Re: Anthros as policy wonks

Holly Swyers (nesn-info@CCE.ORG)
Fri, 10 May 1996 17:46:15 GMT


On May 10th, John McCreery wrote:
=====start quote====
Mike Cahill writes, with feeling,

"After all, it's not as if the policy field is already crawling with
anthropologists. In my experience, dealing with child welfare policy makers
and policy implementers at various levels of state and county government, I
have encountered *not one* professional anthropologist who was in a position
to make a real difference."

Is this not, dear friends, because we are trained and train our students to
be paralyzed at the thought of doing anything but protest in a high,
whiney, critical voice whatever happens to offend us?
======end quote=======

A couple of things spring to mind - now if only I can articulate them in a
way that doesn't make me look like a complete idiot...
It seems to me, based on my experience as an undergraduate, that there is a
potential double standard in anthropology departments. I was taught to think
in fairly relativist terms - that when studying other cultures, I need to be
careful about passing judgments, should not allow my cultural biases to cloud
my observational eye, should search for the underlying reasons for what I am
observing (or recognize when there may not be an underlying reason), etc.
When I was taught to reflect on my own culture - which actually happened more
in non-anthropological classes - I was taught to work from my cultural biases
and assumptions without necessarily trying to figure out where they came
from. The combination of studying anthropology and the reverse culture shock
phenomenon mentioned earlier made me revisit the way I look at my own culture
- and _that_ revisitation was paralyzing.

Part of my paralysis came from the realization that there is not really a
single culture at work in the U.S. - or if there is, it's beyond my grasp
right now. How do you impose policy across cultures (especially bearing in
mind a relativist stance)?

Another thought - what does bureaucratic culture do to people? my roommate
works for a company that hires people to stand in line at city offices (no
kidding) in order to get permission to do something. When it takes days or
months or years to do the paperwork to put a new window in a public building,
and when someone has the authority to arbitrarily tell you "no," - doesn't
this seem the recipe for complaint? I am constantly amazed at the levels of
creative insubordination I have witnessed in my life, but insubordination
comes with a risk. Just a curious question a little off the topic - in how
many cultures is there a disparity between "by the book" and "the way we
actually do things"?

I'm beginning to ramble, so I will take some time to regather my thoughts.
Thanks for listening-
"...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
-William Shakespeare in _Hamlet_ II,ii,247-48