Ollman and Dialectics -Reply

Lisa Rogers EQDOMAIN.EQWQ.LROGERS at email.state.ut.us
Mon Apr 3 17:26:55 MDT 1995

>>> Chris Sciabarra wrote:

... Yet, in my view, what saves Ollman's epistemic emphasis vis-
a-vis internal relations, is his insistence that we can never know
the whole except through the abstracted parts.  We do not achieve a
synoptic view of the whole.  We may be implicitly committed to the
view that the whole is organic, but we do not claim to know, like
rationalistic Hegelians, the Absolute nature of the whole.  This is
the problem with strict organicity:  one can't examine a part (a
"relation") without exhausting all of its ties to EVERYTHING else in
the universe.  We run the risk of needing to know EVERYTHING before
we can say or analyze ANYTHING.  This is why Ollman's discussion of
abstraction is so crucially important.
Dialectics departs from strict organicity by viewing the whole from a
concrete CONTEXT, not from an abstract, a- contextual, synoptic
vantage point. ...

Lisa Rogers comments:  This is very interesting to me, partly because
I've run into similar arguments both within anthropology and between
it and other fields, although usually not with reference to
dialectics per se.  I hold something like Ollman's position (as
represented here by Sciabarra).  Some cultural anthros and such say
that what we should be doing is trying to understand whole cultures,
and they emphasize the ideological aspects of culture.  For some, any
view of parts and relationships between parts, especially the study
of material, economic, ecological and self-interested parts is
"reductionist" and therefore [allegedly] invalid, wrong-headed and
useless at best.

At the same time, some sociologists and others tell me that "we can
never know what it is like to be a member of that other culture, so
ethnography is always only travelogue."  Well, I never had the goal
of explaining what it is to be a Paraguayan forest-dweller in the
first place.

The "parts and their inter-relations" approach is also disparaged as
"atomistic" by some.  If atomism means that the parts are not related
to each other, that is simply incorrect - that is not at all my view
(or Ollman's, it seems).  But what some of us are doing in
anthropology is attempting precisely to investigate internal
inter-relations (what are they and why?) in order to better figure
out how the whole thing works.

Lisa Rogers

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