I keep meeting people who think any one can be/is a social scientist since the discipline’s research interests are so relatable.
“You just keep telling stories? You’re not trying to prove a hypothesis? That’s so easy. I can be a social scientist too.”
As social scientists we need to demonstrate the value of mapping academic treatments of everyday issues to layman understandings.
Not in an “I’m elitist and better than you” kind of way, but to show how the academy illuminates the social/cultural/structural underpinnings of everyday life. Vice versa, everyday repertoires and praxes can reveal hegemony and subversion *in spite of* structures.
“How is your study relevant if you’re only interviewing X number of people? In X locale? In X contexts? Who would care about this?”
But anthropology is concerned with exactly this. The specificities and minute details of the mundane, of how people relate to each other and their environment, of how we make sense of the world. This necessarily entails an intimacy with the social group we anthropologists study.
“How can you just use interview quotes as ‘evidence’? People may lie. How do you verify their statements? What is the truth?”
I wish I had a more eloquent way of expressing how we (anthropologists) are not concerned with universal truths, but in interpretations and beliefs of how people perceive the world. There are other social science methodologies that provide rigor to our research, like the triangulation of data, mapping histories, leaping between emic and etic understandings, and tying the micropolitics of everyday life to the larger organization of social groups, their cultures, and their position in relation to others.
But such a wordy convoluted sentence is not going to be accessible or convincing to the generic non-specialist audience one meets on the bus.
You know how some of us tease psychologists and ask them to “read our minds”?
Well, anthropologists can’t take glimpses at your family photo and identity every person’s ethnicity/religion/citizenship either.
I really want to hone my skills as a communicator, not to be needlessly argumentative or defensive, but to illuminate and possibly persuade.
The layman on the street is very unlikely to care for all the authors, books, and references you verbally spew on them to “prove” your point.
I hope I will have become more eloquent the next time I am faced with
“How can an Asian country’s first language be English?”
“All women face the same problems no matter where they are from.”
“Just give immigrants time and they will be okay”.
Anthropology is in the everyday and everyday life is anthropology in praxis.
I hope I never lose my empathy.
Keep on keeping on.