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[ ] The behavioral lads [social scientists] have won the field in this country, and they’re out to sweep the world. —Carl Sauer to Paul Fejos, 1958 10 “Born in Another Age” Sauer’s social science disenchantment stemmed largely from his 1930s experiences with New Deal programs that ignored cultural, environmental, and historical circumstances and sought to solve everything by formula. To Sauer, their universalizing abstractions heralded an ominous doctrine of social regimentation. Social science trends in the 1940s only deepened his dismay.1 In 1944 Joseph Willits at the Rockefeller Foundation asked Sauer to vet a memorandum on the role of the social sciences by Robert Redfield, a Chicago anthropologist. Redfield had charted the disruption of traditional Mexican lifestyles induced by the spread of trade and modern technology.2 Sauer faulted Redfield’s sociological approach for its dogma, dialectics, and remoteness from reality. Redfield also seemed to assume that the social sciences and the humanities were prima facie antithetical, even incapable of communication. This was abhorrent to Sauer; just as varied researchers concerned with plant domestication easily conversed, so should those from the social sciences and the humanities. Reliance on quasi-experimental and quasi-statistical methods by those who sought to imitate the natural sciences made for “a rigidity, a complacency , and a surface gloss that bodes ill for the social sciences.”3 While borrowing the numeracy and positivistic stance of the physical sciences, “Born in Another Age” 143 social science had abandoned their awareness of temporal change. Sauer was “grateful for my early training as a student of geology,” in which experimental verification was routinely checked against the historical record. Forgetting his critique of William Morris Davis and others in “Foreword to Historical Geography,” Sauer insisted that no geologist would “hold lightly any good historical study.” Similarly, biologists were interested in the “entire span of organic life.” “I feel very strongly that any disdain for any part of the human record is anti-scientific. I suspect any person who [complains] about antiquarianism is covering up a lack of intellect.” Presentist social positivism was antithetical to Latin American cultural tradition. “One can’t be a Latin and a Catholic and be arrogant about the finite and the infinite.”4 Likewise in the Social Science Research Council, Sauer saw “the older breed of gentle, modest people [being] swamped out by the aggressive younger generation, sharp in dialectics, hard, and over-confident.” Perhaps the time had come for the likes of him to retire to the academic ivory tower “necessary for survival”: I have no interest in far-flung programs of research by which the individual is reduced to piece work with a few, probably spurious masterminds directing and interpreting. We already have the factory system of instruction, and we are too far on the way to the same thing in scholarship to suit me. [There is] too much propaganda that pretends to be science, too much filling of classroom benches by speech makers, and far too little intellectual curiosity. Sociology and anthropology had become increasingly mechanistic and programmatic. Those who had “their social consciences all straight and their responses to any situation all ready” scared Sauer. Worst were anthropologists who “go, cold, into a strange culture, and psychoanalyze it, or submit it to scrutiny by schedules and questionnaires.”5 Reacting to a 1945 manifesto entitled “The Social Sciences and Our National Future,” Sauer parodied “Onward Christian Soldiers” as “Onward social scientists marching” and murmuring “all right minded people agree.” I’m afraid of experts in my own field, and in others setting about mending this strange world. We shall hear a great deal [about] action 144 to pass on a good earth programs by which the social sciences are to “catch up” with the physical scientists in arranging the lives of men unknown to them and not understood by them. And I still want none of it. This show of knowledge has nothing in it of wisdom and pity and humility before the Lord. I can’t join up with the Gadarene swine.6 The universities were no longer agents of enlightenment, but fast becoming vassals of the state. Sauer yearned to “give back the search for truth and beauty to the individual scholar, to grow in grace as best he can.”7 Unrelenting in his opposition to modernization, Sauer retreated more and more into his own world. Time and again he praised natural scientists who taught one to “observe, label, and describe,” and think in terms of temporal processes. “I...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813935775
Related ISBN
9780813935669
MARC Record
OCLC
880412692
Pages
288
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-09
Language
English
Open Access
No
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