activism in anthropology

Joseph M. O'Neal (josephon@ADMIN.STEDWARDS.EDU)
Tue, 9 Jan 1996 18:39:15 CST

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.

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.

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
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.

Joseph M. O'Neal 512-448-8745
St. Edward's University FAX: 512-448-8767
Austin, TX 78704

"We [anthropologists] have been the first to insist on a number of
things: that the world does not divide into the pious and the
superstitious; that there are sculptures in jungles and paintings in
deserts; that political order is possible without centralized power and
principled justice without codified rules; that the norms of reason were
not fixed in Greece, the evolution of morality not consummated in
England. Most important, we were the first to insist that we see the
lives of others through lenses of our own grinding and that they look
back on ours through ones of their own." Clifford Geertz, Distinguished
Lecture: Anti Anti-Relativism. American Anthropologist 86:2:263-278
(June 1994).