For the time being, my most current academic article “Of Looking Glasses, Mirror Neurons, and Meaning” is available from Perspectives on Science for free, free, free! Meaning no paywall, so you don’t need access to a university library account to get a copy, nor do I have to send out individual PDFs to whoever may request a copy. Please, download away!
The article has a heavy dose of “social science vs. natural sciences,” and asks why do neural scientists need an expensive MRI machine to judge whether and how someone is thinking. The general idea of their “mirror neuron hypothesis” is that when you watch someone doing something, you can imagine what they are thinking—and that this can be observed on an expensive MRI machine. My argument is that sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists have been doing this for a hundred years by simply watching people, and talking to them. Indeed, in my view this is in fact “grandmother knowledge,” meaning that it is something that your common-sensical grandmother knows. But because grandmother does not have the patina of “science,” so for some reason the expensive MRI is more valid.
The irony I point out though does not have to do with your grandmother. Rather it is that in proposing the “mirror neuron” hypothesis based on MRI data first generated in the 1980s and 1990s, the hot-shot scientists bypassed the exact same metaphor from 1902. In 1902, Charles Cooley an economist/sociologist/social psychologist described his 2 year-old daughter’s “looking glass self,” and the fact that she imitates those she observes. He and his successors have spun off a substantial literature as a result, which continues to go unacknowledged in the scientific literature. Anyway, that is my argument—please download a comment if you agree or disagree. Dowload here (if you did not click above).
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.