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Doug Henry and Lisa Henry

This article details the contributions of applied anthropology to public health, focusing on complementary and divergent interests, orientations, and methods. We emphasize areas where productive collaborations have occurred around convergent topics such as infectious and chronic disease, policy, interventions, and analysis of the social, political, and economic contexts that structure the conditions of health. Public health’s emphasis on community and advocacy provides a natural entry point for anthropology’s ethnographic method that emphasizes spending time with a community and understanding aspects of culture and health from its peoples’ perspectives. When a multidisciplinary team meets on a common interest, such as improving public health, everyone’s interests become better served if each discipline’s perspectives and values are recognized. Anthropologists with careers in public health can expect to engage in formative research to help develop the most appropriate health interventions, evaluate community uptake or rejection of public health initiatives, or critically examine the effects of national or global policies on local populations.


Adam Koons and Jennifer Trivedi

Disaster Anthropology uses theoretical and methodological tools from across anthropological subfields to understand the effects of disasters. Anthropologists based in academia and practice, often working collaboratively or across disciplines, seek to understand the relationships among historical, social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, and climatic factors in every type of disaster and humanitarian crisis across the globe. Practitioners often work within disaster response agencies in such functions as policy reform, program design, and disaster response management. Academics work in anthropology and interdisciplinary centers and departments, studying and teaching about disaster and anthropological issues. Disaster anthropologists link closely with broader interdisciplinary disaster studies and practices. They contribute an anthropological, holistic, and long-term perspective, including the use of ethnography and participant observation, theories, and analyses. In the early 21st century there has been considerable, and constantly increasing, recognition of disaster anthropology. This area of work includes recognition of what disaster anthropology has to contribute and its place as an appropriate field of engagement for anthropologists. This recognition has been demonstrated by the publication of numerous books, chapters, articles, special journal issues, and hundreds of conference presentations. Disaster anthropology has gained the support of the major anthropology associations such as the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA), resulting in the formation of specialized formalized bodies such as the Risk and Disaster Topical Interest Group (RDTIG) within the SfAA, and the Culture and Disaster Network (CADAN). Accordingly, there are also an increasing number of targeted university anthropology courses on disasters. Disaster anthropologists contribute to the overall understanding of how and why disasters have the impacts that they do and what the consequences of disasters can be. By examining disaster contexts, disaster anthropologists improve understanding of pre-existing circumstances that contribute to those disasters, including people’s perspectives on hazards, risks, uncertainty, inequality, and inequity. Disaster anthropologists have shown that disasters are the visible, explicit result of deeper and more complex processes. Anthropologists share this work in governmental, nongovernmental, academic, and public arenas. Disaster anthropology brings together critical lines of inquiry from the larger fields of anthropology and disaster studies, offering valuable perspectives not only on understanding but also on improving disaster conditions.


In major universities, research must be seen in many dimensions: the different disciplines, basic vs. applied, incremental vs. transformative, disciplinary or interdisciplinary, single researcher or collaborative, and much more. A fundamental difference that receives increasing attention is the distinction between incremental research vs. transformative research. Incremental research takes existing research results to the next step while transformative research opens up whole new ways of framing questions, often challenging what is “known,” and leading to new paths of knowledge creation that could lead to new academic disciplines or completely new approaches to practical issues/problems. Incremental research is critical to bring existing results to their most valuable ends. Transformative research has high impact in opening up new paths to important knowledge, but it poses daunting challenges in being unpredictable, long term, and high risk. Providing appropriate infrastructure is critical for all kinds of research (e.g., facilities, lab space, special equipment, staff support). To assure sustained access to these resources, effective planning is necessary, which poses a significant challenge given the long-term, high-risk, and unpredictable nature of transformative research. To address these planning challenges, it is necessary to explore ways of creating an environment and resources that make successful transformative research more likely to happen rather than planning for incremental research. Such strategies include supporting uniquely powerful facilities that fit with academic strengths (e.g., a strong research reactor, radio-astronomy facility). Another is to maintain a supportive environment for interdisciplinary research. Yet another strategy is to orient performance evaluation away from productivity, which is the enemy of long-term, risky, unpredictable research. And lastly, it is critical to have a positive mindset for challenges to existing knowledge.