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Anthropology Between Academia and Practice  

Daniel Ginsberg

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.

Article

Anthropology in Consumer Research  

Maryann McCabe and Rita Denny

Consumer research, an emergent field in applied anthropology, examines relationships between producers and consumers as mediated by the marketplace. The anthropological purpose of consumer research is to discover cultural meanings of products and services in people’s everyday lives and to identify societal practices and discourses that inform and perform these meanings. While consumer research is inspired by and draws on traditional anthropological theory, it has also made theoretical contributions to anthropology, including consumption practices as crafting identity, consumption activities generating and maintaining social relationships, and the transformative power of consumer goods instigating cultural change. Anthropologists engaged in consumer research work in three primary areas: (1) market-making to assist organizations in defining the environments in which they operate; (2) branding to differentiate an organization’s products and services from those of competitors by attaching to the brand a symbolic meaning from the lived experience of consumers; and (3) innovation to guide business growth by analyzing consumer practices, as well as client and other stakeholder suppositions about the nature of the problem to be solved. Anthropologists in consumer research not only represent consumer voices but are also mediators of stakeholder interests. Change occurs at minimal scale by reframing problems for clients and affecting how clients address target audiences through marketing and advertising strategies, communications, or innovation; and at broader scale, by simultaneously contesting cultural ideologies (e.g., gender, personhood, ethnicity) perpetuated by business practices.

Article

Framing Migration  

Judith Freidenberg

The physical movement of a human being from his or her place of birth to another locality, a process that occurs over time as well as space, is usually known as migration. Together with fertility and mortality, migration helps track population changes. Migration also helps capture the political mood of a country, as migrants are perceived as either as threats or welcome additions. Anthropologists tend to think about migration from the perspective of two paradigms: immigration and mobility. For the immigration paradigm, human movement is an exceptional occurrence; for the mobility paradigm, human movement is innate to the human condition and therefore constant. Neither paradigm considers the migration experience as an interactive process that engages movers and nonmovers alike, which is the focus of a proposed third paradigm. The domains of research, practice, and policy reflect these framing paradigms, alone or in combination. By working on the interstices between these domains, anthropology could contribute to a transdisciplinary field of migration studies.

Article

Cultural Anthropological Practice in US Military Organizations  

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.

Article

Digital Garbology  

Gideon Singer

What is electronic waste? E-waste is both a by-product of manufacturing processes and the disposal of end-point devices in our digital infrastructure—the mountains of televisions, microwaves, video game consoles and handhelds, Christmas lights, and so on which are often visualized in news reports and popular media. However, digital garbology reveals an alarming assemblage of additional externalities resulting from the hyper consumption of electronic devices and even digital services requiring significant amounts of physical and social resources to operate (such as Facebook, Netflix, and bitcoin). Consequently, digital worlds are neither more nor less material than the worlds that preceded them. And yet, digital media is often perceived as immaterial because of a growing disconnect between people and the wires, power sources, and data centers that enable them to access digital worlds. Anthropologists practicing digital garbology have a critical role to play in helping to counteract the socioecological consequences of the world’s fastest growing waste stream empathetically and strategically. Waste is a quintessential anthropological topic because it crosscuts the subfields of archaeology, linguistic anthropology, biological or physical anthropology, and sociocultural anthropology. The digital is also becoming an essential topic for 21st-century anthropologists looking to interpret and design the interactions people have with social media, surveillance technology, geographic information systems (GIS), and Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART). Anthropological archaeologists have increasingly integrated archaeological and ethnographic methods to make contributions to policy, public perceptions, and behavioral interventions concerning consumption, discard, recycling, and reuse. However, it is only in the last decade, from 2010 on, that anthropology and closely related disciplines have begun paying attention to electronic waste. Digital garbology, a synthesis of digital anthropology and garbology, is a novel and essential framework for practicing anthropology in the 21st century. Digital garbology helps to identify and recommend strategies for confronting uneven, and often unjust, distributions of e-waste onto marginalized communities. Furthermore, digital garbology encourages anthropologists to support community-based actions such as organizing repair cafés, participating in local government, banding with activists to challenge multinational corporations, and drawing attention to the blind spots in environmental, economic, and social discourse concerning waste produced by digital technologies.

Article

Epigenetics and Applied Anthropology  

Charles H. Klein

Since Francis Crick and James D. Watson’s discovery of DNA in 1953, researchers, policymakers, and the general public have sought to understand the ways in which genetics shapes human lives. A milestone in these efforts was the completion of the Human Genome Project’s (HGP) sequencing of Homo sapiens’ nearly three million base pairs in 2003. Yet, despite the excitement surrounding the HGP and the discovery of the structural genetic underpinnings of several debilitating diseases, the vast majority of human health outcomes have not been linked to a single gene. Moreover, even when genes have been associated with particular diseases (e.g., breast and colon cancer), it is not well understood why certain genetically predisposed individuals become ill and others do not. Nor has the HGP’s map provided sufficient information to understand the actual functioning of the human genetic code, including the role of noncoding DNA (“junk DNA”) in regulating molecular genetic processes. In response, a growing number of scientists have shifted their attention from structural genetics to epigenetics, the study of how genes express themselves in particular situations and environments. Anthropologists play roles in these applications of epigenetics to real-world settings. Their new theoretical frameworks unsettle the nature-versus-nurture binary and support biocultural anthropological research demonstrating how race becomes biology and embodies social inequalities and health disparities across generations. Ethnographically grounded case studies further highlight the diverse epigenetic logics held by healthcare providers, researchers, and patient communities and how these translations of scientific knowledge shape medical practice and basic research. The growing field of environmental epigenetics also offers a wide range of options for students and practitioners interested in applying the anthropological toolkit in epigenetics-related work.

Article

Applied Anthropology and Public Health  

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.

Article

Anthropology of Education  

Rosemary Henze

The anthropology of education (also known as educational anthropology, pedagogical anthropology, ethnography of education, and educational ethnography) is a broad area of interest with roots and continuing connections in several major disciplines, including anthropology, linguistics, sociology, psychology, and philosophy, as well as the field of education. It emerged as a named subdiscipline in the 1950s primarily in the United States through the work of George and Louise Spindler, Margaret Mead, and others. However, work of a related nature was also taking place around the same time in Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and Britain. While research in the anthropology of education is extremely diverse, a few central aims can be articulated. One is to build our understanding of how people teach and learn and what they teach and learn across different community, cultural, national, and regional contexts. Through comparisons of educative processes, scholars often draw insights about how culture shapes educational processes, how culture is acquired by individuals and groups through such processes, as well as how people create changes in and through their educational environments. A basic premise is that formal schooling is implicated in a paradoxical relationship with social inequality. While formal education can lead to greater social justice, it can also contribute to the creation and widening of social inequality. Thus, another key aim is to describe, uncover, and expose educational processes that undermine as well as enhance greater social equality. Formal education is not the only focus; studies of informal learning in families and communities provide rich descriptions of everyday contexts in which young people develop the skills and knowledge to be productive members of their community. Often such descriptions stand in stark contrast to the formal educational system where the same learners may be perceived as deficient. Since the 1990s, the anthropology of education has witnessed a number of shifts, including a movement toward research that takes an activist and engaged stance (e.g., research that includes a goal of changing oppressive conditions by collaborating directly with stakeholders such as youth and parents). This movement entails accompanying changes in methodologies, expanding beyond primarily descriptive ethnography to include methods such as participatory action research, teacher research, policy research, and critical ethnography. A more international and less US-centric perspective is also emerging as scholars around the world recognize the importance of studying both formal and informal education through ethnographic and other qualitative methods. The field is enriched as scholars around the world contribute new perspectives forged in regions with different historical and political environments. One of the key questions asked in early 21st-century educational anthropology is, under what circumstances can formal education be a force for change to create more egalitarian and inclusive societies?

Article

Scales of Observation  

Dominique Desjeux

One of the particularities of applied anthropology is working on demand, and performing research on demand requires changing fields constantly. This diversity of fields has led to an awareness in applied anthropology that the focal point of observation varies from study to study, and that depending on the particular scope or decoupage, researchers do not see the same thing. This scales-of-observation method has four empirical principles: (a) What one observes at one scale vanishes at another scale. (b) The causes explaining actors’ behavior vary based on the scale of observation; they can stem from situational effects or meaning effects, or suggest statistical correlation. (c) Knowledge acquired at one scale is complementary and cumulative with that of other scales of observation. However, they cannot be fused into a single, global description. Indeed, although reality is continuous, observation between the “macro” and the “micro” is discontinuous. Discontinuity stems from the importance of the situational effects in anthropology and organizational sociology. These two approaches are most often centered on the interactions among actors operating under situational constraints. All generalizations are thus limited to scales pertaining to the same type of causality. (d) Part of the conflict among schools, disciplines, or professions regarding explanations for human behavior and changes within a community, an organization, a society, or an individual can most often be explained by different choices in the scale of observation. The scales-of-observation method is a mobile tool of knowledge founded on the anthropological practice of the cultural detour, in this case scientific cultures. It is an inductive epistemological theory on the variability of the explanatory causes of human behavior and falls under methodological relativism. Consequently, the scales-of-observation method is also a tool of negotiation among actors who are involved collectively in a project of social change, but with contradictory interests or objectives.

Article

Disaster Anthropology  

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.