Neoliberal applied anthropology: Who owns the research — the anthropologist or the sponsor?
At the Society for Applied Anthropology Meetings this year Hugh Gusterson had a startling experience: A “practicing anthropologist” refused to tell me him who or what, she studies. That has never happened before. In the article Where Are We Going? Engaging Dilemmas In Practicing Anthropology in Anthropology News May 2006, Guterson poses fundamental quiestions. The number of anthropologists working for industry and government agencies grows. So:
Who owns applied anthropological research—the researcher or the sponsor? If applied research is confidential, and thus exempt from peer review, how do we assure its quality and integrity? What recourse is there for an anthropologist under contract of confidentiality who decides they have an obligation to make public what their sponsor wants to keep quiet (say, information about indigenous opposition to a dam, or native Americans’ experience of abuse at the hands of the Department of the Interior, or corruption in the Pentagon or the World Bank)?
Is it acceptable to study people not in order to advocate for them or to interpret them in the open literature, but for the purpose of providing privileged information to sponsors who want to control them? What will happen to our professional meetings, to their warm conviviality, if more people come to them refusing to discuss their research? And how is our discipline even to keep track of possible conflicts of interest if anthropologists are refusing to identify their research in public?
He continues and concludes:
One colleague suggested that we acknowledge two separate communities: those doing academic anthropology and those doing what he called “dirty anthropology” (as, I think, in “quick and…”). He suggested each have its own ethical guidelines. But do we really want to say that anthropologists are no longer a single community guided by a common code of conduct?
The rise of neoliberal applied anthropology is a scandal waiting to happen. We ignore it at our professional peril. It is time to lay out some clear rules of the road to give guidance to applied anthropology colleagues working on this new frontier, and to enhance their bargaining power with powerful contractors.
>> read the whole article in Anthropology News (link updated)