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Darwin-L Message Log 7:15 (March 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<7:15>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Tue Mar  8 13:56:08 1994

Date: Tue, 08 Mar 1994 14:55:50 -0500 (EST)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Structuralism
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

Still catching up on my backlog of mail here.

Gary Aronsen asked a few days ago whether "structuralism" was an approach that
has been used in evolutionary biology, and Kelly Smith rightly pointed out, I
think, that structuralism is a term that probably means many things to many
different people.  (I hadn't realized that "superposition" did also until we
just discussed that term.)  I have very little sense of the technical meaning
of the term as it is used in its source fields, which I take to be linguistics
and anthropology.  My impression has always been, however, that structuralist
approaches to those fields are almost the antithesis of historical and
evolutionary approaches, concentrating as they do on universal principles and
present-day functioning rather than on historical reconstruction.  Am I
mistaken in this impression?  Quite a few fields around 1900 began to turn
away from historical questions (systematics, linguistics, and textual
criticism are three) and toward "structural" questions, and I associate this
early twentieth-century "eclipse of history" (a term used by Brooks & McLennan
that I like) with a corresponding rise of "structural" approaches that treat
historical inquiries as "speculative" and fuzzy-headed.

(Of course I am talking about approaches to studying the evolutionary past
itself, and not the community of people who study the evolutionary past.  It
might well be possible to ask is anyone has done structuralist anthropology
on evolutionary biologists themselves; that just not the point I'm addressing.)

Somewhere I think I have a few references on the "eclipse of history" around
1900; I'll see if I can find them.  It certainly strikes me as a Ph.D. thesis
in the history of ideas that is waiting to be written.

Bob O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)

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