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- Anthropology x
Kerry Fosher and Eric Gauldin
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.
Sociocultural 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 applied anthropology in other sectors. Still 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. The controversy is an important source of caution and critique. However, it sometimes masks the complexity of the work context. Few large institutions are truly homogenous. The several million uniformed and civilian personnel who work within 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 not only on 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 applied and practicing anthropology in all sectors, anthropological work with US military organizations 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 also are significant questions about how colleagues can assess the ethical decision making and evaluate the work of those employed in non-traditional roles and settings. Additionally, the field continues to grapple with how anthropologists practicing in this sector can most effectively communicate what they learn about military organizations back into the discipline.
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.
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.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.
As part of a belated interest in people's engagements with possible futures, the start of the 3rd millennium has witnessed the emergence of a burgeoning subfield around the anthropology of hope. Anthropologists investigate the objects of people's hopes and their attempts to fulfil them. They also reflect on hope as an affect and disposition, and as a method of knowledge production. Three interrelated but analytically distinguishable concerns can be discerned in the anthropology of hope. First, anthropologists are interested in the conditions of possibility of hoping. Such studies of the political economy of hope explore the circumstances in which hopefulness does or does not flourish, and the unequal distribution of intensities of hoping, and of particular hopes, amongst different categories of people. A second domain consists of anthropological research on the shapes that hoping takes. Studies in this phenomenological vein investigate how hopefulness and hopes appear in the world. How does hoping work over time in people's practices, reflections, and orientations, and with which intended and unintended effects? Third, we find a concern with the relationship between hoping as a subject matter of ethnographic study and anthropology as a form of knowledge production. How do scholarly understandings of hope inform the development of the discipline and, in particular, its engagement with political critique and its capacity to help imagine alternatives?
In the final decades of the 20th century, market reforms in China and India, post-socialist transitions in Eastern Europe, deindustrialization of historic centers of factory production, and the international project of neoliberalization ushered billions of people worldwide into a range of labor relations—waged and unwaged, relatively stable and wholly insecure, formal and informal, bonded and free. The heterogeneity and fragmentation of these labors require new insights about capitalism, class, politics, and culture.
One position holds that inequality on a global scale creates people and communities who are permanently outside of capitalism. Many terms catalog capitalism’s failure to incorporate vast numbers of people, and they denote the irrelevance of surplus populations for capitalist value production. “The precariat,” “bare life,” and “disposable people” are among those classifications. More optimistic thinkers see capitalism’s outside comprised of “non-capitalist” spaces, where “alternative modernities” and “ontological difference” flourish.
Marxist anthropologists counter that capitalism incorporates, marginalizes, and expels people on shifting terms over time and on a global scale. Capital and labor accumulation are always uneven, creating differences within and between working populations, especially along axes of race, ethnicity, gender, immigration status, skill, and work regime. The proletariat or any similar uniform designation does not adequately capture this broader, heterogeneous social formation. Class analysis is nonetheless critical for understanding these actually existing social relations.
In turn, this approach is criticized for too closely following surplus-value-producing labor, whereas cross-culturally, and especially in the global south, non-capitalist regimes of value persist. Disagreements between two overarching perspectives—one emphasizing political economic factors and the other culture—influence many debates within the anthropology of labor.
Scholars extend the study of labor to engage theories of social reproduction, value, and uneven and combined development. New organizations address the problem of precarious work in academia, and a network connects labor anthropology researchers.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.
Applied anthropology has become an alternative to the more academic anthropological tradition. One important area of engagement is technology and innovation. This increasing involvement has been tied to, and encouraged by, the growth of applied anthropology. Applied anthropology is just “anthropology put to use,” as John Van Willigen noted, to solve practical real-world problems by applying anthropological theory and methods. The field of applied anthropology can be categorized into two overlapping groups of practitioners: those who apply anthropology while based in academia and those who practice anthropology outside of academia. At first, applied anthropology was dominated by those within academia who applied the theory and methods of anthropology to understand real-world problems for themselves or for a client. However, by the late 1990s, the problem-solving value of applied anthropology was becoming recognized in government, as well as in the private and not-for profit sectors. With recognition, employment opportunities outside of academia expanded exponentially. More and more anthropologists began working for manufacturers and technology companies as marketing professionals, user experience researchers, and insight managers, among other job titles. Most of the first anthropologists to work in product and technology companies were accidental innovators. It was not the intention of these early applied anthropologists, such as Suchman, Squires, or Brun-Cotton, to become innovators. Rather, they were primarily interested in applying anthropological theory and methods to solve serious problems faced by the companies for which they worked. It was only in the process of finding answers that they stumbled across new ways to frame issues and uncovered insights leading to novel solutions—innovation. Over time, labels such as business anthropology, design anthropology, and digital anthropology were used to distinguish those applied anthropologists working in product and technology industries. Fundamentally, however, they were anthropologists putting anthropology to use.
By 2005, applied anthropology within industry had come of age with a definitive boom of published literature, written primarily for or about the private sector. Resisting approaches that emphasize quantitative data, these publications maintain the value of qualitative and mixed methods approached from the perspective of anthropology. Ironically, despite the growth of applied anthropologists working in the product and technology sector, most of those who are currently publishing study innovation rather than participate in innovative activities. There may be a couple of reasons for this. First, those that work in the private sector do not have the time to write, or they have signed non-disclosure agreements that do not allow them to publish. Alternatively, there is a trend in which senior applied anthropologists who formerly worked in the private sector are returning to academia where they have time to write. Whether in the private sector or, now, in academia, the innovations that have resulted from the work of these anthropologists cannot be underestimated.
Denise Lawrence Zuniga
The history of anthropological research into the reciprocal influences of human behavior and space and place in the production and use of built environments reveals a long-term growing awareness. While concern for the spatial needs of children and the elderly, special populations, and contemporary workers appear as the main focus of attention, these questions actually originated in the 19th century with the design of mental hospitals seeking to “cure” schizophrenics. Vigorous renewed interest in questions of human behavior and the built environment re-emerged in the mid-20th century when architects, landscape architects, planners, and facility managers, sometimes also trained in psychology or sociology, began investigating the kinds of designs that might be more prosthetic for people with disabilities, that could accommodate and support social interaction, or that could inhibit or protect users of dangerous public spaces.
Grounded in the research methods of ethnography, sociocultural anthropologists have traditionally described native peoples in relation to their physical environments giving rise to economic, sociological, and political systems that they invented and adapted to enable their survival. The concept of culture—a holistic understanding of integrated collectivized institutionalized systems and values—frames these investigations and findings. From multicultural and cross-cultural perspectives, anthropologists have often tested findings from more individualized American or western studies to advance a perspective that all human uses of the built and natural environments are cultural.
A variety of theories of space and place emphasize notions of practical and symbolic foundations in place making: perception, cognition, and proxemic differences in spatial recognition; structuralist; consumption; practice, and moral/ethical dimensions of engagement. In addition, the study of contemporary institutions (prisons, hospitals, and schools), work environments, recreational and outdoor spaces, and housing and neighborhood, all offer opportunities for cultural insights and design recommendations. International disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, and slum dwellings in developing countries provide further opportunities. Finally, in the world of professional design services, anthropology contributes insights into POE (Post Occupancy Evaluation), and in design, anthropology provides an emphasis on participation to validate research-based design recommendations.
Frederick (Fritz) P. Lampe
Anthropology has long been interested in religion. The emergence of modern social anthropology in the late 19th century included a fascination with the decidedly Victorian assumption that the stories people told about their origins, interactions with non-human entities, the ways these stories were ritualized, and the material goods, ideas, and places to which they assigned meaning as symbols were primitive stops along the path toward sophisticated civilization.
Shifts in the anthropology of religion include expanding the notion of religion beyond Eurocentric distinctions between the sacred and profane, real and superstitious, pure and syncretic, primitive and civilized, true and naïve. With these shifts came creative and collaborative approaches to understanding systems of meaning beyond the exotic Other. These shifts also include recognizing global movements, the ways that ideas and practices travel, their interactions with local cosmogonies, the ways that proponents of particular movements impact, influence, and shape local discourse and practice, and the creative ways that systems of meaning coalesce, intentionally or by chance—often a bit of both—into meaningful social practice.
Anthropological approaches to the domain of religion and its relevance for and within communities are of particular importance for the communities within which they interact, particularly in areas of health and healing, community development, climate change, and sustainability.
Ann T. Jordan
Business anthropology is a fast-evolving field. Social sciences such as sociology, psychology, and anthropology each have a unique set of constructs and theories for studying human behavior and each brings special insights to understanding business. Anthropologists are skilled in observing and learning from the rich interaction of social beings in their environment. With methods based in techniques for first-hand observation and interviewing of participants, and with theoretical knowledge gleaned from studying human societies across the world, anthropologists are the social scientists uniquely situated by training to analyze the social milieu and group-patterned interaction in any human setting.
Simply, business anthropology is the use of anthropological constructs, theory, and methods to study its three subfields: organizations, marketing and consumer behavior, and design. Organizational anthropology is the study of complex organizations from an anthropological perspective to solve organizational problems or better understand the nature and functioning of the organizational form within and across organizations. In marketing and consumer behavior anthropology’s methods allow one to get close to consumers and understand their needs, while anthropology’s theoretical perspectives allow one to understand how human consumption plays out on the world stage. In the design field anthropologists use their methods to observe and learn from the detailed interaction of social beings in the designed environments in which we all live. They use their theoretical perspectives to develop a holistic analysis of the rich data to develop new products and evaluate and improve existing ones whether they be refrigerators or office buildings.
The field of business anthropology is difficult to define because the moniker “business anthropology” is a misnomer. This field, as most anthropologists practice it, is not limited to work in for-profit businesses. Business anthropologists work with for-profit organizations, but also non-profit ones, government organizations and with supranational regulatory bodies. In addition to working for a business, an organizational anthropologist might be working in a non-profit hospital to improve patient safety, a design anthropologist might be working for an NGO to develop a less fuel-intensive cooking system for refugee camps and an anthropologist in marketing might be working in a government agency to develop ways to advertise new vaccines.
The Early Middle Stone Age (EMSA) is encompassed, in broad terms, by the time period between 300,000 and 130,000 years ago. This is a crucial phase in the history of Homo sapiens, as genetic and fossil evidence increasingly indicate that some of the roots of humanity may be traced to this time. The development of modern human anatomy was an extended process that involved a gradual enlargement of the brain and a change in the shape of the brain case toward its current globular form. By 300,000 years ago brains had already reached their relatively large size, but changes in the shape of the brain case evolved more gradually. The fossil evidence from South Africa from this time period is sparse, but the 260,000-year-old Homo helmei partial skull from Florisbad is especially significant in understanding modern human origins. Although the development of an extensive and detailed chronological and regional framework is still in progress, it seems that most of the earlier phases of the Middle Stone Age played out against the backdrop of the South Africa interior. This area contained many water-rich areas supporting highly productive ecosystems of open grassland and wetlands from as early as 400,000 years ago, supporting Florisian fauna. The earliest Middle Stone Age sites occur in the interior and include sites such as Haaskraal, Florisbad, Wonderwerk Cave, Cave of Hearths, Bushman Rock Shelter, and Border Cave. Lithic assemblages from a number of these sites have been described as being part of the early Pietersburg technocomplex that is characterized by a preference for fine-grained raw material such as hornfels, to produce long blades and elongated unifacial and bifacial points. In these and other early Middle Stone Age assemblages, prepared core technology was already firmly established. This technology entailed careful and extensive planning to design stone nodules in the appropriate way to knap pre-formed blanks such as blades, points, and flakes to specific parameters. Such pieces were hafted on to handles to hunt and process large bovids and other fauna. The extensive cognitive operations involved in producing EMSA lithic artifacts and hafted projectile weapons, are also evident in the pigment processing and reflect evolutionary amplification in procedural and working memory capabilities.
Chapurukha M. Kusimba
How, and in what ways, did socially complex societies emerge in Eastern and Southern Africa? Regional scholarship has shown that elite investment in long-distance trade, investment in extractive technologies, monopolization of wealth-creating resources, and warfare may have played key roles in the emergence of early states. The debate on the evolution of social complexity has focused on trade versus militarism as key sources of political power for African elites. To what extent were elite and non-elite engagement in local, regional, and trans-continental economic networks crucial to the development of social complexity in Eastern and Southern Africa? Extensive research on the Eastern Coast of Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and Southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa) has yielded adequate data to enable a discussion on the trajectories of the evolution of social complexity and the state. So far, three crucial factors—trade, investment in extractive technologies, and elite monopolization of wealth-creating resources—stand out as having coalesced to propel the region towards greater interaction and complexity. Major transformations in the form of increases in household size, clear differences in wealth and status, and settlement hierarchies occurred toward the end of the first millennium. Regional scholarship posits that elite control of internal and external trade infrastructure, restricted access to arable land, accumulation of surplus land, manipulation of religious ideology, and exploitation of ecological crises were among the major factors that contributed to the rise of the state. Could these factors have also favored investment and the use of organized violence to gain and monopolize access to fertile grazing lands, water, and mineral resources, and to provide security along the trade routes, including the Zambezi, Savi, Limpopo, Rufiji, Tana, and Webe Shebelle? Scholarship in the 21st century favors the notion that opportunistic use of ideological and ritual power enabled a small elite initially composed of elders, ritual and technical specialists, to control the regional political economy and information flows. The timing of these transformations was continent-wide and dates to the last three centuries of the first millennium. By all measures, the evidence points to wealth accumulation through trade, tribute, investment in agrarianism and pastoralism, and mining.
The Stone Age record is longer and better documented in eastern Africa. Archaeological and fossil evidence derives particularly from sites within the Rift Valley of the region, often with secure radiometric age estimates. Despite a relatively late start and disproportionate focus on earlier periods and open-air sites within the rift, scientific research into the region’s Stone Age record continues to play a central role in our understanding of human evolution.
Putative stone tools and cutmarked bones from two Late Pliocene (3.6–2.58 million years ago or Ma) contexts are exclusive to eastern Africa, as is conclusive evidence for these by 2.5 Ma. The earliest indisputable technological traces appear in the form of simple flakes and core tools as well as surface-modified bones. It is not clear what triggered this invention, or whether there was a more rudimentary precursor to it. Neither is it certain which hominin lineage started this technology, or if it hunted or only scavenged carcasses. Well-provenienced archaeological occurrences predating 2.0 Ma are limited to sites in Ethiopia and Kenya, becoming more common across eastern Africa and beyond only later.
By 1.75 Ma, lithic technologies that included heavy-duty and large cutting tools appeared in Ethiopian and Kenyan localities. Several details about this technological tradition are still inadequately understood, although its appearance in eastern Africa roughly coincides with that of Homo erectus/ergaster. By far the longest-lived Stone Age tradition, hominins with such technologies successfully inhabited high-altitude environments as early as 1.5 Ma, and expanded within and beyond Africaeven earlier. Hunting and use of fire probably started in the earlier part of this technological tradition.
Small-sized and highly diverse tool forms gradually and variably started to replace heavy-duty and large cutting tools beginning c. 300 thousand years ago (ka). Conventional wisdom associates this technological and behavioral shift with the rise of Homo sapiens, although the oldest undisputed representatives of our species continued to use large cutting tools in eastern Africa after 200 ka. In addition to small retouched tools, often on products from prepared cores, significant innovations such as hafting and ranged weaponry emerged during the length of this technological tradition. Increasingly complex sociocultural behaviors, including mortuary practices, mark the later part of this period in eastern Africa. The consolidation of such skills and behaviors, besides ecological/demographic dynamics, may have enabled the ultimately decisive Out-of-Africa dispersal of our species, from eastern Africa, 50–80 ka.
Even smaller and more diverse stone tool forms and other sociocultural innovations evolved in many areas of eastern Africa by 50 ka. Miniaturization and diversification allowed for the adoption of more complex technologies, including intentional blunting and microlithization. Some of these were used as parts of sophisticated composite implements, such as the bow and arrow. Complex behaviors involving personal ornamentation, symbolism, and rituals that resembled the lifeways of ethnographically known hunter-gatherer populations were similarly adopted. These dynamics eventually led to the development of new technological and socioeconomic systems marked by the inception of agriculture and attendant lifeways.
Deborah James and Insa Koch
Because of academic divisions of labor, anthropologists have come late to the study of the changing landscape of welfare and advice provisions in Euro-America (and beyond). However, this study is crucial to understanding contemporary economies. Attention to the increasing informalization, hybridization, plurality, and complexity of welfare-care-advice provisions in the context of 21st-century austerity in Europe challenges the widely held view of how state bureaucracies operate. The corollaries are the difficulties in accessing what help is available (hence the increasing need for advice) and an increase in grass-roots mutual aid and activism to supplement, and in some cases even supplant, state advice provisions.
Catherine Alexander and Josh Reno
The landscape of global economies of recycling has rapidly changed over the early 21st century. Increasingly, policy and economic and scholarly attention on environmental transformation have focused on this topic, in keeping with Gabrielle Hecht's characterization of the Anthropocene era as "the apotheosis of waste." The global policy environment that was ushered in by the 1992 Basel Agreement has begun to shift radically. In a post-Basel world, the geography of the global south altered sharply in 2018, with China (followed swiftly by other southeast Asian nations) now refusing to accept what had previously been categorized as recyclable plastic, and countries like Norway pushing for revisions to Basel to accommodate concerns about oceans filling up with plastic debris. This has led to reverberations from wealthy OECD countries, struggling to meet their recycling and carbon accounting quotas, and from marginal and precarious informal recyclers the world over, who can no longer collect rubbish for a guaranteed return.
In line with rising public and policy concern about wastes, there has been distinct rise in scholarly analyses of these and other developments associated with economies of recycling, focusing especially on people’s material and moral encounters with reuse. These range from nuanced investigations into how lives and materials can be re-crafted by recovering value from discards; following an object through its many social lives; or focusing on a material, such as plastic or e-waste, and tracking how waste is co-produced at each stage of creation and (re)use. Examining infrastructures is a useful method for exploring how global economies intersect with systems of waste management—not only to determine what becomes of waste, but also to discover how it is imagined as pollutant or resource, apotheosis of the Anthropocene or deliverance from it.
Jessica C. Thompson
Faunal analysis (or zooarchaeology) in African archaeology is the identification, analysis, and interpretation of the remains of animal bones recovered from archaeological sites in Africa. Its methods and theoretical underpinnings derive from archaeology, paleontology, biology, and geochemistry, and they extend across all faunal categories. Much of the work in African faunal analysis concerns large-bodied mammalian taxa, but the approach encompasses analysis of fish, shellfish, birds, reptiles, and indeed all animal remains found in association with archaeological sites. The diversity of research encompassed within faunal analysis is also especially high in Africa, where the earliest reported archaeological site is far older than the earliest archaeological site outside of Africa. The extra time depth affords the African archaeological record a wide arena of research questions that are answerable using faunal data. Major themes in African faunal analysis include the origins of unique components of human diet and hunting ability, reconstruction of the transition from hunting and gathering to food production, and analysis of the historical use of animals in trade, exchange, and social status.
Fire is one of the oldest technologies of humankind; indeed, the earliest signs of fire appeared almost two million years ago. Traces of early fire use include charcoal, baked sediments, and burnt bone, but the archaeological evidence is ambiguous due to exposure to the elements for hundreds of thousands of years. The origin of fire use is, therefore, debated. The first fire users might have been occasional or opportunistic users, harvesting flames and heat-affected food from wildfires. The art of maintaining the fire developed, and eventually, humans learned to make fire at will. Fire technology (pyrotechnology) then became a habitual part of life.
Fire provided warmth and light, which allowed people to continue activities after dark and facilitated moving into colder climates. Cooking food over or in the fire improved digestibility; over time, humans developed a culinary technology based on fire that included the use of cooking pits or earth ovens and preservation techniques such as smoking the food. Fire could even help in the procurement of food—for example, in clearing vegetation for easier hunting, to increase the fertility of the land, and to promote the growth of certain plants or to trap animals. Many materials could be transformed through fire, such as the color of ochre for use in pigments or the knapping properties of rocks for production of stone tools. Pyrotechnology ultimately became integral to other technologies, such as the production of pottery and iron tools.
Fire use also has a social component. Initially, fires for cooking and light provided a natural meeting point for people to conduct different activities, thus facilitating communication and the formation of strong social relationships. The social organization of a campsite can sometimes be interpreted from the artifact types found around a fire or in how different fires were placed. For example, access to household fires was likely restricted to certain family members, whereas communal fires allowed access for all group members. There would have been conventions governing the activities that were allowed by a household fire or a communal fire and the placement of different fire types. Furthermore, the social uses of fire included ritual and ceremonial uses, such as cleansing rituals or cremation. The fire use of a prehistoric group can, consequently, reveal information on aspects such as subsistence, social organization, and technology.
Fiona McCormack and Jacinta Forde
The anthropology of fisheries is a core focus of maritime anthropology. Scholarship in this field is multifaceted, exploring fishing ways of life, fishing knowledge, marine tenure and economies, and the specificities of how this particular watery nature is manifested in social relations and cultural systems. Fishing can be defined as a productive activity that takes place in a multidimensional space, depending more on natural or wild processes than manufactured processes. The idea of fishing being closer to nature is an analytical thread, giving the anthropology of fisheries a particular edge on the multispecies and more–than-human ethnographic turn in contemporary anthropology. Research in the anthropology of fisheries has long held the connections between fisher and fish to be of central concern. Also significant is the thesis that the construction of fisheries as a natural domain to be managed, of which fishers are atomistic extractors, is a highly politicized process involving the bioeconomic creation of fish stock and broader political economies.
The term “frontier” is generally taken to mean an area separating two countries, or a territorial limit beyond which lies wilderness. But frontier is also used symbolically to refer to the limit of knowledge and understanding of a particular area, as in “frontiers of science” or in the idea of outer space as the “final frontier.” A certain elasticity therefore inheres in the term. Scholarship on frontiers generally examines geographical and cultural “peripheries”—zones that are viewed both as political barriers and sites of contact and exchange. However, the frontier as an empirical object as well as a scholarly heuristic is intertwined with long and often violent histories of colonialism, imperialism, and resistance. Anthropological concepts of the frontier are developed in relation to neighboring terms such as border, boundary, and line and methodologies for its empirical investigation in relation to other social science disciplines like history, international relations, geography, and gender studies. Drawing on a multidisciplinary perspective, ethnographic research aims to destabilize conventional notions of the frontier as the limit of settlement or as a space of statelessness, anarchy, or disorder in order to attend to the diverse cultural and political institutions that produce distinctive ideas of sovereignty, mobility, commerce, and community in such spaces.
J.A. English-Lueck and Miriam Avery
Anticipatory anthropology can be variously seen as a mode of inquiry that occupies the space between the disciplines of applied anthropology and future studies. Philosophically, the anticipatory approach has deep roots in applied anthropology since the purpose of studying human experience is to improve the quality of human life in the future. Traditional anthropological approaches to data collection and analysis, however, have been much more focused on past life or present experiences. In the mid-20th century, anthropologists began to employ more explicit future orientations, paralleling efforts in other social sciences to make sense of the post-World War II milieu. Prominent anthropologist Margaret Mead was in the forefront of that effort. People engaged in cultural forecasting, thinking about human futures, resist making predictions. Prediction assumes that one cultural path will create the future, but anthropologists recognize human agency, and people’s ability to choose and make different futures. Academic or practicing anthropologists who actively consider future actions and consequences anticipate alternatives for various possible futures. These anthropologists map the implications of that flow logically or emotionally from observable practices.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a cohort of scholars began to develop methodologies for exploring possible cultural futures. During the same period, an interdisciplinary endeavor, the emerging field of future studies, began to produce a body of literature, a series of conferences, and international organizations. While a minority were interested in the long-term survival of the species, most futures research was focused on near or midterm futures, ranging from five to thirty years into the future. Anthropologists made unique contributions to this larger body of future studies.
Much of the literature generated in classic future studies was based on North American or European perspectives, often from an elite point of view. The logic of forecasting was largely quantitative and based on a set of assumptions that could be deeply culture bound. Anthropologists sought to decenter the presumption that the future could only be made by elite actors in developed and democratic nations. Anthropologists deliberately sought out non-elite people of diverse backgrounds, tapped into their imaginations, and delved into the choices they would make to shape the future. Research in anticipatory anthropology has been closely associated with the emerging field of user experience, as both sets of scholars seek to understand the consequences of technological change on ordinary people.
Drawing on notions from cognitive anthropology, anthropologists who employed a futures orientation posited that individual cultural actors imagined different futures and acted to create or avoid those projections. If you asked people about the futures they hoped for and the futures they feared, they would reveal the underlying affective logic that shaped those visions.
Much of the work in anticipatory anthropology has involved discerning the impacts of emerging technologies on social life. As interest in the anthropology of science and technology has grown, academic scholars and practitioners used the techniques of anticipatory anthropology to reveal both the intended and unintended consequences of technological use on social life. In particular, the interests of anticipatory anthropologists have converged with self-identified design anthropologists, since both look at present behaviors to imagine the future use of a service, product, architectural form, or landscape.
In addition, the global social problems of environmental degradation and resource use, which so captivated the imaginations of futurists in the late 20th century, continue to be of concern. Sensitively documenting and forecasting the impacts of climate change, global disruption, automation, and biotechnologies on vulnerable populations comprised some of the emerging frontiers of anticipatory anthropology that will call to a new generation of scholars and practitioners.
Peter W. Van Arsdale
Global human rights, writ large, impact the entire human condition. They span cultural, social, economic, ecological, political, and civic realms. They pertain to how people are treated, protected, and respected. They are interrelated, interdependent, and of importance to all people, yet in actuality—as they play out—do not apply equally to all people. They have not been formulated by representatives of all societies, have not been accepted by members of all nation-states, and have not—in any sense of an entirety or set—been formally approved by many important transnational rights-oriented organizations. However, as commonalities are considered in the way rights emerge and evolve, there are many. Certain principles are foundational. The processes are as essential as the products. The aspirations are as important as the achievements.
The subject of human rights can be addressed from many angles. Some authorities suggest that philosophy provides the overarching umbrella, dating from the era of John Locke (b. 1632, d. 1704). From one perspective of history, which features emergent religious interpretations, duties and obligations that are situated in various diverse cultural traditions are central. From another perspective of history, which features seminal events such as wars and genocides, the actions and reactions of various actors—from victims to warriors—become central. From the perspective of law, covenants and protocols designed to advise, protect, and aid prosecution emerge prominently. From the perspective of political science, the ways in which citizens engage the political process as rights and wrongs are debated is key. Other disciplines, from psychology to theology to journalism, also contribute significantly. By way of contrast, cultural or social anthropology takes an ethnographic perspective. The cultural context is specified, with case-specific narratives often featured. Documentation of encounters (one-to-one, group-to-group, institution-to-institution) is crucial. Past, present, and potential future issues are addressed. The actions of victims, survivors, and perpetrators, as well as service providers, advocates, and everyday citizens, stand out.
Field research, both theoretical and applied, is part and parcel of what anthropologists do. There is no single “theory of human rights.” However, there are a number of prominent paradigms, theories, and models that inform anthropological work in human rights. Of note are statist, cosmopolitan, and internationalist models, with the cosmopolitan of particular interest to anthropologists given its emphasis on individuals rather than states. Viewed differently, from the perspective of power and its abuses, the theory of structural violence is very useful. Case studies of perpetrators of abuse are usually more difficult to develop than those for victims, yet are particularly illustrative of power differentials. Ultimately, improvements in the ways in which abuses are dealt with and the ways in which the human rights regime (i.e., the systematized body of discourse, norms, resources, and protocols) ultimately can change for the better for everyday citizens, are tied to processes of socialization, internalization, and obligation. Rights are not static, but rather, very dynamic.