Anthropological skills and perspectives are of use in many professional contexts, and in a few industries, the value of anthropology is generally accepted: historic preservation, public health, and user experience research are prominent examples. As a result, a vibrant community of “practicing,” “professional,” “public,” and “applied” anthropologists has taken root in a variety of non-academic settings. The relationship between academia and professional practice is sometimes difficult, however, as some practitioners feel stigmatized or excluded by academics, while others inhabit professional spaces where academic anthropology is largely irrelevant. While anthropologists often speak of a “divide” or “split” between academic and practicing anthropology, this view overlooks the fact that much work in the discipline maintains a presence both inside and outside of higher education institutions. Not only do anthropologists often form collaborative partnerships among members with diverse professional commitments, but individual anthropologists may simultaneously maintain both academic and non-academic affiliations, and they may move among professional spheres over the course of their career. If we are to reach a full understanding of the profession, we must move beyond a simplistic “academic/practitioner” dualism to consider these diverse professional contexts and work-life trajectories.
Kerry B. Fosher and Eric Gauldin
Cultural anthropologists work with US military organizations in a wide variety of employment situations and roles. Some who work full-time within these organizations conduct research on personnel or teach in schools, holding roles and doing work similar to anthropologists in academia. Others are external consultants, providing advice and research in ways similar to practicing anthropology in other sectors. Others work in less common capacities, such as providing scientific advising, conducting analysis, or designing and administering programs. Most forms of engagement or employment with military organizations are controversial within the discipline of anthropology. The controversy is an important source of caution and critique. However, it sometimes masks the complexity of the work and context. Few large institutions are truly homogenous. The several million uniformed and civilian personnel who work in US military organizations have diverse, often conflicting perspectives on important issues and varying degrees of agency to effect or resist change. Consequently, the opportunities and constraints anthropologists have to affect the institution depend heavily on not only their specific roles but also on where they work within the institution and who their colleagues are. The broad range of the roles and positions anthropologists hold in military organizations, coupled with the complexity of the work context, create challenges for developing ethical and practical guidelines. Practicing anthropologists in this sector must collaborate with colleagues to interpret and meet disciplinary professional standards for ethics, transparency, and quality. The work context and controversy also create challenges for building and maintaining an identity as an anthropologist. As is the case with practicing anthropology in all sectors, anthropological work with US military organizations also has broader implications for the discipline. Connections to powerful institutions, such as corporations or government entities, always bring with them legitimate concerns about how the biases and intentions of the institutions might reshape the field. There are also significant questions about how colleagues can assess ethical decision making and evaluate the work of those employed in nontraditional roles and settings. In addition, the field continues to grapple with how anthropologists practicing in this sector can communicate most effectively what they learn about military organizations back to the discipline.