Most anthropologists work outside the university where they don’t enjoy academic freedom. These anthropologists must be better prepared for the perils of non-academic applied work, Brian McKenna writes in Counterpunch. For good applied anthropology is being troublesome:
He quotes Robert Lynd who in 1939 wrote:
[T]he role of the social sciences to be troublesome, to disconcert the habitual arrangements by which we manage to live along, and to demonstrate the possibility of change in more adequate directions . . . like that of a skilled surgeon, [social scientists need to] get us into immediate trouble in order to prevent our present troubles from becoming even more dangerous. In a culture in which power is normally held by the few and used offensively and defensively to bolster their instant advantage within the status quo, the role of such a constructive troublemaker is scarcely inviting.
Too often, applied anthropologists say “Yes, sir":
Some years back Harvard anthropologist Kris Heggenhougen argued that the strength of anthropology in collaborating with other disciplines lies in saying, “yes, but. . . and to critically examine the decisive factors affecting peoples’ health including power, dominance and exploitation.” (Heggenhougen 1993)
Yes, but. . . . while that sounds good, more needs to be said.
First of all, we spend much more time saying “yes, sir” than “yes, but” in paid employment. This is necessary if we wish to stay employed. The workplace is a not a democracy but a hierarchy in which academic freedom does not apply. (…) (A)pplied anthropologists have to be prepared to travel the road from “yes, but,” to “no, sir” in order to better serve the public interest.
Brian McKenna mentions several applied anthropologists who were “troublesome". One of them is Barbara Johnston who has worked with environmental justice. She warns about associated risks:
Environmental justice work “requires confronting, challenging and changing power structures.” When someone is involved in this work, says Johnston, “backlash is inevitable.” Because most anthropologists usually enter organizations as change agent s of some kind they need to be aware that they are especially at risk of being labeled a “troublemaker” at any time. If the label sticks it can lead not only to getting fired; it also can lead to a vicious form of bullying that can make one’s life unbearable.
According to Johnston, academic culture “trivializes the importance of this work,” while, at the same time, the engaged anthropologist struggles to find disciplinary support.
Another example is Ted Downing who worked for the World Bank. In 1995, he wrote about the potential social and environmental impacts a proposed World Bank dam project will have on Chile’s Pehuenche Indians. The result: The report was censored:
After his report was censored Downing demanded that the World Bank publicly disclose his findings. The Bank responded by threatening “a lawsuit garnering Downing’s assets, income and future salary if he disclosed the contents, findings and recommendations of his independent evaluation.” (Johnson and Garcia Downing). As a result of his whistleblowing, Downing was blacklisted from the World Bank after 13 years of consulting service.
In his case, “yes, but” didn’t work. He progressed, reluctantly, to “no, sir”:
In fact this happens to many applied anthropologists but most do not have the resources, support or disciplinary guidance to assist them in their struggles. They might become whistleblowers but their careers suffer. And their stories are untold. We do not have a good accounting of how often this happens to anthropologists, but we need to learn more about this. In any case, resisting censorship is, as Downing says, “good applied” anthropology.
Comment from: Jerry Moles [Visitor]
Good applied anthropology brings about desired results. Deliverables should be listed in measurable terms. It’s not so much saying yes and no but rather working towards things to benefit specific people. Downing’s work, it seems to me, accomplishes there purposes whether he acts as a member of the Arizona Legislature or the World Bank.