Anthropologies – Applied, Public, and Academic

Anthropologies, the collaborative online project fostered by Ryan Anderson, has a new issue out – Anthropology with Purpose: Applied, Public, Academic.

The special issue features eight essays written by a wide-ranging group of anthropologists, and one insightful interview as well. Here is the list:

Anthropology: A Sense of Purpose
Ryan Anderson provides an introduction to the issue, and delves into what has given purpose to his own work and thought as an anthropologist

For me, Chavez’s book [Shadowed Lives] dramatically expanded my social and political world. It literally took a place that I thought I had known so well, and told me about a whole layer of hidden histories. It blew apart the myopic, sanitized histories of my own past, my own community. To me, this is the purpose of anthropology.

What’s Wrong with Anthropology?
John Hawks argues that anthropology needs a kick in the pants. Embrace new forms, defend good science, and empower students – these can transform the field.

As anthropologists, we are stewards of unique cultural and biological resources. If cultural resources lie unused, unwitnessed, and unappreciated, then human heritage dies. With technology, we can protect and promote those resources, enabling people to discover their cultural and genealogical heritage. We can engage communities in real academic and scientific research… As public funding for universities comes increasingly under threat, our institutions face a desperate need to demonstrate their value by bringing constituents into our research and academic communities. Anthropology is perfectly placed to enable such engagement, and universities are ready to support us in those efforts.

Anthropology in Public and Anthropologists Coming Together: Two Reflections on Purpose
Here I reflect on anthropology towards the future, using the examples of the AAA controversy over “science” and applied and academic anthropologists working together.

Anthropology for me is applied, academic, and public. There is no necessary separation between the different strands; indeed, I only see the potential for synergy and for advances. I see an anthropology that makes a difference in ideas, in people’s lives, and in how we understand prominent issues and problems of our time.

Media, technology, and anthropology: An Interview with Adam Fish
Ryan interviews Adam, ranging over both anthropology and media, past and future.

I want to be inductive, pragmatic, an expert ethnographer, and a historical particularist for a digital age… As an applied pragmatist I discovered that film isn’t all that great as an essay form or teaching tool… I no longer think video and film should be more centrally located within the ethnographic project. It should augment a wickedly detailed book.

From Stares to Shares: Taking Anthropology to the Web
Jason Antrosio wants anthropology online, and provides an overview of tools to do it. See also his expanded list on blog and website tools.

Promoting anthropology on a website or blog forges connections outside the routine research-and-teaching channels. As material is posted, it becomes available for searching, an archive to explore, revisit, and update. Anthropologists do great work in the classroom and among colleagues. I have seen better analysis of current news items circulate through department e-mail than are available in the press. But we could do better at moving this material into a more public sphere.

Anthropology in High Tech
John Sherry gives us insight into his work at Intel’s Interaction and Research Experience Lab.

Over the past decade some of us have recognized that there is a much deeper level at which anthropology can contribute to industry, beginning with a problematizing of the concept of the consumer. Anthropology, which stipulates a genuinely systemic perspective, can provide to our industry the opportunity to see the world in terms of organized complexity. People are far more than consumers, they are participants in extended systems wherein value is created, challenged, taken up, exchanged and otherwise bandied about… One of the primary challenges is doing this translation. That is, helping our colleagues not only understand such concepts, see them at play in the world, but to collaboratively interpret what they mean for the business.

Anthropology and Making a Difference
Jeremy Trombley wants anthropologists to make a difference, not just pursue a public.

This will sound like heresy to some, I’m sure, and it definitely marks a change in my own position, but I don’t think we can move forward until we give up this preoccupation with engaging the public… Instead, we should see engaging a wider audience as a means to an end – as a way of making a difference. With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves what kind of difference do we want to make, and is engaging a wider audience an important aspect of that difference?

Who Is Anthropology For?
Simone Abram gives us a list of ten potential audiences, of the moveable feast we can engage.

If anthropologists are already at work in a diverse array of settings, we can be content that anthropology has many and varied audiences. Anthropology is itself an interdisciplinary field, and its adherents hold widely varying viewpoints and areas of special knowledge… Our debate could usefully turn to thinking about how to support people developing Anthropology in different contexts, and how to train new anthropologists to bring anthropology into other domains.

A Whole New Anthropology
Sarah Williams argues that the new anthropology will be applied anthropology.

Our new world calls for a new anthropology—applied anthropology. For decades we have studied the effects of our culture on other cultures and the lives of marginalized peoples, but only recently have we begun to try to mitigate the damage. It is time for anthropologists to use our skills for more than just the advancement of our own careers. Our responsibility to our research populations must extend beyond just the direct impact of our own personal work. The code of fieldwork has always been “Do No Harm”, but it is time to take that one step further. The code of the anthropologist should be “Do Good”.

Entire Special Issue of Anthropologies on Anthropology with Purpose: Applied, Public, Academic.

The photo above is by Ryan Anderson, and was recently featured in his post Spaces that Inspire.

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2 Responses to Anthropologies – Applied, Public, and Academic

  1. ryan a says:

    thanks daniel!!!

  2. Helga Vierich says:

    From a paper I published in 2008:
     Social/cultural anthropologists have to get the science back into our “social science”. This might be most productive as a collaborative effort with other branches of social science. Even geographers like Jared Diamond have gone where, apparently, most social anthropologists have feared to tread lately.,.
    Do we have a scientific way of explaining why social change and adaptation sometimes fails? How DO societies change from democratic to fascistic? How do complex cultures collapse? How many people can traditional non-fossil-fuel-based economies support? How many were self sufficient and surviving well in the year 1930? 1830? 1530? How do cultural paradigm shifts happen? Do we have the tools to deal with these questions?

    Quite aside from the mental whiplash created when we consider the possibility that at least some of the oddball conspiracy theories flying around the Internet might be true, surely it is worth a bit of serious anthropological investigation.  We who have fearlessly recorded the role of secretive societies within hundreds of cultures are surely armed with enough theory and methodology to lay bare the role of the Bilderberg group, the “Bohemian Grove” and criminal “banksters” and the so-called Illuminati” within the dramatic events of the last and present century.
    More important, however is the collection of data during the coming period of cultural convulsion and adaptation.  Just imagine what a HUGE mental jump it will be for most people to grasp the scope and nature of this coming collapse of the industrial economy! 

    To the mind of someone who has grown up in this culture, and for whom the idea of continuous “progress” is normal, the things done by people in the previous century seem forever left behind.  All sorts of things seem old fashioned and even unsanitary. This includes everything from breast-feeding to keeping your own chickens. Whole sets of skills and knowledge suddenly became unnecessary or were merely kept up as hobbies: how many of us know how to harness and drive a pony cart, kill and pluck poultry, or sail a boat?
    In a sense, it is hardly surprising that most people, in what we like to consider our modern society, cannot grasp the concept that it is all temporary. In films and books about the future of mankind most of us have grown up believing that we will see greater and greater “progress” unfolding with humans spreading eventually out to other solar systems and so on. The idea that we are in for a steep decline in available energy, that we will see the reversal of the process of urbanization that marked the industrial period, finally the idea that our grandchildren may never get to ride on an airplane – all of these things, which follow logically from an acceptance of Hubbert’s exemplar, are only going to enter the minds of people AFTER the paradigm shift….

    ….the decline in cheap energy is simply going to change the world, and probably within a much shorter time frame than originally thought – by the 2030, in fact. 
    In addition, if an anthropology graduate student is looking for a piece of research of great relevance, there is literally a whole world of cultures that we can and probably should follow through this terrible transition. So, how to go about getting humanity through this without losing too much hard won knowledge and beauty? Without losing too many of the billions of human souls alive today? It is anguish to think about what lies ahead.  Nevertheless, we need to document various projects – like the seed-storage process going on now in the Arctic, and the clusters of survivalist communities springing up everywhere; called “transition villages

    How to even make plans so that humanity survives at all? Homo sapiens – the thinking species: we have a brain we still do not completely understand, and it seems to be an organ exquisitely designed to be operated within a super-organic system we call “culture”.  Do we understand enough about our own evolution to be able to distinguish the hardwiring from the operating program?
    I am firmly convinced that only a holistic and integrated and disciplined anthropology  has the scope and depth of information to answer this question and save our governments from making some bad mistakes.  This may only be a personal hope but we are going to need all the hope we can find.
    As professionals, we need to document the coming collapse of the middle class, of the military industrial complex, indeed of a global civilization. As human beings, we need to share with our fellow human beings everything we know about cultural survival and adaptation.

    Those of us who work in the Universities should also try to take steps to secure vast libraries of books, films and music in a form that might survive a possible period of lawlessness and warfare.  Digital storage may not be usable in the future. In addition, we might extend a hand to help our colleagues in Economics develop a new theory of the economy that does not need perpetual growth.
    Some thoughts on the difference between capitalism and a sustainable economy

    “In a remarkably perceptive book, The Next Million Years, written in 1952, Charles Galton Darwin describes historic changes in the human condition, calling these “revolutions.” He states there is one more revolution clearly in sight: The fifth revolution will come when we have spent the stores of coal and oil that have been accumulating in the earth during hundreds of millions of years.., it is obvious that there will be a very great difference in ways of life.., a man has to alter his way of life considerably, when, after living for years on his capital, he suddenly finds he has to earn any money he wants to spend . . . The change may justly be called a revolution, but it differs from all the preceding ones in that there is no likelihood of its leading to increases of population, but even perhaps to the reverse (p. 52).” (Quoted in Youngquist, 1999)

    If the sub-discipline of social/cultural anthropology is to remain a respectable social science with some relevance to the future of the human species project on this planet, we should be directing our attention without delay to the looming collapse of the world economy with the projected decline of fossil fuels
    There must be some way of achieving a model of economic systems that takes us from hunter-gatherers to Wall Street tycoons without distortions and cultural bias, labeling one extreme as any better than the other! A model that can make predictable and comprehensible the transitions that can happen in either direction along this continuum  and the way ideologies and social institutions adapt to keep the culture intact.   Sort of like unified field theory in physics… I think we need to talk about this with colleagues in other social sciences as well. We need to work with them on this problem and give it some attention. And within Anthropology as a discipline the drifting apart of the four sub-disciplines has been a disaster for the continuing development of holistic and evolutionary models of the science of humanity.
    Maybe it is not too late to change our chances for species survival and finally achieve Polanyi’s visionary future once free of this “obsolete market mentality,” the path would be open to subordinate both national economies and the global economy to democratic politics based on “human values.”
    For those of us who have worked among the hunter-gatherers of the world, there may be hope of witnessing the return of these cultures to traditional territory and economic activities. In fact, for all the cultures currently losing their traditional land base, undergoing transitions to more sedentary ways to life, the next three decades may see a reversal of these processes.  If so this will afford some unique opportunities for study of culture change.
    Nothing will ever be the same as it was before the industrial experiment.  But cultures will continue to adapt and evolve. I hazard a guess that of all the human communities that will be buffeted by the coming chaos, those who will do best will the communities closest to their previously more self-sustaining economic systems.  There may be more hunter-gatherers in the year 2100 on this planet than there were in the year 2000. And, perhaps, some of today’s communication technologies will come with us all into that future. If the hunter-gatherers of 2100 have cell phones, and wireless laptops, to keep in touch with the rest of the human family, it will be an interesting world.