Category: "applied anthropology"
Anthropologists should send a thank you to the Govenor of Florida, Rick Scott, who a few days ago in a radio show said “We don’t need anthropologists in the state”.
We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.
What an unique opportunity to promote anthropology!
Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology gives you an all-inclusive overview over the reactions to this attack on anthropology and the social sciences.
Anthropologists love talking about themselves and the importance of their discipline, so Lende’s list is long.
Personally, I think the students at the University of South Florida gave the most powerful response. They put a slide show together with short portraits of anthropologists and their work and put in online at prezi.
“This is absolutely a brilliant presentation. The American Anthropological Association should use it as a model for communication, education and lobbying”, commented Jonathan Hass, and it’s difficult to disagree with him.
Even anthropologists will be impressed and maybe also surprised about how diverse their discipline is - and how “relevant” and “useful” from the perspective of state bureaucrats.
Their presentation is still in the making, more and more slides are being added.
Two years ago, Canadian anthropology student Dai Cooper became a YouTube star with another innovative introduction to anthropology. She explained anthropology in her anthropology song
What kinds of theoretical insights have emerged from the anthropology of development? What can anthropologists learn from development work? Anthropology Through Development: Putting Development Practice into Theory is the topic of the new issue of the open access journal Anthropology Matters that was released a few days ago.
This issue, edited by Amy Pollard and Alice Street, consists of four interesting articles.
In Beyond Governmentality: Building Theory for Weak and Fragile States, Priscilla Magrath calls for a better understanding of “weak states":
(A)nthropological theory, drawing on Western European philosophy and political history, appears focused on strong governments, highlighting the potential dangers of excessive government, rather than the challenges of weak government.
Detailed ethnographies of the development encounter, including those undertaken by development practitioners themselves, can provide a foundation for building new theory to address contemporary issues, such as those faced by governments and the governed living in ‘weak and fragile states’. Such studies can enrich our understanding of development processes, while helping to bridge the gap between ‘applied’ and ‘theoretical’ anthropology.
Reconstruction efforts after the tsunami is the topic of Sonia Fèvres paper Development ethnography and the limits of practice: a case study of life stories from Aceh, Indonesia.
Development anthropology has an important part to play in contributing to the design and evaluation of humanitarian aid, she explains. Ethnographers should in her view not limit themselves to a meta-analysis of the development framework itself, or the anthropology of development.
Antonie L. Kraemer explains in Telling Us your Hopes: Ethnographic lessons from a communications for development project in Madagascar why it might be a good idea to turn informants into ethnographers.
She calls for “a more publicly engaged anthropology which does not merely “translate” other cultures, but which opens up for people to conduct their own ethnographic research by asking their own questions and capturing each other’s voices, stories and hopes as ethnographers in their own right.”
The anthropologist’s role should include “giving voice to marginalised people by facilitating access to written and online media, providing the necessary background context, and by translating and communicating joint research findings to key audiences, including the narrators themselves, the media and relevant decision makers.”
It might be fruitful to read her article together with Chris Campregher’s text Development and anthropological fieldwork: Towards a symmetrical anthropology of inter-cultural relations.
Here he questions popular assumptions about “voiceless people” and asks: Do they really need our help?
“Even as a trained anthropologist sensible to questions of ethnocentrism and cultural alterity", he writes, “I relied on this basic imagery of the poor and marginalized when I started to work for the first time in Central America. How not to? Engaging in development work implies that there will be some class of people who need support of some kind.”
Inspired from Science and Technology Studies (STS), he argues that anthropology should strive to become more symmetrical:
The interesting question that STS poses to us as anthropologists is the following: STS scholars state that they need to treat science and its outcomes (“scientific facts”) with the same methodological scrutiny that they use to explain “wrong” statements. So, how can development agents and anthropologists continue to differentiate between scientifically legitimized “knowledge” and culturally constrained “beliefs” of local communities?
Anthropologists should question and study their own methodologies, concepts, and actions in the field in the same way they study their informants. This, he thinks, “will not only lead to a new way of looking at the anthropologist as an actor in the field, but also represents a strategy favourable to those of us who work as applied anthropologists.”
For the second time, Associated Press has engaged anthropologists in order to improve its services. The first research project, conducted by Context-Based Research Group, revealed that people - contrary to what AP believed - wanted more breadth and depth instead of short blasts of news. The new study shows that news consumers want a two-way conversation instead of one-way bombardment:
It is not just that people feel overloaded. As consumers, they long for a better way to communicate with information providers – news companies and advertisers alike. They want that communication to be two-way, transparent and honest. They seek a new relationship that is built on trust, not simply on the value of the content or advertising itself.
“You have to socialize the space before you can monetize it,” Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist for Context, concluded. “The solution is not just to create more engaging content, but to create better environments for engaging with content.”
In the report, Blinkoff used Victor Turner’s concept “Communitas” - something that APs Vice President Jim Kennedy Vice President called “an interesting bit of cultural theory":
He called Communitas a time of egalitarian information sharing which can be harnessed to rebuild trust between information providers and consumers. He likened Communitas to the social networking phenomenon online, where consumers feel comfortable engaging with information among their friends and peer groups. (…) With Communitas, there is no such thing as one-way communication. There are only two-way conversations that inspire loyalty and trust, and those are key ingredients with the power to cut through the clutter of the Internet.
Both studies are based on ethnographic research methods. The researchers tracked and analyzed the behavior of individuals in their work and home environments.
AP seems to be fascinated by anthropological methods. “One of the keys to understanding how to address the situation", AP writes, “has been the extraordinary insight enabled by the Context methodology":
Context does ethnographic research, meaning it studies small groups of people up close to get at the root of their behavior. That “Deep Structure,” as Context calls it, opens up a view of how companies can respond to cultural changes that aren’t so obvious on the surface.
I found one more report on Context’s website called Grounding the American Dream: An Ethnographic and Quantitative Study on the Future of Consumerism in a Changing Economy where they “portray a society and culture going through a “rite of passage” and moving into an era where we measure the quality of our lives in social terms before economic ones".
(Hatiain Children up in the mountains. Image: Matt Dringenberg, flickr)
(post in progress about anthropological perspectives in Haiti and how to help) “Anthropology to me is all about human connexions, about a common humanity", said Dai Cooper from the Anthropology Song. “Being an anthropologist means that when a natural disaster occurs somewhere in the world, a friend may be there", is a quote I found on the blog by urban anthropologist Krystal D’Costa.
“The recent catastrophic earthquake in Haiti has turned my thoughts to our global levels of connectivity", she writes and adds:
Web 2.0 technologies have been activated to create impromptu support networks and share what little information people may have heard. They are proving integral to the management of disasters. And perhaps creating a global community so that when natural disasters strike, anthropologists aren’t the only ones wondering and worrying about the fate of friends.
I had similar thoughts today: First, on facebook, lots of friends posted stories about the earthquake and explained how to help. Browsing the web, it is overwhelming and touching to read about all the activities by people who help. Even without web2.0, people care for each other. True everyday cosmopolitanism.
GlobalVoices - my favorite source for international news - has lots of great overviews, among others about help from the region around Haiti (Dominican Republic / Caribbean) where many bloggers have been active. The Haitian Diaspora has also been active.
This kind help is often invisible in mainstream media. Here in Norway, the focus is of course on Norwegians (or Americans) or other rich countries’ help.
José Rafael Sosa for example writes (translated by Global Voices):
The Dominican people have bent over backwards to help Haiti. What happened in Haiti has no precedent. There is too much pain. Too much suffering. The absurd differences stop here and solidarity is imposed, pure and simple, openly and decidedly. This is the right moment to help our brother nation. Let’s give our hand and our soul to a people that do not deserve so much suffering.
Anthropologists have also contributed online. At Somatosphere, medical anthropologist Barbara Rylko-Bauer explains why helping through Partners in Health might be a good idea. One of the founders of Partners in Health is another medical anthropologist: Paul Farmer who currently is the U.N. Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti.
One year ago, Farmer was interviewed about the hurricane disaster in Haiti where as many as 1,000 people have died and an estimated one million left homeless. Farmer stresses that natural disasters are not only natural but also social or political disasters, they are partly man-made. He addresses Haitis ecological crisies and the way the US has destabilized Haiti. In another interview he challenges Profit-Driven Medical System (more see wikipedia and videos below).
Yes, why is Haiti so poor? Why is Haiti one of the poorest countries on this planet and therefore more vulnerable to disasters like earthquakes? Two anthropologists answer this question. They suggest links between the disaster and colonialism.
Haiti actually has been a rich country, Barbara D Miller at anthropologyworks explains. Haiti produced more wealth for France than all of France’s other colonies combined and more than the 13 colonies in North America produced for Britain. So why is Haiti so poor:
Colonialism launched environmental degradation by clearing forests. After the revolution, the new citizens carried with them the traumatic history of slavery. Now, neocolonialism and globalization are leaving new scars. For decades, the United States has played, and still plays, a powerful role in supporting conservative political regimes.
James Williams at Discovery News interviews anthropologist Bryan Page. Page gives a similar explanation.
After 1804, Haitians were discriminated against by not only the United States, but all the European powers, he says:
That discrimination meant no availability of resources to educate the Haitian population, no significant trade with any polity outside of Haiti. Also, the break up of the plantations into individual land parcels meant there’s no longer a coherent cash crop activity going on within Haiti.
These conditions persisted into the 20th Century:
You still have a population that was 80-90% illiterate – a population that didn’t have any industrial skills, a population that wasn’t allowed to trade its products with the rest of the world in any significant way.
What that isolation essentially meant was that Haiti never had a chance to progress alongside the surrounding civilizations in the region. Complicating the picture even more was a series of despotic rulers that added to the country’s struggles.
[Haiti was] seen increasingly as a benighted, terrible place, in part also because of the collective racism of the white-dominated nations that surrounded them, including Cuba, the United States and the Dominican Republic which occupies the other side of Hispanola.
UPDATE 1: More on Haiti, colonialism and racism on the blog The Cranky Linguist by anthropologist Ronald Kephart
UPDATE 2: Statement by the American Anthropological Association (AAA): The Haitian Studies Association has begun to develop strategies to help Haiti, Haitians, Haitians in the diaspora, and the Haitian academic community. The AAA will provide more information about how to respond to the disaster and ask the Haitian anthropological community for advice.
Hope is not something that one often associates with Haiti. An anthropologist and critic of representations of the island, I have often questioned narratives that reduce Haiti to simple categories and in the process dehumanize Haitians. Yes, we may be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, but there is life there, love and an undeniable and unbeatable spirit of creative survivalism.
I am worried about Haiti’s future. In the immediate moment we need help, rescue missions of all kinds. I am concerned about weeks from now when we are no longer front-page news. Without long-term efforts, we will simply not be able to rebuild. What will happen then?
UPDATE 3: Great post by Kerim Friedman at Savage Minds where he explains why New York Times columnist David Brooks is wrong who claims that “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.”
UPDATE 4: Haiti: Getting the Word Out - Janine Mendes-Franco at GlobalVoices gives an overview over bloggers in and around Port-au-Prince who “are finding the time to communicate with the outside world".
UPDATE 5 (16.1.10): Anthropologist Johannes Wilm: Who really helps Haiti? An overview of money given to Haiti: While USA give most per person affected, Norway, Canada and Guyana give most per citizen and (again) Guyana gives most in percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). His main message is that the aid from Western countries is “close to nothing".
Alert by Naomi Klein: “We have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy—which is part natural, part unnatural—must, under no circumstances, be used to, one, further indebt Haiti and, two, to push through unpopular corporatist policies in the interest of our corporations. This is not conspiracy theory. They have done it again and again.”
UPDATE See also post by Keith Hart: Is Haiti to be another victim of disaster capitalism?
UPDATE 7: GlobalVoices: Instances of “Looting,” but Little Confirmed Evidence of Post-Quake Violence: When the media reports on disasters, they’re inevitably going to focus on the dramatic and antisocial, even if it’s one percent of the population committing these acts.”
Here is what poor Haitians define as elements of a good society:
1. relative economic parity
2. strong political leaders with a sense of service who “care for” and “stand for” the poor
3. respe (respect)
4. religious pluralism to allow room for ancestral and spiritual beliefs
5. cooperative work
6. access of citizens to basic social services
7. personal and collective security
UPDATE 10: Harvard and Haiti: A collaborative response to the January 12 earthquake: Video with Paul Farmer and his colleagues from Harvard Medical School, Partners In Health
and Brigham and Women’s Hospital
And here an overview about the current situation:
and a lecture by Paul Farmer (first introduction, lecture starts after 8 minutes):
How can businesses profit from social media? How does social media challenge what is regarded as “value” in the business world? Anthropologist Lene Pettersen discusses these and other questions in her paper “The impact of social media for business“.
Lene Pettersen, one of the few web2.0-anthropologists in Scandinavia, sent me this article that she previously has published on Slideshare
‘Value’ in a strong economic sense is challenged by social media as a door opener for influence that the organizations should take seriously. (…) The market is a part of individual and collective projects where emotions and identities are expressed, and can therefore not be defined by monetary values alone (Olsen 2003). (…)
The virtual market isn’t a huge collection of passive consumers; it is represented by networks of people having meaningful dialogues and interaction with both each other and the businesses as such, and represents new ways of market power. (…) By mapping different social media applications that are used for interaction we will receive great insight of benefits from different social media tools, technology as such and give important knowledge of how social media can be used by companies and organizations for innovation.
For businesses to be successfull they have to establish a good reputation. She quotes anthropologist Tian Sørhaug who states that “we no longer can divide production from consumption, because it is difficult to separate the person and the product. In these online times we all are dependent on our reputation.”
Pettersen draws our attention to a kind of “honor culture” among bloggers and compares it to the Kula exchange:
In social media we can recognize how highly respected bloggers receive respect from others. In parallel to honor cultures, where public reputation is more important than one’s self esteem, bloggers achieve huge respect within their community (Pettersen 2009). Anette Weiner showed in her studies of the Trobriand people how transaction of the kula (a type of shell) with people’s kula network didn’t have a solely economic value, but that knowledge, high status, and even sorcery help kula players claim success and circulate their fame (Weiner 1988:156).
>> download the paper (pdf)
The debate on anthropology and the military is extremly polarized. Mats Utas, Head of the Africa Programme at the Swedish National Defence College, has written an interesting article where he challenges both sides. Among other things, he shows that there might be legitimate reasons for collaboration with the military even if you are against the U.S. war of terror.
“I currently would see many problems in cooperating with the US armed forces, or the Danish army for that matter, due to their cumbersome commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, I still describe the debate within our discipline as one of moral panic", he writes and asks:
It is important to remember that all relationships with the military do not imply the same type of structural involvement, just as doing work with the military means different things depending on which country one works in (it is obvious that engaging with the armed forces in Sweden or Switzerland is not the same as in US or North Korea).
Sweden is, still today, more or less neutral and has kept a low profile in the war on terror (or the terror on terror), and Swedish military interest in Africa is by and large peacekeeping missions. The Africa programme at the Defence College aims at servicing the army with knowledge about areas in conflict and potential future conflicts where a Swedish EU or UN force could employ as a neutral (as neutral as one can be anyway) and stabilising force.
It was far from an easy task, but after looking at pros and cons I decided to accept the offer of the Swedish National Defence College and I am currently directing their Africa programme. Does this imply that I fit into the derogatory category of ‘mercenary anthropologists’?
Specific task and regional political logic should guide us in how we commit ourselves, he writes and lists some tasks that anthropoloigists should not get involved with and that is for instance direct military intelligence:
Where research material can not be published for military reasons we should certainly stay out: We must keep working with open sources. Similarly we should not be involved in intelligence work where individuals are pointed out (unless this information is already available in other open sources). There is nothing wrong in teaching militaries how to understand some of the social complexity that exists in social life instead of letting them base their actions on social stereotypes.
If social embeddedness is part of the method for a subtle social anthropology then we must ask ourselves what happens with us if we enter alongside a military machinery, such as the US or Nato forces in Iraq or Afghanistan? Is it at all possible to carry out anthropological research? What happens if the fly in the soup becomes a ‘Stealth bomber in the soup’? My argument is simply that anthropological research cannot be efficient if the researcher is brought in alongside the heavy guns of imperial machinery. An anthropologist in military fatigues cannot conduct high quality fieldwork – results become seriously flawed. In this situation what the mercenary anthropologist can give to the military power is impotent research findings; in consequence not very much to fear.
>> read the whole article over at Ruben Eberleins Africa blog (interesting comments as well)
We have discussed a lot about the strengthening ties between the military and universities in the USA and Britain, but similar things are happening in Scandinavia. And there is no public debate about it here.
One example is a research center that was founded last year by the Danish Ministry of Defence: the Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation.
It is part of the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus and focuses according to the website on radicalisation, ideologies and the international consequences of “Islamism":
The Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation will assemble anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists and theologians, who can contribute to the understanding of what happens when Islam becomes a political ideology with the objective of overthrowing Governments.
And the role of anthropologists? (source):
The anthropological part of the project will mainly focus on processes of radicalisation, on how radicalisation manifests itself gradually, through adaptation of new world views, values and lifestyle. Data will be collected through field work and surveys. The main hypothesis is that interaction between an individual in search for identity and a radicalised group play an important role in the process of radicalisation.
It is described as an independent research institute but I wonder how free it is when the establishment of the research center is part of the U.S-led “war on terror” and the premises are so clear. The project regards terrorism as a phenomenon that is mainly linked to islam. “Islamism” is according to the Minister of Defence, Søren Gade, the biggest threat to peace on earth. The Minister of Defence said that the research findings will play a central part in Denmarks policy in their so-called “war on terror".
This world view is also reflected in many project descriptions, for example “Islamic Radicalisation among Muslims in Denmark. A Policy-oriented Empirical Study” by Shahamak Rezaei and Marco Goli:
Islamism is designated as the primary enemy of the democratic world, the omnipresent threat, and when, at the time of writing, at least two major wars are being fought against Islamism (in Afghanistan and Iraq). A vast number of billions drained from the Western state funds are being invested in national and international security.
The aim of this project is to provide empirical knowledge about factors that characterise the processes of radicalisation among young Muslims, e.g. from faith to politics, from religion to ideology, from civic society to the enemy.
The project’s key empirical questions to be answered are:
1. Which processes characterise the movement from “normal", cultural or religious Muslims to radical Islamists, mainly from the group of young Danes with an immigrant background from third countries?
2. What motivates this process?
3. How can we identify radical Muslims?
Or take a look at Lene van der Aa Kühle’s project, called “The Cultic Milieu“:
The development of a European Islam has not followed the expectations of most researchers. Instead of forming and reforming in a liberal and secularized manner, radical Islam has developed as perhaps the most distinctive form of European Islam.
But the question of why some Muslims become radical has not been easy to answer. Studies propose that there is no single pattern which can explain how and why some young European Muslims become radical. Marginalization, deprivation and resentment may provide part of the explanation, but Muslims who are radicalized are often fairly well integrated and at least not any more marginalized and deprived than large part of the Muslim community.
Studies have failed to find any psychological deficiencies and while the impact of radical religious authorities seems in some cases to have had an influence, in others the process seems to be one of self-radicalization.
Then there is one project with a different perspective. Jonathan Githens-Mazer actually challenges much of what is said on the website. From his description of his project “Causes and Process of Radicalisation among Young Muslims in Leicester (UK)“:
While there exists a very real threat of violent extremism in the UK, this threat comes from an extremely small minority, and many young Muslims feel as though they are under constant surveillance and scrutiny despite rejecting any form of political violence.
These same young people also often feel as though their own individual efforts to empower communities to be resilient against violent radicalisation and violent extremism aren’t being understood and/or heralded by non-Muslim communities, politicians and the police and security services.
This project will seek to act as a corrective to this neglect of Muslim community perspectives on issues of radicalisation and violent extremism – by conducting a series of qualitative structured interviews with young Muslims, their parents, community social workers and Imams from Leicester (UK).
I’m not 100% sure what I should think of this but it reminds me of a British initiative, see my earler post Protests against British research council: “Recruits anthropologists for spying on muslims”
There are lots of papers and links on the website that might be worth a study. Among the institutions they link to, we find The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.
Maximilian Forte has written several interesting posts on his Open Anthropology blog recently, among others What are the Pentagon’s Minerva Researchers Doing? and Militarizing the Social Sciences and Humanities in Canada
Their first set of conference podcasts in 2007 was a huge success. Now, Jen Cardew and her team published a large number of new recordings from the 2009 conference of the Society of Applied Anthropology.
It seems to have a been an interesting conference. There are podcasts about the following topics: