The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

George Armelagos and four-field Anthropology: A force against future fission of the discipline


Anthropology, Emory University

Saturday Afternoon, 200DE Add to calendar

In 1992, the School of American Research (SAR) in Santa Fe held a mini-conference entitled “Is Fission the Future of Anthropology?” The event was a response to a prediction by Clifford Geertz that in the 21st century four-field Anthropology would a dead discipline, like Philology.

This poster describes how the remarkable career of George Armelagos – as both scholar and mentor – has represented a powerful force against the fission and death Anthropology. Armelagos proved Geertz wrong. Over the last half-century, he has exemplified four-field approach through contributions in the study of: bioarchaeology, paleopathology, race and racism, the (pre)history of human health, emerging infection, biocultural theory in medical anthropology, ethnography of St Catherine’s island. He has also used his expertise to conserve the sociolinguistics of humor.

Four conclusions from the SAR discussions are salient today: (1) the four fields have historically benefitted from their associations and interaction – the subfields are stronger together than they would be separately; (2) cultural anthropologists benefit administratively within Universities from the “cover” of more scientifically-oriented colleagues; (3) biological anthropologists and archaeologists benefit from their intellectual interaction with cultural anthropologists which encourages them to ask broader biocultural questions about human nature and history – making the American approaches distinctive; and (4) the relevance of an integrated four-field approach was clearly exemplified in the work of some model modern anthropologists like George Armelagos.

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