Academia versus applied anthro?

mike salovesh (T20MXS1@NIU.BITNET)
Mon, 6 Jun 1994 00:45:00 CDT

Tonight, Madelyn Boudreaux said, in part:

====================== Excerpt follows ===========================

. . . . Now I'm wondering
if I should stay in academia at all. I have seen the stupid, nasty
politics of this world; I've seen brilliant, wonderful professors
denied tenure for no good reasons whatever; I've felt the sharp
edge of sexism, fallen on the wrong side of departmental
favoritism, and been reminded that coming out of a class with the
best grade doesn't mean that one will be considered the best
student. All this, in the space of a single year! Yes, I've had
all my undergrad delusions taken care of, and I'm not sure I want
this any more...

And yet...

====================== End of exceprt ==========================

Maddy, you have your eyes open--which puts you ahead of many people
in your position. The academic world is, and probably always has
been, red in tooth and claw--Hobbes's "warre of each against all"
is what we're about.

The difference between us and the world of industry and finance is
that we're much more given to CLAIMING that we're about serving
human needs. We even tell everybody, from entering students during
frosh orientation to people at their Ph.D. convocations, that our
part of the educational spectrum is fundamentally a moral enter-
prise. Sometimes we get so used to saying that that we forget
ourselves and act (temporarily, always) as if we believe it
ourselves. Nonetheless, some of the oldest writing about the
academic world that comes to my mind is about two guys named Rosen-
krantz and Guildenstern accepting a contract to murder their old
classmate Hamlet. That is the REAL academia.

Some of us, nonetheless, insist on swimming upstream and demanding
moral responsibility in our academic workplaces. I don't claim
sainthood, or even fundamental goodness, myself, but years ago I got
mad at the system for trying to break all its written rules to screw
me because I broke the unwritten rules and said we were doing wrong.
(Hell, we were doing downright evil, and in many ways still are.)
I decided to fight back permanently. Every once in a while I manage
to keep things honest, or help somebody else buck the system. That
carries a price: if I ever retire it will be as Associate Prof; if
I ever get a decent raise it will be because we get an across-the-
board boost instead of our usual invidious distinctions that are not
really big enough to make a difference to anybody. As a member of
the permanent opposition, I fight because "ich kan nicht anders".

As to academia's attitude about applied anthro: Look, we chose to
do the academic thing. We're not used to even thinking about there
being some other way. You see, the day-to-day compromises we have
to swallow would be so demeaning if we stopped to think about it that
we need a strong belief in the ultimate desirability of what we do,
no matter what the realities may be. We don't know--we don't WANT to
know!--anything much about any other way of doing anthro and being
anthropologists. We can't afford to let ourselves think about that
because we might then have to think about what we're doing here.

Therefore, do not send to ask academics for whom the bell tolls: it
tolls for us. If you want to know about where a lot of interesting
anthropology is going on, talk to a local practitioner network, or
join SfAA or NAPA (the National Association of Practicing Anthro-
pologists). Yes, there are plenty of anthros with consulting
businesses, and plenty more working in industry, finance, and govern-
ment. As I said a day or two ago, in the U.S. more than half of
those who consider themselves professional anthropologists work
outside of academia.

Of course, old anthropologists--my student generation among them--
came out of a world that disappeared so long ago that nobody but the
old remember it. I was born as the Great Depression was beginning;
unemployment was a way of life for 25% of the labor force. When I
was an undergraduate, us yongsters had unbearable competition from
the older and more experienced WWII veterans. Both government and
and the academic world had institutionalized the idea of preference
for veterans. By the time the Korean war made most of us of the
male persuasion into veterans ourselves, the WWII vets had the jobs
and we still had to get through grad school. And veterans preference
started phasing out.

By the end of the 60's, I started to say I felt like I had spent my
whole life racing down to the docks at Southampton to get in line
to sail on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. And I was one of the
lucky guys who made it on board!

So what do you do about it? I guess you just decide to save your own
immortal soul. After all, it was the applied anthropologists, not
the academic ones, who produced our profession's first code of ethics
and they did it almost thirty years before the AAA came up with its
statement of professional responsibilities. And it is the applied
people, not us academics, who speak to the world outside academia.

My former students work for the Bureau of the Census, or Social
Security, or the like; one manages a chain of retirement homes;
another does organizational work for Radio Free Europe; another is
in personnel management; another is a union organizer; and on and
on. And, yes, some of my old students are professors, too. What
unites the non-academics is that they got into what they're doing
because their training and experience in anthropology prepared them
for their jobs and that being anthropologists gives them unique
advantages in doing their jobs. I'm proud to have had a hand in
shaping their careers, and I'm even prouder that some of them keep in
touch with me. (The nicest thing you can do for one of your old
profs, if he or she is any good at what being a prof should be about,
is to look them up once in a while and say thanks. That makes it
all worthwhile!)

mike salovesh anthro dept northern illinois univ
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