Mass communication is a constitutive part of social life and experience across the world today, affecting how people work, practice religion, engage in politics, understand others, and so on. Indeed, in many world contexts, social actors interact with mass media on a daily basis. In doing so, they not only consume or produce media artifacts but also participate in publics. A public is a particular kind of social form that coalesces as discourse circulates among, and thereby creates, audiences of mutual attention. Through participants’ ongoing orientation to and engagement with circulation of texts and images, publics produce social arenas that link disparate persons into collectivities of shared interests, issues, and convictions. Some publics are large, general, and sustained, such as those centered on national news. Other publics focus on particular topics, such as those related to religious communities, political ideologies, marked social identities, professional worlds, or even hobby and fan cultures. Others still are relatively small scale, such as those formed among the diffuse groupings of friends and acquaintances connected on social media platforms. As venues constituted by the circulation of discourse, publics have wide-ranging social and political consequences. The interests and identities that they privilege and presuppose shape broader processes of social belonging, exclusion, and contestation. Publics ground claims to political authority through assertions of the public interest. Publics also mediate contemporary consumer capitalism, as when advertising targets particular networks of public circulation. In short, publics lie at the center of contemporary social formations and political economies. The anthropology of publics and the public sphere examines how practices and structures of mass communication mediate and generate wider forms of social and political organization. How do publics normalize some identities while marginalizing others? Under what conditions can publics emerge as political actors? How do dominant public spheres shape political cultures? In taking on these questions, anthropologists attend to the regimes of publicity; that is, constellations of participation norms, social imaginaries, media infrastructures, language ideologies, and metadiscourses that organize publics. This analytic perspective illuminates both how normative publicity is reproduced and challenged and to what effect. In addition, in focusing on discursive circulation, scholarship on publics has pushed anthropologists to develop research methodologies that go beyond face-to-face, participant observation as a tool of data collection. The anthropology of publics and the public sphere has thus emerged as a theoretically generative and methodologically innovative field that endeavors to illuminate mass communication and its implications for social life. In doing so, it has generated novel theoretical understandings of mass media, power and affect, consumption and capitalism, identity, belonging and exclusion, and the bases and limits of democratic representation.
Eric Montgomery and Elizabeth Drexler
The early 21st century has seen the largest protests for social justice in the history of the U.S., including the Women’s Marches of 2016–2020 as well as the Movement for Black Lives. Meanwhile, the Farmers’ Protest in India constitutes the largest and most expensive protest in the history of the world. Cases of state and political violence and genocide around the world have been addressed in transitional justice processes and peace agreements or commemorated in various forms. And yet, even as individuals and groups mobilize for peace and justice, violence and oppression continue to proliferate around the world. What we identify as the anthropology of peace and justice encompasses the empirical analysis, theoretical engagement, and practical advocacy of anthropologists across the subfields. These anthropologists work to identify, conceptualize, and study individual and collective engagement with violence, oppression, injustice, and efforts to make change, seek justice, and establish sustainable peace. Anthropological theory and methods are well suited to capture emergent, ongoing, and innovative struggles for justice that occur in a range of social, cultural, political, and institutional realms drawing on collective cultural and symbolic actions. Today’s anthropologists engage with issues of violence, conflict, inequality, and struggles for justice and equity. We highlight theoretical, methodological, analytic, and ethnographic elements that distinguish anthropological approaches to peace and justice studies from other disciplines that examine this domain. Anthropologists engaging immigrant rights, movements for racial justice, indigenous rights, climate justice, gender equity, the Fight for $15, Occupy Wallstreet, gun violence, and issues of authoritarian rule and neoliberalism (market-oriented principles and government deregulation) in the era of globalization continue to build this vibrant and expanding area of anthropological concern.
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.
The study of temple-pyramids and other public buildings has long been an important focus in Mesoamerican archaeology. Scholars generally use the term public architecture to refer to structures for use, visitations, and gatherings beyond individual households, but the term public needs to be examined more critically. Public buildings are tied to the formation and transformation of the public sphere, a social field shaped in specific historical contexts that enables and restrains the political action of people. Traditional studies commonly viewed public buildings as reflections of society, political organization, or worldviews. Investigations before the 1960s often focused on the descriptions of public buildings or used them to define cultural areas and traditions. The rise of processual archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s encouraged researchers to examine social processes through the analysis of buildings. Some scholars assumed that the size of public buildings and the labor investments in their constructions reflected the levels of political centralization. At the same time, the symbolic aspect of buildings continued to be an important theme in Mesoamerican archaeology. The underlying assumption was that public buildings, through their shapes and orientations, or associated images and texts, represented worldviews or cosmologies. While these approaches continue to be common, various Mesoamerican archaeologists have begun to examine the recursive processes in which buildings shaped, and were shaped by, society. In this framework, some scholars focus on people’s actions and perceptions, whereas others view buildings as active agents in social processes. Sensory perceptions, particularly visibility, are examined as critical media, through which the recursive relations between buildings and people unfolded. Construction events are also viewed as critical processes, in which collective identities and social relations are created, negotiated, and transformed. The meanings of buildings still represent an important focus, but instead of searching for fixed, homogeneous meanings, the new theoretical perspectives have urged scholars to analyze how diverse groups negotiated multiple meanings. In the early 21st century, public buildings at archaeological sites continue to be a subject of negotiation among diverse groups, including the governments, descendant communities, archaeologists, developers, and the general public.
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.
Initially understood as a narrowly economic process of financial expansion, the concept of financialization has expanded to describe the increasing power of financial actors, practices, logics, and narratives in various domains of social life and the resulting transformations. Anthropologists study financialization as a polyvalent social process that works in and through social relations and encompasses financial expansion and penetration as well as particular forms of morality, governmentality, and subjectivity. They employ ethnography and relational analysis to defamiliarize finance, destabilize its dominant representations, reveal its hidden agendas, and expose the gaps between its promises and actual outcomes. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, Eastern Europe has been one of the most dynamic areas of anthropological research on financialization. The process had a distinct flavor in the region inasmuch as it was part of its wider transition from socialism to capitalism and integration into the global capitalist economy in an unequal and dependent position. Peripheral financialization in the region depended on cross-border inflows of interest-bearing capital, orchestrated mainly by banks owned by Western European banking groups. Much relevant work by anthropologists has examined the consequences of peripheral financialization for households, focusing especially on characteristic predatory lending practices such as foreign exchange (FX) lending. Another prominent line of inquiry has been concerned with forms of civil society and contestation emerging in response to financialization. These often took a more conservative or technocratic form than similar movements in the West, which reflected the specificities of financialization as well as wider political dynamics in the region. Anthropologists also studied the state as an agent and object of financialization, exploring issues such as articulation between financialization and authoritarianism or the impact of growing public debt on the ideologies of governance. A general thread in anthropological analyses has been a complex interplay between transformations induced by financialization and the manifold ways in which finance was “domesticated” by preexisting social relations and values, especially those based on kinship and gender.