Re: applied anthro courses

Rebecca Joseph (josephr@IIA.ORG)
Wed, 14 Dec 1994 10:48:14 -0500

On Tue, 13 Dec 1994, Eric Silverman wrote:

> If one of you applied anthro folks were to teach a course on the topic,
> what texts (or syllabus) would you suggest? I ask this as an academic
> anthro type who would like to incorporate applied material into some of
> our courses here, e.g. anthro and the legal profession. I think that this
> would be useful to our students who do not aspire to graduate school, and
> it would also alleviate much of the anxiety of our students' parents when
> they say "guess what my major is going to be?"

In a previous incarnation (more in a separate post), I taught applied
anthropology at the undergraduate and M.A. levels. Your suggestion of
"mainstreaming" applied material into existing courses is an excellent
one. One of the reasons that many faculty do not value and students do not
seriously consider applied careers is that most academic departments
approach applied anthropology as a fifth field, if at all. In fact, our
(applied anthros) work is inherently interdisciplinary. It frequently
intersects with several recognized sub-specialties of anthropology, as well.

A few suggestions:

To teach applied anthropology material effectively, it needs to be
properly contextualized, not presented as an extension or variant of
academic field research, but as a product of distinctive circumstances.
This can be difficult to do, especially if the applied context is unfamiliar.
Fortunately, in the age of e-mail and other forms of rapid masss
communication, it is not terribly difficult to identify and contact most
authors of materials that you are using and talk with them about about
various dimensions of their work. If they are local (or the department
has a travel budget), involving them directly in the course is another
possibility. Most of us are eager to work with interested faculty and

What's important to avoid is trivializing applied work as an exotic form
of anthropology. This happens all too often or I wouldn't bother
mentioning it. The look-what-interesting-things-you-can-do approach sends
the wrong message when students understand it to be disingenuous. You
have to be careful in choosing course materials, because some collections
and syllabi do just that, albeit unintentionally.

I still find group case studies to be the most effective means of conveying
the "ambiance" of applied work because they give students the opportunity to
directly engage with materials, identify problems and possible solutions,
and actively compare the differences between theory and practice.

There are a number of good publications available. Keep in mind that
many of us are too busy applying anthropology to write and publish - all
the more reason to work with us directly. NAPA's Careers in Anthropology
video also introduces applied anthropologists in a range of job

Re: anthropologists in legal settings, you might begin with NAPA Bulletin
10. Double Vision: Anthropologists at Law, available from AAA. Depending
on your interests, there is a fairly sizable literature on
anthropologists' involvement with American Indian and environmental law.
I'd be happy to make some suggestions.

Participation in this thread has been broader than I ever expected.

Best wishes to all,

Becky Joseph