 2013

Posted by Will Thomas in Ideology of Science, Schaffer Oeuvre.
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In “Experimenters’ Techniques, Dyers’ Hands, and the Electric Planetarium” (1997), Simon Schaffer makes a set of ambitious arguments concerning how 18th-century natural philosophy regarded knowledge that is dependent upon, and sometimes tacit within, manual labor. His entryway into this problem is the frequently ineffable manual skill required in early electrical experimentation, and the intriguing coincidence that two of the most prominent early 18th-century electrical experimenters, Stephen Gray (1666-1736) and Charles Dufay (1698-1739), were, respectively, a former Canterbury cloth dyer and overseer of the Gobelins dye works in Paris.

dying silk

From Hellot, Macquer, and Le Pileur d’Apligny, The Art of Dying Wool, Silk, and Cotton, 1789 English edition

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Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown June 30, 2010

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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Like nearly all sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and social theorists in the twentieth century, Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown (born 17 January 1881 in Birmingham – died 24 October 1955 in London)  spent much of his career describing what his anthropology was not.  Adam Kuper similarly attempts to disentangle the misunderstood Radcliffe-Brown from the true theorist.

While the misappropriations of Radcliffe-Brown’s theories are not interesting from the standpoint of the anthropologist or ostensibly to the student of the history of anthropology, as Kuper explains, Radcliffe-Brown’s influence among subsequent national generations of anthropologists is. Kuper laments that Radcliffe-Brown has been ridiculed as a “displaced naturalist” who mistakenly applied physiological and physical models to the study of social structures.  What matters more for Kuper was the “direct inspiration” his kinship studies had on the work of Fred Eggan, Meyer Fortes, and Sol Tax. Radcliffe-Brown also  emerged as the “hero” of Levi-Strauss’ Totemism as well as “strongly influencing” Victor Turner and other important later twentieth century anthropologists.  In conclusion, Radcliffe-Brown’s “profound” yet in many cases second-hand or indirect influence on subsequent generations has made his work difficult to objectively apprise.  His “structural positivism” while “unfashionable” was not necessarily “untenable” (The Social Anthropology of Radcliffe-Brown , 1977, p. 1) (more…)