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Applied Anthropology

Applied Anthropology

Ann M. Reed * Posted May 1998

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HISTORY

THE FUTURE

ORGANIZATIONS

REFERENCES

WEB LINKS

Definitions

The concept of “applied anthropology” dates back to at least 1906, when it was used to announce the establishment of a diploma program at Oxford, while the term “practical anthropology” was used as early as the 1860s by James Hunt, founder of the Anthropological Society of London (Eddy and Partridge 1987: 4). According to A Dictionary of the Social Sciences (1964), Radcliffe-Brown was the first to use the term, “applied anthropology”, in an article published in 1930, ‘Anthropology as Public Service and Malinowski’s Contribution to It.’ Eliot Chapple considered applied anthropology “that aspect of anthropology which deals with the description of changes in human relations and in the isolation of the principles that control them (in Sills 1968: 325). Current definitions of applied anthropology tend to revolve around the notion of solving contemporary human problems by drawing from a body of knowledge rooted in anthropology. The authors of the primary textbooks in applied anthropology each offer slight variations on this theme. According to Foster, “‘applied anthropology’ is the phrase commonly used by anthropologists to describe their professional activities in programs that have as their primary goals changes in human behavior believed to ameliorate contemporary social, economic, and technological problems, rather than the development of social and cultural theory” (1969: 54). Chambers writes, “Applied anthropologists use the knowledge, skills, and perspective of their discipline to help solve human problems and facilitate change” (1985:8). According to van Willigen, applied anthropology is “anthropology put to use”, in which specific work is defined in terms of the problem and not the discipline (1993: 7). Additionally, “practicing anthropology”, coined by Malinowski, implies applied work outside of academia (a concept from the 1970s), though it has also been used synonymously w/ “applied anthropology” (Chambers 1985: 16; Eddy and Partridge 1987: 7). “Practicing anthropology” is defined by Baba and Hill as “a profession whose fundamental commitment is the application of knowledge to solve modem human problems” (1997: 2).

History

The British were the first to formally recognize the practical value of anthropology and also the first to employ applied anthropologists (Foster 1969: 181). E.B. Tylor considered anthropology to be a “policy science” and advocated its use in improving the human condition (Sills 1968: 337). Anthropology was first used in the administration of the British colonies under the rubric of indirect rule (originated by Lord Lugard) by Northcote Thomas in Nigeria in 1908 (Foster 1969: 187). The first formal administrative applied work in the US was not until 1934 with the Indian Reorganization Act of the New Deal. Anthropologists, acting as liaisons between Native American groups and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), observed the leadership and patterns of government on reservations and made recommendations on the establishment of tribal charters and constitutions (Foster 1969: 200). The start of employment of anthropologists working in federal policy is generally credited to John Collier, Commissioner of the BIA, who argued that the specialized skills of anthropologists should be utilized in public sector programs (van Willigen 1986: 24). Applied work in archaeology was first initiated during the 1920s when government policy-makers first cooperated with archaeologists in public works projects (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 283).

During the World War II era, applied anthropologists employed under the community analysis section of the War Relocation Authority studied the problems associated with the forcible removal of West Coast Japanese to internment camps east of the Sierras (Foster 1969: 203). In 1941, the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) was established by anthropologists including Margaret Mead, Eliot Chapple, and Fred Richardson in response to “growing academic bias” within the American Anthropological Association (AAA) (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 283). Later that year, the first journal of SfAA was published. Initially called Applied Anthropology, the journal’s name was changed to Human Organization in 1949. Also in 1949, the Society for Applied Anthropology was the first organization within anthropology to create an ethics statement, which called upon the anthropologist to, “take responsibility for the effects of his recommendations, never maintaining that he is merely a technician unconcerned with the ends toward which his applied scientific skills are directed” (Mead, Chapple, and Brown vol.8 1949: 20; van Willigen 1993: 32).

The post-war period ushered in a growing demand for Ph.D.s in anthropology to fill academic positions in the burgeoning anthropology departments across the U.S. (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 284). At the same time, the U.S. government’s Point Four Program sought the skills of applied anthropologists in the development and assessment of formal technical international aid and foreign policy (Foster 1969: 205). During the late 1960s to early 1970s, the academic market could not absorb the number of Ph.D.s graduating in anthropology. As a direct result of U.S. policy in Vietnam, many anthropologists were reluctant to seek public sector employment (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 284). Despite this sentiment, increasing employment opportunities for archaeologists were available in cultural resource management as a result of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 286). The quality of archaeological work was a pressing issue of the time and such concerns led to the founding of the Society of Professional Archaeologists (SOPA) and the establishment of official criteria for trained archaeological professionals in both the public and private sector in areas such as cultural resource management (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 286).

In the 1970s, anthropology students demanded more attention to the relevance of anthropology to “pressing human needs” as well as better preparation for the uncertain job market they would soon be joining (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 284). While the academic employment sector continued to shrink, policy research employment expanded. Organizations such as USAID for the first time required that social soundness assessments be incorporated into project design. Policy in areas such as health care delivery and technology adoption was similarly evaluated in terms of impact and feasibility in social and cultural contexts. Practicing Anthropology was first published in 1978 by SfAA as an attempt to voice the concerns of practicing anthropologists, to bridge the gap between practicing and academic anthropologists, to encourage the use of anthropology in policy research and implementation, and to serve as a forum for dialogue about the present state and future of anthropology (Practicing Anthropology vol. 20 no. 1 1998: sleeve).

SOPA, the Society of Professional Anthropologists, was established in Tucson, Arizona as the first local practitioner organization (LPO) in 1974 (van Willigen 1993:35; Fiske and Chambers 1997: 285). Though SOPA disbanded within a decade, it served as the model for many other regional organizations, such as the Washington Association of Practicing Anthropologists (in D.C.)and the High Plains Society for Applied Anthropology (in Boulder, CO.), which serve as “grassroots” organizations providing members with a forum to share common concerns, to establish identity, and to network with other professionals. Roughly a dozen LPOs are currently operating in the U.S. (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 285).

In 1983, the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA) was founded specifically to address the interests of practitioners and advance the professionalization of anthropologists. (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 286). Though both SfAA and NAPA have tried to represent the interests of all the sub-fields of anthropology, both organizations are dominated by cultural anthropologists and their interests (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 286). Archaeologists have formed their own organizations, such as the Society of Professional Archaeologists (SOPA).

According to a study of Ph.D. s conducted by the AAA (1992), non-academic employment of anthropologists peaked at 51 % in 1986 (in Fiske and Chambers 1997: 303). In the early 1990s, about one in three new graduates in U.S. anthropology departments found employment outside of academia and this trend seems to be continuing (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 285). According to the AAA annual questionnaire of Ph.D.s for 1997 (responses comprising 44% of total Ph.D.s granted), 29% found non-academic employment (AAA 1997: 314). “There are more non-academic career opportunities available to Ph.D. anthropologists, currently, than there are jobs in the academy itself’ (AAA 1997: 313). According to 1997 figures, applied anthropology accounted for an average of 7% of new Ph.D.s awarded in the U.S.; with cultural at 53%, archaeology at 26%, biological / physical at 12%, and linguistic at 1% (AAA 1997: 308). However, it is important to consider that “fewer practicing anthropologists receive specific training in applied anthropology itself than in sociocultural” (AAA 1997: 308). In addition, Ph.D.s from other sub-fields may consider themselves applied anthropologists. Practicing anthropologists who held Master’s degrees were not considered in the questionnaire.

Career Opportunities / Employment
Applied anthropologists find themselves in a host of careers with multi-faceted job descriptions. Though the most frequent role is that of researcher, applied anthropologists are often also implementers, mediators, coordinators, administrators, evaluators, activists, and cultural and political “motivators” (van Willigen 1993: 4-5; Hill and Baba 1997: 90). Traditional areas of applied anthropology include health, education, and international development, whereas newer areas include legal planning, energy policy, housing, and welfare reform (Wulff and Fiske, Eds. 1987: xii). Applied anthropologists may work in a number of settings: as short or long-term consultants, full time government employees, for advocacy-oriented private businesses, in academic institutions, or as collaborators at the local level (Wulff and Fiske, Eds. 1987: xiii). Jobs available to applied anthropologists are usually also available to other social scientists: for example, consultant, social science analys t, project leader, associate coordinator, finance officer, placement specialist, associate consultant, program evaluator, educational specialist, director of research, and contracts administrator (van Willigen 1993: 5).
According to van Willigen, there are two major types of anthropological practice: intervention anthropology and policy research. Intervention anthropology combines the approaches of action anthropology (value-explicit strategy with the goals of community self determination and scientific truth), research and development anthropology (research-based participant intervention), community development (self-help group action through community participation and voluntary cooperation), advocacy anthropology (facilitating community-based action through providing data and technical assistance), cultural brokerage (intervention approach linking people of co-equal sociocultural systems through an individual), and social marketing (research-based strategy combining commercial marketing with applied social science to assist people to change to beneficial behaviors). Policy research combines the methods of social impact assessment (collecting sociocultural community data for use by development planners), evaluation research (determining the success of a project), technology development research (acting as a communication link between producers and users of new technology), and cultural resource assessment (identifying the impact of federal development on archaeological sites and historic buildings) (van Willigen 1993: xiv; van Willigen 1993: 157-207).

There are numerous examples of how each subfield is represented in applied employment. Archaeologists are found working for the National Park Service (with forest, fisheries, and parks) and in cultural resource management. Some forensic anthropologists rely on techniques of physical anthropology to assist in medical / legal cases. Linguistic anthropologists may design bilingual education programs. Medical anthropologists might be interested in how culture affects the way people seek health care. Sociocultural anthropologists could be focused domestically, on corporate work culture and the relationship between productivity and management policy, or internationally; studying the impact non-military foreign aid has on local communities (Eddy and Partridge 1987: 49).

Professional Organizations / Social and Political Aspects (See also History)

Both national organizations (e.g. SfAA, NAPA) and local practitioner organizations (e.g. WAPA, HDSfAA) serve as central forums for the socialization and professionalization of applied anthropologists. These associations provide an “access point” for the socialization of novices into niches defined by specialized content areas (van Willigen 1986: 14). Networking with other applied anthropologists sharing similar interests can foster vital connections in establishing a research agenda and planning for a future career. Professional organizations assist–along with academic programs–in advancing practice, transforming degree programs of anthropology departments, and institutionalizing a professional identity. This is enabled though the publication of newsletters and journals, the provision of official meetings, and by opportunities for networking. The ethics statements of applied organizations continue to be an important guide for involvement, recognizing legitimate interests of clients in reporting data, and addressing the needs for both truthful reporting of qualifications and continuing education towards the maintenance of skills (van Willigen 1986: 36). The establishment of a professional organization (SfAA), the publication of a scholarly journal addressing “the solution of practical problems of human relations … [through the testing of ] theories in practice”, and the precedent set by the creation of an ethics statement served as vital contributions to the institutionalization of applied anthropology as a valid sub-discipline of anthropology and forum for topics not traditionally treated in the discipline (Applied Anthropology 1941: 1 [1]: 1; Foster 1969: 205).

Identity for applied anthropologists is often rooted in the professional organizations and employment arenas to which they belong. According to Eliot Lee, a current M.A. student in applied anthropology at Northern Arizona, cultural sensitivity and advocacy of clients’ needs are practices commonly-held by applied anthropologists. Goals of those in the discipline include establishing ties, belonging to a community of applied anthropologists, and wanting to “give something back” to client communities. Key concerns of practitioners include consideration of how a project will benefit both the client community and the anthropologist, ramifications of publishing about one’s involvement, and outcomes of other anthropologists doing the same work (Email communication 1/30/98).

Future of the Field

According to the 1997-1998 AAA Guide, applied anthropology is one of the major areas of growth for the future of anthropology (308). Dissertation research in applied anthropology covers all four traditionally-designated subfields and regions all over the world. Some anthropologists, including Erve Chambers, feel that applied anthropology should comprise a fifth subfield because it has its own field of inquiry (Chambers 1987: xiii).

There is debate over whether or not the Ph.D. is necessary for employment as an applied anthropologist. Anthropologists have been compared to tribal members who demand the Ph.D. as the required rite of passage in order to claim membership (Eliot Lee, personal communication 1/30/98). However, departments across the U.S. have catered their programs to offer specialized “career-oriented” training in applied anthropology leading to a Master’s degree. The issue of whether or not there should be an accreditation procedure for applied anthropologists has been raised and debated, but there is a lack of consensus over official guidelines. At the same time, the number of M.A. degrees granted relative to Ph.D.s in anthropology has shown a significant increase since the 1970s (Fiske and Chambers 1997: 305).

Ph.D. students appear to be increasingly concerned with selecting programs which offer some applied anthropology, valuing training which will prepare them for future employment in either an academic or nonacademic sphere (AAA 1997: 313). Anthropology departments may adjust their hiring practices and course offerings as a direct result of students’ growing demand for programs which offer some applied training as well as the uncertain academic employment opportunities. At present, one quarter of all anthropology programs across the U.S. claim to offer training in applied anthropology (Wilk lecture notes 2/17/98).

At his 1995 address to the AAA in Washington, D.C., James Peacock called for anthropologists to focus more attention on practical issues of public policy and decision-making (Everett 1998: 42). Due to the apparent frustration of applied anthropologists in their lack of authority in decision-making, Margaret Everett suggests that anthropology will have more potential to shape policy if academic curricula is re-vamped at both undergraduate and graduate levels and if the goals and characteristics of Masters’ programs are given greater attention (1998: 42). The tension between academic anthropology and applied anthropology, or similarly, between research-oriented and action-oriented work should be mediated to enable anthropologists greater mobility in gaining employment as well as to facilitate dialogue between the historically-divided arenas.

References Cited

American Anthropological Association. 1997. The 1997-1998 AAA Guide. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.

American Anthropological Association. 1992. The 1992-1993 AAA Guide. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.

American Anthropological Association. 1993. Anthropologists at Work: Careers Making a Difference (film). Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.

Applied Anthropology. 1941. Statement of Purpose. Vol. 1 (1). Boston: Society for Applied Anthropology.

Baba, Marietta L. and Carole E. hill, Eds. 1997. The Global Practice of Anthropology. Williamsburg, VA: Studies in Third World Societies.

Chambers, Erve. 1987. Preface. Anthropological Praxis: Translating Knowledge Into Action. Wulff, Robert M. and Shirley J. Fiske, Eds. Boulder: Westview Press.

Chambers, Erve. 1985. Applied Anthropology: A Practical Guide. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Eddy, Elizabeth M. and William L. Partridge, Eds. 1987. Applied Anthropology in America. New York: Columbia University Press.

Everett, Margaret. 1998. “The Real World: Teaching Anthropology as if it Mattered” in Practicing Anthropology. Vol. 20 (1).

Fiske, Shirley J. and Erve Chambers. 1997. “Status and Trends: Practice and Anthropology in the United States” in The Global Practice of Anthropology. Williamsburg, VA: Studies in Third World Societies.

Foster, George M. 1969. Applied Anthropology. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.

Gould, Julius and William L. Kolb, Eds. 1964. A Dictionary of the Social Sciences. New York: The Free Press of Glencoe.

Lee, Eliot. 30 Jan. 1998. Email Communication with MA student, Northern Arizona University.

Mead, Margaret, Eliot D. Chapple, and G. Gordon Brown. 1949. Report of the Committee on Ethics. Human Organization. 8 (2): 20-2 1.

Sills, David L., Ed. 1968. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Vol. 1. New York: The Macmillan Company & The Free Press.

Society for Applied Anthropology. 1998. Practicing Anthropology. Vol. 20 (1).

van Willigen, John. 1993. Applied Anthropology: An Introduction. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

van Willigen. 1986. Applied Anthropology: An Introduction. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Wilk, Richard. 17 Feb. 1998. Applied Anthropology lecture notes. Proseminar in Social and Cultural Anthropology. Bloomington: Indiana University.

Wulff, Robert M. and Shirley J. Fiske, Eds. 1987. Anthropological Praxis: Translating Knowledge Into Action. Boulder: Westview Press.

Essential Sources in Applied Anthropology

Books:

Baba, Marietta L. and Carole E. Hill, Eds. 1997. The Global Practice of Anthropology. Williamsburg, VA: Studies in Third World Societies.

Chambers, Erve. 1985. Applied Anthropology: A Practical Guide. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Eddy, Elizabeth M. and William L. Partridge, Eds. 1987. Applied Anthropology in America. New York: Columbia University Press.

Foster, George M. 1969. Applied Anthropology. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.

Podolefsky, Aaron, and Peter J. Brown. 1997. Applying Cultural Anthropology: An Introductory Reader. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.

Society for Applied Anthropology. 1978. Practicing Anthropology: A Career-Oriented Publication for the Society for Applied Anthropology. College Park, MD: Society for Applied Anthropology.

Spicer, Edward H., Ed. 1952. Human Problems in Technological Change. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

van Willigen, John. 1980. Anthropology In Use: A Bibliographic Chronology Of the Development of Applied Anthropology. Pleasantville, NY: Redgrave Publishing.

van Willigen, John. 1991. Anthropology in Use: A Source Book on Anthropological Practice. Boulder: Westview Press.

van Willigen, John. 1993. Applied Anthropology: An Introduction. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

van Willigen, John, Barbara Rylko-Bauer, and Ann McElroy, Eds. 1989. Making Our Research Useful: Case Studies in the Utilization of Anthropological Knowledge. Boulder: Westview Press.

Wulff, Robert M. and Shirley J. Fiske, Eds. 1987. Anthropological Praxis: Translating Knowledge Into Action. Boulder: Westview Press.

Journals:

Human Organization, Society for Applied Anthropology.

Practicing Anthropology, Society for Applied Anthropology.

Anthropology Today, Royal Anthropological Institute

Websites:

SfAA, The Society for Applied Anthropology:

http://www.sfaa.net/

NAPA, The National Association for the Practice of Anthropology:

http://www.practicinganthropology.org/