Division between applied & academic

wilkr (wilkr@INDIANA.EDU)
Tue, 2 Nov 1993 10:08:07 -0400

Yesterday in my applied anthropology class I lectured on the
gap between applied and academic anthropology. My point was that
we have to look at the political economy of the discipline to
understand the ideology of difference here.

Sinply put, the systems that value the work of applied and academic
anthropologists are completely different. Anthropologists
who expect rewards for their work, produce the things that bring them
those rewards. In the case of academe : students and publications.
In the case of applied work: technical reports and recommendations
for action, interdisciplinary cooperation, networking...

The way to keep this division from splitting the
discipline (as happened in Sociology where Social Work became
its own entity) is to keep up dialogue, but more importantly to promote
the free movement of people back and forth between applied
and academic work. But look at the academic hiring process -
all we look at is research publications. And look at the
applied hiring process - increasingly they are concerned with
applied experience and they devalue academic credentials.

I spent 16 months doing applied work, and had a terrible time getting
back into teaching/research - everyone said that if I had stayed
doing applied work for one more year I never would have the chance again.
And now that I am back in the academic world, I find my consulting
and applied jobs trickling away. My academic employers are
not about to give me three months off to go work on an applied

My point is that we have to work on the reward structures in the
discipline and in academic departments if we are going to change things.
Yes, there ARE places that allow people to straddle both worlds to
some degree - the IDA at Binghampton, BARA at Arizona, IDS at Harvard,
but the majority of people in applied anthro do not have these kinds
of positions. USAID had a program a few years ago where they were
bringing people from academia for one year into the organization,
providing compensation to their institutions. But this freedom was
accorded only to people at a very senior level.

Anthropology departments must take the lead in finding ways to
bring practitioners into their programs, both for teaching and
interaction with colleagues.

The other thing I lectured about was the way the academic/applied
split in anthropology mirrors our own cultures general valuation
of "pure" science over applied science, easily analyzed as a classic
Mary Douglas "purity & danger" dichotomy. Architects & contractors,
physicists & engineers, etc... Ties in with why US hard science
is so great, but we can't build cars (yes...I HAVE driven a Ford
lately, and it still squeeked!).

Rick Wilk