Re: Does a BA "Make" an Anthropologist?

Patricia Sachs (sachs@NYNEXST.COM)
Tue, 21 Feb 1995 22:24:00 EST

I thought I would add to this discussion from a somewhat different
angle. I am an anthropologist working in the R&D division of a
public utility, at Nynex Science & Technology in New York. I direct
a group called "Work Systems Design" which is composed of anthropologists,
telephone veterans, computer scientists, organizational development
specialisits, and communications professionals (16 of us, both
staff and consultants plus myself). We "teach" anthropological data
collection methods to workers and managers with whom we collaborate
in the design of work systems. The job the workers and managerfs have signed
up to do is a design of work job--the work system in which they work
themselves. None of them ever decided to take a class as part of
this project, nor study anthropology. Given that obvious differenve,
we work with these folks providing guidance on data collection of
qualitative, social, informal and formal aspects of work systems.
Since much work design (or what passes for work design) is limited
to a task flow without reference to everyday work practices,
communication patterns, reward systems, and work cultures, we
are building an approach to do a better job and try to create
workplaces with *good work* that are effective.

In this setting, we have altered the relationship between the
anthropologist and the informant, shifting it to a collaborative
relationship. There is no way that anthropologists, coming in from
the outside, can understand the workplace in the same depth that
the people who work there can, and yet we bring a systematicity
and perspective that the workers and managers do not themselves
possess. They do grasp it, and together we can do a better job
than either of us could possibly do alone.

I have idly followed some of the conversations that have
been taking place over the wires about applied work and training.
We face the challenge of developing a practice that is meaningful
to the people we work with, and continually balance the issues of
developing effective practice, reflecting on it to drive research,
and tapping our research to drive our practice. That is a major

The question of *can you send anthro students out into the world
to do applied work* is a serious one, to my mind, because the
world into they go is generally facing real problems that are
hard to solve. While I think it is very important to expose students
to real situations and problems, I would hesitate to commit
them to any results in the workplace. If there is a partner
in the workplace who could or would review some of the student's
work, however, a great deal could be gained from the feedback a bout
what seems useful or not. There is a keen balancing act we need to
learn how to do better with regard to providing useful information
and investigating longer-term questions driven by the insights
from our discipine.

Patricia Sachs
Technical Director
Work Systems Design Group
Nynex Science & Technology
400 Westchester Avenue
White Plains, NY 10604