John Horgan reminisces about his experience interviewing the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn: "What Thomas Kuhn really thought about 'scientific truth'". He includes a long excerpt from his book, The End of Science, and the post is a useful review. The final paragraph got me thinking:
At the end of Structure, Kuhn briefly raised the question of why some fields of science converge on a paradigm while others, art-like, remain in a state of constant flux. The answer, he implied, was a matter of choice; scientists within certain fields were simply unwilling to commit themselves to a single paradigm. I suspect Kuhn avoided pursuing this issue further because he could not abide the answer. Some fields, such as economics and other social sciences, never adhere to a paradigm because they address questions for which no paradigm will suffice.
As I'm reviewing the history of anthropological theory over the next few weeks, I'll be reflecting on how the mode of interpretation has changed over time. Obviously, biological anthropology follows the methodological trends in biology -- we are in many ways more evolution-oriented than most biologists are, although major innovations like the New Synthesis were only slowly taken up by midcentury biological anthropologists who worked within a typological framework.
Within cultural anthropology and sociology, I also think there have been several fairly well-defined methodological and theoretical paradigms. What seems different is that "revolutionaries" are much more common, and more commonly listened to, in these fields. These fields don't throw out bad ideas, they keep all the bad ideas in a cupboard where they can be pulled out and recombined in the service of theory-building.