Re: activism in anthropology

Nick Corduan (nickc@IQUEST.NET)
Wed, 10 Jan 1996 11:07:41 -0500

> Nick Corduan is the latest person to speak out against activism on the
> part of anthropologists. I certainly respect his opinion, but let me
> explain why I disagree.

I thank you for your respectful disagreement, but I must ask one question
which will, I'm afraid, sound disrespectful on my part. It is not intended
that way, I assure you. How can you respect my opinion without knowing what
it is?

I hate to sound defensive, but I am not at all against actrivism on the part
of anthropologists -- provided it is activism on the part of people who
happen to be anthropologists. In other words, it is the connecting of
anthropology to activism which I disagree with.

> We *do* owe something to the people we study. If we just study them, go
> away, write our dissertations, pursue an academic career, and so forth,
> with no thought to the well-being of the people we studied, we are as
> cynical and bereft of ethics as Robert Johnson, in his rants and
> tantrums, claims we are. We are just one more example of outsiders
> exploiting the weak, no better really than any other colonialists.

While I would tend to argue that studying someone and ignoring them is
actually a little better than murdering them <g>, my contention is that we
should all be concerned about such things, whether or not we are a part of
anthropology. All people should be outraged at a race-based lynching,
whether or not they are professors of the history of the civil rights movement
(if you see my point).

> Additionally, please remember that the majority of anthropologists are
> now employed in applied fields. By definition, this means that we are
> active proponents of certain programs and actions--a cursory look at
> _Practicing Anthropology_ or _Human Organization_ will confirm this

Understood, and I have some personal qualms with applied anthropology, too,
but that's another matter and one too complicate dto express in ASCII, I am

> observation. If we feel no obligation to the people to whom applied
> anthropology is directed, but are just doing it for the money, I again
> feel that we are as bad as any other commercially motivated exploiters of
> other people.--Maybe we are just as bad, and I am just too idealistic,
> but surely being an anthropologist means something more than simply
> another way to get a buck.

Hmm... I would say, yes, but what it means is to be a student of humanity. To
be an activist (which I am not using in a negative way, I might add) is
another issue, separate from anthropology or any occupation.


Nick Corduan "...there is as much dignity in tilling
at a field as in writing a poem."
( --Booker T. Washington