Sol Tax is well known for developing the concept of “action anthropology,” which takes the goals and problems of research subjects as its point of departure ahead of the researcher’s desire for knowledge. However, he began his career with a much more conventional philosophy of science, and during the 1940s vigorously defended “basic” research against calls for anthropology to emphasize its political relevance. Continue reading
Peter Mandler. Return from the Natives: How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War. 384 pp., illus., bibl., index. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. $45 (cloth)
Ruben Flores. Backroads Pragmatists: Mexico’s Melting Pot and Civil Rights in the United States. 360 pp., illus., index. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. $45 (cloth), $45 (e-book)
These two ambitious recent books offer models for historians of social science to assess their subjects’ influence. Narrowing their scope to key individuals in order to trace their paths carefully, Mandler and Flores paint vivid pictures of social scientists pursuing agendas for cultural renewal through political channels. While their conclusions are ultimately ambivalent, both authors have given us carefully researched volumes on the influence, and lack of influence, of anthropologists and other social scientists from the interwar period to the early 1950s. Anyone interested in anthropology’s relationship to the state should read these books.