anthropology, data, linguistic anthropology, qualitative data, quantitative data, statistics

Objectivity (Part 2): Positionality

“Any story differs with each passing moment, new purpose, and favored vantage point. Neither the whole story nor the true one ever exists, however much we may wish for it. If we could achieve wholeness and absolute truth in our stories, we would have no more stories to tell. And tell stories, we must.”

–Shirley Brice Heath, Words at Work and Play


The first part of this essay was concerned with data that purports to be objective, but really isn’t. All of which raises an obvious question: how can we make our data more objective?

Speaking as an anthropologist, I’ve got some bad news for you: we can’t. It’s not possible to observe human behavior from no vantage point at all. And I would go a step further and say that we shouldn’t try to.

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data, qualitative data, quantitative data, statistics

Objectivity (Part 1): On Numbers

This is the first part of a two-part essay. The second part is available here.


Data-driven. Evidence-based. No matter what field you’re in, these buzzwords are ubiquitous. Two recent reads — Candice Lanius on statistics and racism and Matt LeMay on the trouble with “data” — have gotten me thinking once more about how insidious they can be.

“Insidious?” you may ask. “But shouldn’t decisions be based on evidence? Shouldn’t they be based on data? That’s just common sense.”

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