Re: applied anthropology

Eve Pinsker (U56728@UICVM.BITNET)
Mon, 12 Dec 1994 11:26:47 CST

On Mon, 12 Dec 1994 03:02:26 EST susan sumner said:
>I would find it interesting to know more about the positions held by the
>anthropologists on the list who work in applied anthropology . . .

I concur; please, like Doug Hanson did, post a description of what you're doing
and how you got there to the list. By applied anthro, I mean to include
people working outside academia as well as people working in that grey/ soft-
money area on university-connected applied projects (e.g. connected to social
service or public policy) or out of think tanks and research institutes. Also
people working within academia, but in primarily applied depts., who got their
positions through doing applied work and continue to get grants and support to
do so -- like David Beer in the Occupational Therapy dept. at UIC who posted a
most instructive career narrative last year.

I also agree with Doug Hanson's suggestion of increasing ties between academic
anthros and anthros working outside academia (and, like I said, the gray area
in the middle) by setting up consulting and advising connections. You start
poking around and you'll be surprisedabout who's out there -- I recently found
out and NOT from other anthropologists, from an M.D. at Cook County Hospital
(the inspiration for E.R.) who has been using him as a consultant, about a
U. of Chicago grad in cultural anthropology, Stephen Zuckerman,
who did his fieldwork in the Eastern Highlands in Papua New Guinea and is now
working around the corner from me (!) in the Ravenswood Community Hospital
Dept. of Family Practice teaching doctors how to talk with patients and
examining issues of power in doctor/patient discourse.

Another strategy that I think is useful for university-based or connected
anthropologists is to find out what applied projects, e.g. community
development, education, cultural diversity, etc. are being run out of other
depts. and offices at
your university and figure out how anthropologists can help, and sell people
on the idea of involving anthropologists. (in an offline post, Mike Saloves
h talked about problems w. self-aggrandizement, but as a discipine, I think we
could use more of it. When you "sell" yourself, sell yourself _as an
anthropologist_, not as a brilliant indiv. who came up w. these insights all on
your own. It's actually an easier sales job if you say that you are backed up
by disciplinary training, including methodological and data expertise, and then
you are benefiting other anthros and not just yourself. You're making it
easier for the next anthro that comes along, at least if you do a good job on
the project or consulting gig you sold yourself for. I know, I've seen it
happen. And the reason for doing this isn't just to perpetuate academic anthro
-- if you believe that anthropology does have insights (on holism, the value of
good ethnography, the possibilities of cultural variation in human activity,
whatever) that are lacking in other disciplines' training, and you read stuff
in the newspaper that makes you think "that writer (or that policy-maker quoted
) is missing something that most anthropologists know" -- about, say, the
importance of the cultural context of adoption or fosterage, or the assumption
s behind labeling a conflict "tribal" warfare, or that cultural diversity is
more than eating "ethnic" food . . . then there are other reasons to "sell"
anthropology than simply self-perpetuation of the institution of anthropology
departments. Which, in the current academic/economic climate, won't survive
long anyhow unless they can show (and clearly, I think we can) a reason for
being outside of supporting (as Salovesh said, for the most part, skimpily)
those currently employed in them.
Re my above suggestion of getting anthropologists involved in projects
run out of other parts of a university -- some people are going to say, no way,
others aren't going to let you on their turf. Yes, you do have to be careful
of stepping on people's toes, but sometimes, other professionals already have
their plates full or there are things they'd rather have somebody else do --
like fieldwork -- and sometimes they're genuinely stumped and actually welcome
insights from another quarter, as long as you don't come off like they're
stumped because they're stupid. (that's where the disciplinary training angle
helps again. It's not that you're*smarter*than they are, it's that you're
privy to helpful techniques and data because of your training. This fits in
with Western ideas about the compartmentalism of knowledge. You want to
attack that, wait until you already have the job).
David Beer said in his post last year that evaluation is a ripe area for
cultural anthropologists. He's right, but it's still necessary to explain to
people w. evaluation tasks how you can help. I'm (with Mike Lieber and 2
anthro student interns) going to be working on ethnographic background
documentation for the evaluation of the UIC Neighborhood Initiative next
semester, which
involves the projects various schools and depts. of UIC (University of
i Illinois at Chicago) are conducting in partnership w. community organizations
in the neighborhoods adjacent to the university. Said projects include
education, health, housing, developing jobs, etc. . . . we won't get bored.
We're getting money from the Chancellor's office for this (via special ass't to
the Chancellor currently heading the program). I went to talk to said special
ass't to the Chancellor last spring, w. the support of the chair of the UIC
anthro dept., and I showed him previous eval. work I'd done and explained what
other anthros. on the campus were doing and could contribute. As a result,
there are now 3 anthropologists on the committee created to advise on the
evaluation of the Neighborhood INitiative (me, Mike Lieber, and Cheryl
Mattingly of the Occupational Therapy dept.) This will sound immodest, but I'm
pretty sure that if I hadn't originally made the contact with the Chancellor's
ass't there would not be any. Other people are from education, psychology,
social work, urban planning . . . the usual suspects for this sort of thing.
Of course, it helped immensely that I was not only selling my own work
but that of the other anthropologists on campus; that
made it clear that we were marketing disciplinary expertise and not rogue
I went to an evaluation of neighborhood development panel the other day, pa
rt of a workshop UIC held involving social servic and community organization
people as well as academics. I made some comments from the audience (there was
one person on the panel who had had graduate training in cultural anthro, I
found out afterwards, but then switched to sociology; others were not anthros)
identifying myself as a cultural anthropologist doing evaluation; about 3-4
people (out of an audience of about 15) asked me for my card. So don't think
that people aren't willing to listen to anthropologists. I might've gotten a
little carried away at the end of my remarks --
I was commenting on the wide data base anthropologists
draw from in looking at possibilities for social organization -- I said "we
draw from a data base covering the whole planet and all of human history"
[as opposed to people who rely on survey questionnaires, but I didn't say that
explicitly, althout I was arguing against this guy who was talking about the
importanc of "quasi experimental" evaluation design and isolating a few
decontextualized variables] but hey, it seems to've worked.

Eve Pinsker