Science as an Orientalizing Field

Science is a Western form of knowledge production and can be divided into three forms: 1) science as a set of methods for investigating the world we inhabit, 2) the pool of knowledge containing the data and conclusions drawn by science, and 3) a social institution through which empirical studies of the world are carried out. The science that I will primarily be examining in this paper is that of the third variety although to do so I will also have to delve into the other two. I will argue that the institution of science can be interrogated as a field (Bourdieu, 1975), with a particular organizing logic (doxa) and set of dispositions (habitus) adopted by actors in the field. Furthermore, there is a particular social inertia that arises thus creating an orthodoxy. Heterodoxies that shake the inertia of science are sometimes aggressively repelled creating hegemonic ideologies. Finally, I will explore science as an Orientalizing force, creating scrutable Others that can be incorporated the scientific pool of knowledge.

Science as a Field
Bourdieu defines fields as distinct loci of action where production, circulation, and appropriation occur as goods, knowledge, services, and status are negotiated by actors who struggle to accumulate various forms of capital (Bourdieu, 1983; 1975). Bourdieu (1975) argues that science “is the locus of a competitive struggle” (p. 19) where scientists vie for scientific authority and scientific competency. The scientific field is defined by both intrinsic and extrinsic interests that motivate the research but are difficult to distinguish from one another. On one hand, the scientist is motivated by their desire to carry out research of interest to the scholar. However, that interest is in large part determined by the funding agencies, scientific or social problems deemed important, and the history and ideology of the discipline from which science is performed; forces that exist prior to and external from the scientist.

To illustrate the externality of the motivations of science as a field, much of the early history of physical anthropology was mired in the study of racial types, assuming races were distinct biological divisions in the human species (See: Coon, 1962; Hooton, 1937; Haeckel, 1868). These works often operated on the idea of a “Great Chain of Being” with Europeans occupying the highest rung of the evolutionary hierarchy and Africans occupying the lowest (Fig. 1; Fig. 2; Fig. 3). Early work in physical anthropology elaborated on and scientifically reified culturally held notions of race but did not themselves create this ideology. This was of particular interest in the early days of physical anthropology as the race question was a central problem for colonizing Western countries that had to contend with power dynamics inherent in colonial relations and shifts in social dynamics such as the aftermath of slavery and civil rights movements. There was incentive to justify how Euro-Americans were able to dominate other groups and justified White occupation of positions of power.

Hooton explores the problem of racial inequality in Is the Negro Inferior? (1932) where he argues that it is unfair to assume the environmental history of Africans could allow them to do well on intelligence tests designed for people with the mental faculties of Europeans stating that “That such differences [in mental capacities between races] exist I have not the slightest doubt; that with our present methods they can be summarized quantitatively so that we are justified in assigning one race a position of superiority as contrasted with another.” Furthermore, “I hold no brief for racial equality” (Hooton, 1932; p. 364).

Hooton was a prominent anthropologist and spoke for the discipline, serving as the president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (1936-1938). He was a key figure in defining the field of science as well as anthropology and he was able to accumulate the social capital discussed by Bourdieu. Hooton’s legacy lives on as the American Association of Physical Anthropology still awards The Earnest Albert Hooton Prize annually to anthropology graduate students. The racist history that echoed so strongly the beliefs of much of the American people at the time he conducted his work is left out of the webpage for the award (AAPA, 2019).

The above discussion on race in science is to demonstrate the ways in which external forces, in this case those of socially held beliefs, are implicit in defining science as a field and to participate in the field means to engage with the kinds of questions that are of public and political interest. Today, this may mean engaging in discourse and research on climate change or genetics. The forces are the same, but the interests shift. Furthermore, the struggle for scientific authority and thus social capital creates an interesting set of contexts.

The social capital generated through scientific research is of a peculiar type as “producers [of scientific knowledge] tend to have no possible clients of than their competitors” and thus “only scientists in the area [of study] have the means of symbolically appropriating his work and assessing its merits” (Bourdieu, 1975: p. 23). This implies that at a certain level, science is self-contained and violating the boundaries of the field by, for instance, utilizing other forms of authority outside the field can result in sanction (Bourdieu, 1975). White (2000) discusses careerists versus scientists and accuses people that utilize popular media to quickly disseminate their work of sacrificing science for the benefit of their career. White goes on to say that “mediaphilic” paleoanthropologists are damaging the discipline by acting selfish and individually.

This illustrates some of the doxa of the field of science. Doxa is the internal logic of a field or the experience through which the “natural and social world appears self-evident” (Bourdieu, 1977: p. 164). In a sense, if field is the area in which the “game is played” then doxa refers to the rules by which the game is played. To be a scientist is to demonstrate a reverence for science and the rule of objectivity.

Objectivity is held up as a primary characteristic of science which holds that scientific claims, methods, and results should be devoid of political interests, personal biases, and value commitments (Reiss & Sprenger, 2017). Accusations of bias or political motivations in science can be incredibly damaging to the claims made by the scholar. However, scientific objectivity has been critiqued thoroughly in Science and Technology Studies and Philosophy of Science. Objectivity has been conceptualized as faithfulness to facts and a “view from nowhere” (Nagel, 1989), free of moral, political, and social values (Weber, 1949), and freedom from personal bias (Giere, 2010). White (2000) is illustrating a violation of the rule of objectivity through bias created by the motivation to further one’s career.

Scientific objectivity and its performance become part of the scientific habitus. Habitus refers to the embodied dispositions that a participant in a field adopts in order to belong in the field. To continue the game metaphor, habitus is the feel for the game (Bourdieu, 1977). The scientific habitus can be broken into three levels: micro, meso, and macro (Jeon. 2019). The micro level of scientific habitus is embodied by the scientist and refers to the ways of speaking, acting, and determines the kinds of problems that are posed as well as the kinds of tools, methods, and instruments used. The meso level is the institutional context in which one’s habitus is acquired and mediates between the macro and micro levels. It can include the institutional hurdles. credentialization, and means of acquiring capital. Finally, the macro level is the broad field of science where stratification, competition, and what gets to count as “real science” is determined.

White’s (2000) juxtaposition of the careerist versus the scientist demonstrates the appropriate habitus that a real scientist must have. A scientist must be willing to forego fame and promotion for the sake of science. Furthermore, White lays out a series of imperatives for the paleoanthropologist which includes: do not claim to have found a fossil that you did not, do not purchase fossils, do not steal another person’s site, do not attempt to clean or mold a fossil without the proper expertise, do not reject papers or grant applications for personal or political reasons, do not assume that field workers simply stumble upon fossils or are rendered stupid by getting dirty and being outside, do not use peer review to force citations of your work or suppress dissenting positions, etc. The individual must give way to the collective as science is inherently predicated upon teamwork.

The parable of the ‘Golden Marshalltown” also illustrates the scientific habitus (Flannery, 1982). The story follows three professional archaeologists as they wait in an airport to depart from a conference. The first character is an established scholar who fails as a fieldworker but makes his name by criticizing the epistemology of other archaeologists (the Born-Again Philosopher). The second character makes his name by writing popular archaeology textbooks but does not engage in rigorous fieldwork. He edits volumes that are primarily written by other scholars and gets renown due to having his name as editor on the cover (the Child of the Seventies). The final character is that of the narrator and a grizzled fieldworker who sees value in being on the ground, in the field, collecting data and documenting the past (the Old Timer). He believes that archaeologists need to be concerned with whole sites and not cherry pick the artifacts that are of importance to the specific research question of the scholar. The first two archaeologists violate the doxa of the field and thus do not possess the correct habitus. They make their ways on the backs of others’ guts and brains. The Old Timer says that the correct habitus of archaeology is someone who “still depends on his own guts and brains instead of everyone else’s—a kid who can stand on the shoulders of giants, and not be tempted to relieve himself on their heads” (Flannery, 1982: p. 278). Failure to do so would relegate archaeology to the local trade school and prevent it from being take seriously as a science.

This parable both illustrates the habitus expected to be embodied by those in a particular discipline but also the scientific orthodoxy. Bourdieu conceptualizes orthodoxy as the taken for granted norms of the doxa (Bourdieu 1984). For science, there is a proper way to perform it and anything that violates this accepted way of being is discounted or outright rejected. Science is often thought of as progress, that is, it is seen as being cumulative and teleologically working towards improvement. However, in practice, science is highly conservative with what I think of as a scientific inertia which takes great force to overcome.

In reference back to the racial science of early physical anthropology, this particular position has been overcome (for the most part) in anthropology as race as biological distinctions in the human species is rejected for a social constructionist definition: “race is a culturally constructed label that crudely and imprecisely describes real variation” (Relethford, 2009: p. 20). However, the conception of race as biology has not been fully rejected and is evident by recent publications by Reich (2018) and Wade (2015). Science tends to conserve positions, even those that are socially irresponsible and scientifically untenable.

Kuhn (2012) rejects the notion of science as “development-by-accumulation” and instead argues for a view of science that sees it move through paradigm shifts facilitated by revolutionary shifts in culture or technology. Since race is still often accepted as meaningful biological differences in the human species, theories of human difference that rely on racial divisions can still be published and accepted, even as race is incommensurable with human biological diversity. The same is true for climate change, as despite a broad acceptance of anthropogenic climate change among the experts, the political landscape is such that addressing the climate crisis in the United States is nearly impossible (Latour, 2018). This is illustrated by the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord and rolling back environmental regulations around the country for the sake of profits. Huge investments are made in climate change denial and popular news outlets dedicate many hours (Latour, 2018). While this is evidence against science as being free from politics—there is a clear political motivation in understanding and responding to climate change—it also demonstrates the forces, sometimes external, that act to maintain scientific inertia.

Heterodoxies, or alternate positions to those of the orthodoxy, always exist but require great force of culture to overcome the orthodoxy of the field. The struggle between orthodoxy and heterodoxy can be seen in the science wars of the 1990s. The orthodox position of science was that of progressive truth-seeking and accepts a positivist position from which science can reveal the true nature of the objective world (Latour, 2012). However, post-structuralist thinkers challenged the positivist position of science and instead argued that scientific knowledge is culturally constructed, that is, the product of social forces and not objective descriptions of the natural world. This resulted in a fervent backlash from many scientists, arguing that those engaging in Science and Technology Studies (STS) were anti-intellectual and destroying the authority of science. However, those in STS argued that scientists themselves served as gatekeepers for what counted as science and the acceptance or rejection of theories in science. Furthermore, the cultural construction of scientific knowledge spoke to the cultural ways in which the world is divided up, made distinct, and given privilege and meaning. As Latour (2012) argues, many of the assumptions that science operates on are imposed by culture. However, it does not follow that these divisions are incorrect and do not produce meaningful knowledge; they are just not objective divisions in the world that exist independent from human conceptions of them. By the nature of science, heuristically meaningful categories are constructed, and subjects of scientific inquiry are made into objects for scientific interrogation. Therefore, science, through its very nature is an Orientalizing force.

Science as an Orientalizing force
Here I employ Said’s (1994) concept of ‘Orientalism’ to explore how science constructs scrutable Others upon which to turn its gaze. The process of Orientalizing creates intellectual boundaries around objects of study which reifies both the knowable Other and that which is studying. Said uses Orientalism to evaluate the ways in which the Occident (the West) has made an Orient and through the making of the Orient has also defined itself. Orientalism is a form of Western domination that allows the Occident to exert control over the rest of the world. Said, paraphrases Balfour:
England knows Egypt. Egypt is what England knows; England knows that Egypt cannot have self-governance; England confirms that by occupying Egypt; for the Egyptians, Egypt is what England has occupied and now governs… Egypt requires, indeed insists upon, British occupation (Said, 1978: p. 34).
This same form can be applied to the power dynamic between science and its objects of study. By being categorizable, things demand study and explanation and through coming to know, science and its practitioners have power over the objects of scientific inquiry. In this section I will explore the ways in which science displaces, abstracts, individuates, and alienates the objects of science as well as the power/knowledge that is implicit in the relationships.

In order for science to investigate some aspect of the world, that aspect must be first set apart. This involves several Orientalizing processes that are interrelated and are also important for commodification. Furthermore, these processes illustrate the socially constructive nature of scientific knowledge. First, objects of scientific inquiry are displaced. Castree (2003) defines displacement as the process by which something is made to appear as something other than it is. When applied to people, this can involve representing the Other as a caricature or mischaracterizing the group in question. Cepek (2018) discusses how the Cofán of Dureno are castigated by Western conservationists because they have allowed oil companies into their territory, challenging Cofán indigeneity. This example illustrates a way in which scientists—in this case conservationists—present an Othered group as something other than what they are: the victims of contamination and centuries of colonization.

Second, science abstracts the objects of scientific inquiry. Abstraction involves homogenization of things that are individuated, thus treating them as qualitatively interchangeable (Castree, 2003). There are two types of abstraction: functional and spatial. Functional abstraction “involves looking for real and classifiable similarities between otherwise distinct entities as if the former can be separated out from the latter unproblematically” (Castree, 2003: p. 281). Functional abstraction facilitates spatial abstraction as individuated things in different locations are treated as “really the same” (Castree, 2003: p. 281) as something deemed similar in another place. Wetlands illustrate abstraction as the biome is set apart from other biomes and these are treated as the same regardless of location and thus can replace one another. This is reified in conservation in the United States where the loss of wetlands in one location can be offset by creating artificial wetlands in other places.
The third process that science engages in is individuation.

Individuation is implicit in other Orientalizing processes and is defined as the representational and physical act of removing a delineated thing from its supporting context (Castree, 2003). This is a consequence of science as objects are removed from the historical, social, symbolic, evolutionary, spatial, and temporal contexts in which they exist. Matsutake mushrooms illustrate individuation as these mushrooms are taken out of the context of their symbiotic life with certain trees and their social and evolutionary history. The act of individuation makes it possible to commodify matsutake and introduce it on to an economic market. However, Tsing (2015) demonstrates how a science is not necessarily doomed to fully individuate scientific subjects. She accomplishes this by following the ways in which matsutake is entangled with the trees with which the rely upon, the informal picking profession that is created by the relationship between the matsutake and Japanese consumers, the brokers that purchase matsutake for export the Japan, the relationships made between people that exchange matsutake as gifts, and the possibilities created through destruction as matsutake grows in anthropogenically disturbed landscapes. None of these aspects of matsutake ontology are fully independent from the others and Tsing attends to the mushrooms in the context within which they occupy.

Finally, science alienates its objects. This involves physically and morally separating objects of scientific inquiry from their sellers or producers (Castree, 2003). This often happens in the colonization of indigenous knowledge as scientists utilize generations of accumulated knowledge for scientific and economic benefit. Deloria (1969) demonstrates the ways in which anthropologists utilize indigeneity to further their careers with no benefit to the groups. He (rightfully) accuses anthropology of ignoring the real-life experiences of the Native in favor of homogenized and idealized conceptions of what a “good Indian” ought to be. This act renders Native experiences invisible. Scientists also have a long history of discovering organisms that have always been known to the people that live commensally with them. For example, tree kangaroos were first observed by Western naturalists in 1826 despite having been known to and incorporated into Papuan symbolic structure (West, 2016). The knowledge of the natural world is alienated from the people that live and come to know it as science categorizes and commodifies aspects of the world.

These four processes open the world to commodification. Value can be applied to people, other-than-human organisms, knowledge, and non-organic objects and they can be brought into a market. By displacing, abstracting, individuating, and alienating “lively commodities” (Collard & Dempsey, 2013), knowable Others are brought into being and can be used to generate various forms of capital for those able to exert power. This is what Foucault (1990) calls power/knowledge. Structures of power make use of knowledge to exert control and reproduce and recreate their own fields. Therefore, by coming to know something it is controlled and by controlling something it comes to be known.

It follows from the conception of power/knowledge that science is thus a means of control over the world as the goal of science is to come to know the world. Therefore, by categorizing and defining aspects of the world (natural, social, biocultural, etc.) science Orientalizes and is thus able to exert control. Napoleon Chagnon’s work with the Yanomami illustrates this. First, Chagnon painted the Yanomami with broad strokes as violent and uncivilized while ignoring the complexity of Yanomami life. Furthermore, he is accused of destabilizing communities by trading machetes and shotguns for blood (with James Neel), names, and genealogies so that biological studies could take place despite the fact that names of people and their ancestors should not be spoken (Sahlins, 2000). By picking and choosing who he gave trade goods to and by instigating conflict by claiming that other community members had told him genealogical information so that they would do so in turn, Chagnon destabilized communities and sowed unrest. Changon’s actions demonstrate the power/knowledge of science and the ways in which science acquires politically and socially sensitive information under the guise of objectivity. Again, this is the kind of Orientalizing that Deloria (1969) accuses anthropologists of engaging in. Real Yanomami life was rendered invisible and homogenous, with too much privilege placed on what was seen by Chagnon as charismatic and peculiar behavior. By cherry-picking, Chagnon was able to make sociobiological arguments which treated the behaviors as heritable biological traits, arguing that more aggressive and violent men were able to produce more offspring. However, Sahlins (2000) disputes this claim as, first, killing was overstated as Yanomami claimed kills not just through the act of physically killing an enemy but also through using sorcery and shooting arrows into already dead foes: many more killers were identified than people actually killed. Second, Chagnon did not consider other practices that conferred social capital such as shamanistic and hunting ability. Finally, it is unlikely that prodigious killers would father more children as this would make them more likely to be the victims of revenge killings. To apply Said’s (1994) telling of the Britain-Egypt relationship: the Yanomami were known by Chagnon and through knowing were transformed into a caricature of themselves for the purpose of self-promotion resulting in Chagnon’s banishment from studying the Yanomami and from Venezuela as a whole (Borofsky & Albert, 2005).

Power/knowledge is an essential aspect of Orientalism and by the very nature of science, power/knowledge is exerted on the objects of scientific interest thus creating an Other than can be known and thus controlled. This opens up the world to exploitation and commodification. When applied to people, it facilitates domination and colonization as is demonstrated by Said (1994) and Deloria (1969). This creates a challenge for doing anthropology as being the science of people, it is in a position to Orientalize, objectify, and exploit the people that become implicated into anthropological work.

Moving Science Forward
Science that deals with humans is in a precarious position as through the Orientalizing acts discussed above much harm can be brought to bear on those that are caught in its gravity. By its very nature, science sets those things deemed of interest apart and transforms them into objects thus individuating, alienating, displacing, and abstraction. Thus, it is essential that the science of humans attends to this fact and works with the communities it studies to develop just and fair research programs that consider and work with communities. Deloria (1969) echoes this sentiment, stating:
I would advocate a policy to be adopted by Indian tribes which would soon clarify the respective roles of anthropologists and tribes. Each anthro desiring to study a tribe should be made to apply to the tribal council for permission to do his study. He would be given such permission only if he raised as a contribution to the tribal budget an amount of money equal to the amount he proposed to spend in his study. Anthropologists would thus become productive members of Indian society instead of ideological vultures (Deloria, 1969: p. 95).

This vision of scientific collaboration shifts power from the researcher to the community, allowing the community to determine which studies are desirable and which should be rejected. Furthermore, there is economic and material benefit to the community in a way that is determined by the community. This attempts to avoid the conflict created by Chagnon’s distribution of trade goods. Deloria sees this as facilitating a relationship in which the scientist is no longer an objective outsider, but a “productive member” of the community. This facilitates a system of accountability and the researcher has a vested interest in following the terms laid out by the community since otherwise the researcher would lose their privilege to perform research. Deloria also envisions science as working for the benefit of the community instead of accumulating useless information that is irrelevant to the community’s interests.

Asad (1973) also recommends that researchers that work in communities should pay attention to their contexts, with special attention paid to historical power dynamics such as colonialism. By understanding within the political and economic contexts in which the communities are embedded, scientists can have a more nuanced and complete picture of the real lives of the people collaborating with the scholars. To construct a group as independent from the historical forces at play that led to the contemporary structures, relationships, conceptions, and dynamics of a community damages the community and as Deloria (1969) discusses, this way of knowing can become internalized thus damaging the identities of those that are made into objects of scientific research.

One example of how this method of science can work in practice is the “Protocol for Conducting Academic Research with Cofán People in Cofán Territory” developed by Martin Criollo, Hugo Lucitante, Sadie Lucitante, and Michael Cepek (2018). This protocol outlines the responsibilities and expectations of non-Cofán researchers working on Cofán lands. Researchers are expected to communicate the nature of the research hoping to be performed and await approval by the relevant communities, employ community members, pay collaborators at least $10US an hour, appropriate credit given to collaborators, and agreements must be signed along with informed consent documents. By requiring community approval, formalizing the relationships, and paying collaborators for their time and labor, the community is able to police the kinds of research and representations made by scientists of the Cofán and the community receives material benefit from the projects. This protocol reflects the vision that Deloria (1969) conveys and demonstrates that it is operational.

By accepting Deloria’s vision and respecting the Humanity of the collaborators that scientists rely on, a new kind of relationship is possible, and the Orientalizing nature of science can, while not be fully eliminated, be mitigated in a way that rejects the objectification that science has historically engaged in. However, this violates scientific objectivity because it requires scientists to engage politically with their research and its implications. Furthermore, it places the scientist within the bounds of the research and not as an outside observer, simply identifying facts of the world. Violating scientific orthodoxy can result in professional struggles such as failure to earn tenure.

Attending to the people and other beings that are crucial to carrying out science is a necessary condition of transforming science into a more ethical and response-able social institution. Haraway (2016) defines response-ability as, not simply obligation, but “cultivation of the capacity of response in the context of living and dying in worlds for which one is for, with others” (Haraway, 2015: p. 231). This involves taking seriously the experiences of collaborators and sharing suffering. It also involves the “art of noticing” (Tsing, 2015) which requires intentional attention directed at the everyday, real lives of those we hope to work with. To do this, scientists must abandon the positivist notion of objectivity, work within the terms and logics of their research communities, and thus accept a more humanistic science that rejects unbridled scientific freedom under the guise of progress and objectivity. If we cannot reconceptualize the possibilities of science in a pluralistic world that respects the lives of the people and beings that participate in the research, then research should not be performed. Science has long been a tool of colonization (Asad, 1973) and that legacy reverberates today. It will take a conscious and active effort to create a science that no longer sees people as resources ready to be mined for all that science can extract (Deloria, 1969) and I believe that it is possible to create a science that works for everyone and belongs to everyone.

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