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Defining Evidence

Involvement and Participatory Approaches in Applied Health Research

Rachael Gooberman-Hill

This article provides an account of service-user involvement in applied health research in the U.K., where such involvement is understood as research 'with' or 'by' service users. I reflect on some of the driving forces behind service-user involvement in health research and discuss the ways in which this kind of involvement has become systematised in a research context that values comparison and evaluation. I argue that the potential to conflate participatory research with service-user involvement may lead to participatory approaches – so often practiced by anthropologists – becoming described as forms of service-user involvement. Despite the systematisation of service-user involvement to meet the requirements of applied health research, service-user involvement is not viewed as providing research evidence. If participatory approaches become redefined as user involvement then there is a risk that evidence produced by disciplines such as anthropology are no longer viewed as 'evidence', and become unable to influence decisions about healthcare practice and policy. Sensitising anthropologists to this possibility may be a first step in identifying ways to ensure that results from participatory research retain a position as evidence.

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Evidence in Socio-cultural Anthropology

Limits and Options for Epistemological Orientations

Andre Gingrich

This article identifies what Sir Edmund Leach once called 'amongitis' as one of socio-cultural anthropology's major problems that make interdisciplinary dialogues on evidence-based epistemological topics difficult. Topics of wider and larger scale, however, can and should be addressed if anthropology brings out more fully its implicit epistemological strength of a dialogical relationship between objectivism and subjectivism. The current conditions of a globalizing world actually transform this possibility into a necessity. In order to face this need, a new realism is proposed that is capable of dealing with the conditions and challenges of a second modernity. Two ranges of epistemological sources are suggested that may inform such a new realism. One range is based in the traditions of Western philosophy, while the other is rooted outside the secularized or theological legacies of monotheism.

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Vying for credibility in the US Congress

Legitimating symbols in the debate over immunization and autism

Maya Ponte

Throughout the debate in the United States Congress over whether vaccines cause autism, legitimizing symbols that index cultural values have played a prominent role in the establishment of credibility. While both sides sanctify the role of science in producing credibility, they draw on different images of what science is and where its legitimacy stems from. Those who favor the vaccine hypothesis frame science as a populist endeavor, the results of which are open to critique by all. Those against the vaccine hypothesis frame science as an elitist endeavor, the results of which may only be critiqued by fellow scientists. While both of these images derive their significance from the cultural history of the United States, they have a markedly different impact on the interpretation of evidence. From within the populist frame, personal experience and direct observation are highly valued. From within the elitist frame, epidemiological evidence trumps personal experience. Due to the incorporation of dueling images of science, the US debate over autism may be viewed as a debate between rival cultural values.

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Barbara Bodenhorn

This article takes one form of extreme event - namely forest fires - and asks how the ways in which they come to be understood might contribute to core questions about evidence. In particular, I shall suggest that, by considering the moment-ousness of extreme events, we are offered tools for considering the tension between 'rupture' and 'continuity' which emerges throughout the articles of this Special Section, not only at the methodological level but also in terms of understanding these processes themselves. The controversial and often political relationship between evidence, modelling and prediction - that is, taking fragmentary evidence of past events to speculate on future process - is an issue to which we return in the conclusion when the question 'what are scientists for anyway?' comes to the fore. 'Uncertainty' - as a variable, or as a sign of failure - emerges as key in what the article calls a 'clash of modernities'.

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'Seeing' Environmental Process in Time

Questions of Evidence and Agency

David Sneath

This introduction reviews the articles collected in this special section, articles that explore different visions of the environment and how they engender particular ways of seeing evidence of climatic and environmental change. A key aspect of such distinctive understandings seems to be the attribution of agency within conceptions of the environment that in each case are entangled with humans. Notions of anthropogenic and non-equilibrial environments are explored in several of the articles collected here, along with ongoing debates surrounding the concept of the Anthropocene. An awareness of climate change has brought new urgency to the project of grasping our entangled environments in the diversity of their human understandings.

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Louise K. Davidson-Schmich

In Germany, the Bundestag and the Landtage (state parliaments) in the old Länder (states) have such consistently high levels of party discipline that there is not enough variance to determine the cause of this behavior. The creation of five new democratic state legislatures after the fall of the German Democratic Republic, however, provides a unique opportunity to investigate the origins of party voting. I test which of three hypothesized institutional mechanisms for this practice—the need to keep an executive in office, efficiency incentives, or electoral concerns—was primarily responsible for the emergence of party discipline in the new Länder. The evidence indicates that the need to support the executive branch is the primary cause of party voting. This finding helps explain both the unexpected rise of western German-style party discipline in the eastern states following unification, well as the persistence of the seemingly outdated practice of party discipline in contemporary Germany as a whole.

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Stefan Böschen

Envisioning strategies for sustainable development and its governance are knowledge-intensive processes. Against this background, conflicts about the correct form and actual validity of knowledge supporting sustainable development have arisen. What can be seen as evident-and what not? This article is based on the argument that there are differing modes creating evidence within “epistemic“ and “practice“ communities. Therefore, I propose to decipher knowledge production for sustainable development as processes of social experimentation in Dewey's sense. To do so, I introduce the concept of a “formative public“ for analyzing the cultural and institutional contexts of such processes. The argument is underlined by a focused description of the cases of chemical regulations and climate change politics. The findings support the argument that the politics of sustainable development has to elaborate guidelines and institutional structures for processing knowledge as a social experiment in order to resolve the conflicting ideas mirrored through differing accounts of the evidence.

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Bodies of Evidence

Feminist Performance Art

Erin Striff

When a woman appears on stage, her body too often speaks for itself. It becomes the object of the gaze, an object of desire. Feminist performance artists attempt to disrupt the cultural associations with the female body. They extend their bodily capabilities through cybernetic technology; they practice body modification; and they enact the abjection of the female body. This article will explore whether or not it is possible for these artists to control the way their bodies are perceived on stage.

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Ethnographic Evidence of an Emerging Transnational Arts Practice?

Perspectives on U.K. and Mexican Participatory Artists' Processes for Catalysing Change, and Facilitating Health and Flourishing

Anni Raw

This article reports new ethnographic research exploring community-based, participatory arts practice in Northern England and Mexico City. Noting the value of an ethnographic approach, the study investigated whether commonalities discovered in practitioners' approaches are significant enough to constitute a generalisable participatory arts methodology, transcending significant contextual differences, and recognisable across national boundaries.

Shared characteristics emerged in practitioners' modes of engagement with groups, and strategies for catalysing change; clear convergences from which a core methodology in community-based participatory arts for change is distilled. It suggests the opening of liminal spaces in which participants can reflect, rehearsing fresh ways of engaging in transformative dialogues in relation to the world in which they live. This article presents the study findings as a grounded characterisation of 'participatory arts practice': a complex but potentially powerful mechanism, in use within numerous community health projects, and evident in diverse settings, despite little or no exchange of ideas between practitioners.

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Bryan L. Moore

Early science fiction (SF) is noted for, among other things, its conservatism and lack of interest in ecology. Brian Stableford, a well-known SF writer and critic, writes that "there are very few early stories with ecological themes" (1993, 395). This article shows that, in fact, many early SF works (those written between the Enlightenment and World War II) employ ecological themes, especially as applied to questioning our anthropocentrism. These works suggest that humans are but one species among many, that we are not the end of nature/history, that the natural world may be better off without us, and, in some cases, that humanity is fated to go extinct, the result of its own hubris. Such views are undoubtedly pessimistic, yet these works may also be read as warnings for humans to seek a more humble view of ourselves as members of what Aldo Leopold calls the land community.