I am an anthropologist and economist who went down the Bitcoin rabbit hole. I wrote this paper to clarify my thoughts about why these two disciplines respond so differently to Bitcoin.
What Is Anthropology?
Anthropology is a social science that is concerned with understanding culture through participatory observation, or ethnography: cultural immersion in the social worlds being studied. This research method is at the heart of the discipline, and it forces practitioners to “get out there,” to expose themselves, and to experience the culture being studied as a local.
This might explain why anthropologists often end up in heated debates with economists, who instead understand the world through numeric aggregates and abstract models. Mainstream economists take a top-down view of the world based on deductive reasoning stemming from their models and assumptions, which are heavily influenced by classical Newtonian physics and its notion of “equilibrium of the heavenly bodies” and lack the “systems perspective” that emerged from thermodynamics and influenced engineering (Alizart, 2020).
In contrast, anthropology, which involves both deductive and inductive logic, is mostly focused on the latter. Observed and experienced real-life evidence leads to the formation (and recalibration) of theoretical frameworks: first comes the evidence, then comes theory, and so forth (more on this in the Limitations section).
Another key element of anthropology is its concern for the “emic” (people’s subjective beliefs and experiences of the world) above the “etic” (objective truth). So, anthropology takes the view that objective measures such as various economic growth parameters can mean very little when abstracted away from people’s experiences and lived realities. Looking at the emic gives anthropology a superpower: the ability and need to be open to alternative belief systems, challenge its own mental models, take in additional insights, and craft a more nuanced…