Ensuring Anthropology Matters – To Others
3 Dec 2019
Would you concur that, perhaps, all is not well today with cultural/social anthropology? On the one hand, there is considerable pressure for accountability from those beyond the field who fund its research. They want to know how their money is being spent. Given most anthropology publications are hard for laymen to understand and administrators are unsure how to measure public benefit, administrators lean, perhaps by default, toward metrics for framing accountability – the more publications the better. On the other hand, the field has certain problematic dynamics. With its focus on individual, independent fieldwork and specialization, it is unclear whether the field’s constant research and publications are producing more knowledge – defined in terms of trustworthy information one can rely on above and beyond individual knowledge claims of veracity. Moreover, few talk across their specialized niches to address broader problems – within the field or within the broader society.
By repeatedly publishing material of limited value to those beyond the field, anthropologists may be perpetuating their own marginalization. In protecting their intellectual purity from others (in Mary Douglas’ terms), anthropologists are making themselves more vulnerable to the demands of those outside the field. Anthropology is losing its ability to chart its own fate.
Is there a way out? Perhaps. But it involves changing the way anthropologists operate – moving beyond the appearance of benefiting others to being able to offer something more substantive that will raise the field’s public value and thereby reduce the drumbeat for publications that few non-anthropologists read and value. That is what this talk is about: ensuring anthropology matters to others.