The Nature Of The Applied Anthropology And Its Epistemological Debates In The Post-World War II Era


For me, anthropology public it helps people to know how other societies live, their behaviors, religions, beliefs and it help youth to know that as people we are not the same. So now anthropology is worldwide, scholars they keep doing their jobs to give us more information about anthropology.

According to Scheper-Hughes (2000), Public anthropology assumes a particular relationship to the world. It also implies diverse practices. One is ‘writing' for the public making our work more accessible and also more accountable. Anthropology becomes visible after the long journey, anthropologists were criticizing by using the knowledge when they do research, collection data. But these days they published everything they want, anthropology becomes successful in different perspectives. In the tradition of Margaret Mead, this version of public anthropology involves ‘translating' anthropological ideas and concepts into a version that appeals to a broad public. A less conventional way of getting anthropological research findings and interpretations to broader publics is through active and on-site collaboration with journalists and the media. Most anthropologists fear ‘contamination' by journalism: few scholars are comfortable with articles that may read more like investigative journalism than ethnography. He took the risks, she continues to write in various register with the various public in mind. The anthropological public is just one, though still in terms of identity and affection my primary audience. Anthropology becomes famous, able to make good relationship with media, Hughes he said it was not easy to make collaborations with journalists, but now anthropology was known, introduced to media. Her argument was that she published must revelations of criminal networks should not be gagged by normative academic protection of human subject’s guidelines as they are in the public interest and protected by freedom of speech. Naturally, this has attracted criticism from within and outside the academy. To make anthropology public is to invite criticism as well as to face ‘erasures' of ownership of research findings once we share these with journalists, for whom anthropologists are simply a source, sometimes named but never fully acknowledged. Things become great because anthropology was trending, appear on the front pages on Newspapers (New York Times or the Sunday Times Magazine). Collaboration with investigative reporters is not always easy and can be distressing. However, the more I collaborate with skilled national and international reporters and documentary filmmakers, the more I am impressed with their thoughtfulness, thoroughness, dedication to accuracy and their own very different ethical and political sensibilities. One major obstacle to public anthropology is our reticence to describe events before we have gained a deep understanding of their context. In parts of Europe, India, Africa, and Latin America there is a strong tradition of anthropological public intellectuals engaging their various social and political terrains. Gilberto Freyre, Brazil's first public anthropologist, famously described Brazil as a racial democracy which became a national symbol of Brazilian identity rooted in ethnic and cultural hybridity. Although Freyre's thesis hid the entrenched race-class system, it created a popular national stereotype. His job was to recognize by (mocambos and favelas of Recife) after rejected by his colleagues, this mocambos and favelas of Recife claimed Freyre as their intellectual, the man who made brownness a symbol of Brasilian. Anthropologists say to bring anthropology to the public, they need to bring public issues and dialogues to bear anthropological thinking and practice.

Finally, in the tradition of C. W. Mills’ the sociological imagination, the goal of public anthropology is to make public issues, not simply to respond to them. This is what I have tried to do for the past decade with the Organs Watch project: to make the global traffic in humans for their organs into a pressing social issue requiring a global, multilateral response. Hughes her aim was to make anthropology to be known in the public, be included in media, journalists talk about it.

The nature of applied anthropology

Proto-Anthropology and Use of Applied Knowledge

The practice of using anthropological skills for useful purposes sprouted from conducive studies conducted in the United States of America and other countries during the World Wars. These fieldworks were done to understand human behavior and provide solutions to concerns and afflictions which existed in human societies. The founder of the Anthropological Society of London, James Hunt, used the phrase, 'practical anthropology' in the 1860s to express the pragmatic use of anthropological skills. Herodotus (485- 325 BC), a philosopher, who has influenced the beginnings of anthropology as a discipline, is undoubtedly one of the original documenters of 'cross-cultural description'. He and his contemporaries believed in providing information having a practical intention, through their writings. Initial ethnological work like that of Father Joseph Lafitau who documented the life of people (Mohawks) residing in New France in North America, led to a rich collection of custom and rituals (Fenton and Moore 1974). The material is a report from 1852 to 1857 based on which the United States government made policies for the Indians. Though professionally Schoolcraft was an administrator, with the development of anthropology as a discipline, he came to be known as an ethnologist as well. In fact, he is one of the initiators of the American Ethnological Society. William Duncan, another missionary, worked significantly towards social reform of the Indian tribes. One such program was to provide training to colonial officers by giving them ethnological knowledge of the Indians for better administration. European countries like Great Britain and the Netherlands too offered such programmes in 1806 and 1819 respectively.

Applied Ethnology to Applied Anthropology (1860-1945)

Applied anthropology in its formative years as a distinct discipline started with anthropologists as research experts offering their knowledge of findings to the government or private funded administrative initiatives. This was done for the establishment of administration of power in colonies. Anthropologists provided information to the government in policy making and solving of issues. Therefore it is not surprising that it was the British, during their colonial regime, who formally employed anthropologists for practical purposes. At the same time it was the anthropologists who also realized that in the absence of funds, they can approach the administration/ government for money. In this way, they were able to conduct their research in the field and also provide the rulers with the data they needed. Even anthropologists like A. R. Radcliffe Brown and Bronislaw Malinowski, in the 1920s and 1930s, gathered monetary donations from the government with a view to advertising how pragmatic anthropological and ethnographical representation of colonies studied can tackle issues that the colonizers encountered. But Kuper (1983) is of the view that this was a garb really and the main intention of the anthropologists was to assure themselves a good research funding. As far as the United States of America was concerned, it was only in 1934 that anthropologists got involved in actual official administrative applied work with the Indian Reorganisation Act of the New Deal and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Anthropologists at that time offered their service on how the government should work on reservations for the Indians and also gave suggestions on the creation of tribal charters and constitutions. The term applied anthropology was used for the first time as an explanation of an agenda in the anthropologists was 'value-free'. This can also be seen as the application of the first professional code of ethics in anthropology. Before World War II the debate that anthropologists put forward was that they could not put themselves in any role other than acting as consultants for administration. It meant compromising with the 'value-free' stance that they advocated. The British employed anthropologists as consultants and they were found in the military, foreign office, colonial office, and India office, thus increasing interest in ethnological learning. The literature too which were published during this time was the result of applied research.

Reclaiming Applied Anthropology: it's past, present, past

Over the past decade, there has been increasing awareness within anthropology in general about the need for a more engaged role in both academia and the public arena, as well as calls for greater relevance with regard to addressing social problems and the structures that produce and maintain them. A different understanding of applied anthropology emerges from a closer look at its history, its role in shaping the discipline, and the current diversity of perspective and practice. We argue that contemporary applied anthropology cannot be simplistically assigned to a particular stance vis-`a-vis dominant social systems, historical processes, or social classes. It is more accurately conceived as complex and broad anthropology in use, united by the goal and practice of applying theories, concepts, and methods from anthropology to confront human problems that often contribute to profound social suffering. A sizeable number of anthropologists have been turning their gaze toward pressing social issues. The term applied anthropology has been in use for more than a century; it was associated with the creation of early academic departments of anthropology. Thus, within the history of anthropology, the application came first, serving as the impetus for some of the earliest academic departments, which were obviously shaped by colonial imperative but also motivated by a desire for systemic reforms. Contemporary theoretical anthropology was directly connected to and grew out of such application. They believe that application should neither be positioned as anthropology's scapegoat nor its savior; instead, it should be seen as a major and vital component of the broader discipline, reflecting what many if not most anthropologists are now doing, and will continue to do if the discipline is to survive and to thrive.

The history of applied anthropology and the role (Revisiting)

Applied anthropology, rather than being peripherally situated, has played an essential role in laying the foundations for the general discipline’s infrastructure. Its contributions include the shaping of a professional organization, the evolution of disciplinary subfields, and the establishment of ethical standards.

There was an organization called Anthropological society of Washington early on was involved in helping to organize applied research on social inequalities in the housing of the poor in Washington, D. C. . Major subfields of anthropology evolved out of applied research, including formative work in urban, nutritional, political, legal, agricultural, maritime, environmental, and educational anthropology. Another important development in the disciplinary structure was the establishment in 1949 of the first professional code of ethics in anthropology by the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA), just eight years after its founding. Again, applied anthropology took the lead: The AAA did not put forth its first ethics statement until 20 years later. Application played a key role in shaping the foundation of academic anthropology.

The United States of America was concerned, it was only in 1934 that anthropologists got involved in actual official administrative applied work with the Indian Reorganisation Act of the New Deal and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Anthropologists at that time offered their service on how the government should work on reservations for the Indians and also gave suggestions on the creation of tribal charters and constitutions.

The handmaiden Era: Colonial Roots

The idea of applying anthropology’s methods and knowledge to social problems and public policy dates to the mid–19th century. Ethnology played an important role in the colonial administrative experience of many countries, whose governments and information needs helped to support academic departments and basic research. A pertinent illustration of what applied anthropologists typically did in these settings can be found in P. H. Gulliver's (1985) short autobiographical account of his experiences working as a 'government sociologist' in Tanganyika in the 1960s. Most were done at the request of his supervising officials, but Gulliver himself also proposed research ideas and had substantial control over projects and data, which he later used for academic publication. The resulting written reports, some of them confidential, were primarily distributed narrowly within the agency. Gulliver argues that some had an impact, whereas others were ignored, and it is clear that his contribution was only one among many inputs into decision making. He also provided expert opinion in areas such as urban social surveys and land use issues. Review of the acknowledgments of some classic ethnographies shows that they were initially done essentially as applied reports, funded by government agencies to inform administrators. Ethnology also played a pivotal role in U. S. colonial experience. The Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) was set up in 1879 as a policy research arm of the federal government to provide research services in support of congressional decisions related to 'Native Americans'. Its director, W. J. McGee, proposed that the organization focus on what he called 'applied ethnology'. The BAE saw its role as providing scientifically high quality, largely descriptive research reports to policymakers, and it generally avoided controversial studies that might threaten its funding or authority. The critique of applied anthropology derives a great deal of its impact from analysis of such work, which was done by anthropologists who served in capacities that, in one way or another, supported colonialist and imperialist structures. More recently, this radical critique has been extended to the broader discipline, by demonstrating that ideologies linked to exploitation, oppression, and genocide such as imperialism, nationalism, racism, eugenics, and social Darwinism also helped to shape research and discourse in archaeology, as well as biological and physical anthropology. They seized on opportunities to prove the value of their fledgling discipline while putting their awareness of the fundamental importance of culture to good use in trying to protect the traditions and rights of subjugated peoples albeit within an overarching colonial structure. Those who worked during this era faced issues regarding power, ethics, and professionalism that continue to be relevant today. The social, cultural, and epistemological contexts may have changed, but similar barriers bureaucratic, fiscal, political, and legal to affecting change in social policies and translating ethnography into effective and ethical action continue to challenge contemporary applied anthropologists.

From New Deal to the Postwar Era

The involvement of anthropologists in application grew throughout the Depression and the New Deal, reaching a climax during the World War II years. Margaret Mead (1977) estimated that during this period, 95 percent of U. S. anthropologists were engaged in the war effort. Although the numbers were in the hundreds rather than thousands, nevertheless much applied work was done during the war. Some of these efforts, in retrospect, were seen as problematic and further complicated conceptual boundaries between academic and applied anthropology.

Anthropologists were also employed by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor of the CIA. Among these was Gregory Bateson, who, along with others, would later reassess the role he had played in military propaganda work, in part because he felt betrayed by the government’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples encountered by the OSS.

Epistemological debates

According to Lassiter the collaborative ethnography and public anthropology, collaborative ethnography the collaboration of researchers and subjects in the production of ethnographic texts offer us a powerful way to engage the public with anthropology. As one of many academic/applied approaches, contemporary collaborative ethnography stems from a well-established historical tradition of collaboratively produced texts that are often overlooked. Feminist and postmodernist efforts to recenter ethnography along dialogical lines further contextualize this historically situated collaborative practice. The goals of collaborative ethnography (both historical and contemporary) are now powerfully converging with those of public anthropology that pulls together academic and applied anthropology in an effort to serve humankind more directly and more immediately.

There are debates among authors on how to bridge theory and practice and craft more activist and engaged anthropology. Dell Hymes proposed three strategies for anthropology future echoed on Reinventing anthropology (1969). Almost three decades earlier: to retrench (i. e. , to reduce anthropology to the study of prehistory, the “primitive”), to let go (i. e. , to be absorbed by other disciplines), or to relax (i. e. , to reconsider anthropology’s organization and to reconfigure it storage tories). “The issue is not between general anthropology and fragmentation, “wrote Hymes, “but between bureaucratic general anthropology, whose latent function is the protection of academic comfort and privilege, and personal general anthropology, whose function is the advancement of knowledge and the welfare of mankind. ”

Merrill Singer (2000), contends that the latest academic effort to invent public anthropology is more a reiteration of hierarchical divisions between academic and applied anthropologists than a more broadly conceived proactive anthropology. . . “The avenue for approaching these goals, ”writes Singer(p. 7), “is through strengthening, valuing and more fully integrating applied/practicing anthropology, rather than inventing new labels that usurp the role of public work long played by an already existing sector of our discipline. ” Anthropologist’s particularly academic anthropologists continue to struggle with reconciling anthropology’s applied, public, and activist roots with the discipline’s elite positioning in the academy. “Such a caste-like assumption, “writes Hymes, “ill befits a field that claims to oppose inequality. We teach against prejudice on the basis of race, language, and culture.

Peggy Sanday (1998) suggests, merging anthropology with public currents “is more than a focus for research; it is a paradigm for learning, teaching, research, action, and practice within the field of anthropology. Also, Robert Borofsky (2002) suggests that this larger project “affirms our responsibility, as scholars and citizens, to meaningfully contribute to communities beyond the academy both local and global — that make the study of anthropology possible. ” Anthropologists such as Philip Bourgois (1995), Paul farmer (1999), Laura Nader (2001) and Nancy Scheper- Hughes (2000) as well as a host of other, have provided compelling cases for what this public anthropology should look like. From human rights to violence, from the trafficking of body parts to the illegal drug trade, from problem-solving to policymakers from the global to the local and back again the issues informing this evolving project to merge anthropology with proven diverse and multifaceted.

Collaborative research involves more than giving back in the form of advocacy and attention to social needs. Only in the collaborative model is there a full give and take, where at every step of the research knowledge and expertise is shared. In collaborative research, the local community will define its needs and will seek experts both within and without to develop research programs and action plans. In the process of undertaking research on such community-defined needs, outside researchers may very well encounter knowledge that is of interest to anthropological theory.

On the debates of feminist anthropology, the feminist scholar Renate Duelli Klein (1983) argued that whenever possible, the feminist methodology should allow for such intersubjectivity, this will permit the researcher constantly as a woman and a scientist and to share it with the researcher, which in turn might again change it. The methodology that allows for women studying women in an interactive process without the artificial object (which is by definition inherent in any approach to knowledge that praises its neutrality and objectivity) will end the exploitation of woman as the research object. Many feminists agree 'Our work,' wrote Barbara Du Bois, ' needs to generate works, concepts, that refer to, that spring from that are firmly and richly grounded in the actual experiencing women. Some feminist ethnographers have argued, however, that a feminist methodology might be more problematic than advantageous to the agendas of a larger, critical feminist theory.

There is a theme called “Can There Bea Feminist Ethnography?” Judith Stacey (1988) argued that although “the ethnographic method. . . appears ideally suited to feminist research in that it draws on those resources of empathy, connection, and concern that many feminists consider being women’s special strengths,” she ultimately questioned “whether the appearance of greater respect for and equality with research subjects in the ethnographic approach masks a deeper, more dangerous form of exploitation. If a feminist ethnography challenged conventional ethnography by emphasizing everyday experience and everyday language (which engendered a presumably more simplified and less rigorous analysis via its identification and collaboration with unprofessional collaborators then a more professional theoretical and rigorous ethnography challenged conventional ethnography by foregrounding a rarefied jargonistic discourse (which presumed to engender a more complex analysis undertaken without the constraints of reciprocal responses from consultants).


The anthropological practice has been conceptualized as the “fifth subdiscipline”, but it has the potential to become the bridging discipline linking the diversity that exists within anthropology as a whole with the realities of an increasingly complex world. Applied anthropology, these days, encompasses great diversity in domains of application, methods, theoretical framings, roles and areas of research and work. If one accounts for all that applied anthropologists do in their effort to address social problems, “from A for ‘aging’ to Z for ‘zoos,’ ” then the list is very long and rapidly growing. Applied anthropology in its formative years as a distinct discipline started with anthropologists as research experts offering their knowledge of findings to the government or private funded administrative initiatives. The idea of applying anthropology’s methods and knowledge to social problems and public policy dates to the mid–19th century. Ethnology played an important role in the colonial administrative experience of many countries, whose governments and information needs helped to support academic departments and basic research. There are important consequences for the discipline as a whole when substantial segments of creative work done in anthropology are inaccessible. John van Willigen (1991) notes that “much authentic anthropological knowledge is scattered throughout journals from a broad array of disciplines, and in the fugitive literature of technical and contract reports,” thereby having less impact on shaping the discipline’s core content.

10 October 2020
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