Most humanistic, most scientific: experiencing anthropology in the humanities and life sciences

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The suggestion that ‘Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities’ is generally attributed to the renowned American cultural anthropologist Alfred Kroeber (Kroeber 2003: 144). By this, Kroeber – one of founding father Franz Boas’s students – is considered to have safeguarded the humanistic approach to culture alongside one with natural science influences (Steward 1962: 202), a stance that ushered in a four-field approach to anthropology that influences the discipline to this day – particularly in the United States. In the UK, the newly branded Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Bristol – formerly one of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Archaeology before that – is the sole location in the social anthropology-dominated UK for this diverse and holistic approach to the study of humanity with its distinctive ‘fields’ of archaeology, social anthropology, evolutionary anthropology and linguistic anthropology (Bristol 2018). Kroeber would be rolling his eyes, then, at the American Anthropological Association’s Executive Board, where a suggestion came from Krystal D’Costa (2010) in response to the Executive’s motion to excise ‘science’ as the main qualifier for anthropology (cf. Lende 2010) in their long-term goal statement at the 2010 New Orleans general meeting.2 At that conference which I attended, there was a buzz of discussion as to the nature – or is that nurture? – of anthropology and its intent that speaks of disciplinary positionings, associations and boundaries, and the distinctiveness of its research methods – the subject of this chapter and this edited collection.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCollaborations
Subtitle of host publication Anthropology in a Neoliberal Age
EditorsJonathan Skinner, Fiona Murphy, Emma Heffernan
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)978-1-35000-226-5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • anthropology
  • Neoliberalism
  • collaboration
  • disciplinary
  • anthropology of dance
  • anthropology of tourism

Cite this

Skinner, J. (2020). Most humanistic, most scientific: experiencing anthropology in the humanities and life sciences. In J. Skinner, F. Murphy, & E. Heffernan (Eds.), Collaborations: Anthropology in a Neoliberal Age (pp. 65-84). Taylor & Francis.