anthropology and activism

Joseph M. O'Neal (josephon@ADMIN.STEDWARDS.EDU)
Wed, 10 Jan 1996 13:09:42 CST

Again with all due respect, Nick, I think I did understand your
opinion--as you now write, "it is the connection of anthropology to
activism which I disagree with." My principal objection, which I don't
think you addressed in your reply, is that as anthropologists we have an
obligation to work for the good of the people we study--otherwise we are
merely exploiting them. I think this is as true of academic anthropology
as applied anthropology. The theme of the AAA meeting in 1994 was human
rights, a commitment to which necessitates activism.

I agree that "we should all be concerned about such things" as atrocities
commited against other people, but of course not everyone is. My point
was that we have a special obligation as anthropologists.

Jeez, was Robert Johnson right about anthropologists, that we are just
one more type of exploiter? Tell me it ain't so!--

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).