Re: family concepts vs. development?

Adrian Tanner (atanner@MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA)
Tue, 29 Nov 1994 15:16:58 -0330

On Mon, 28 Nov 1994, SHARON REILLY wrote:

[stuff deleted]

> A very good Latin American anthropologist, Guilermo Battala,
> made the following observation re: Euro-American social
> science praxis:
> "Anthropologists who like to call themselves realists and practical
> frequently attempt to raise levels of living without touching the
> institutional structures that cause and permit the existence of large
> numbers of people who grow more impoverished day by day...
> We do not believe that our poverty has a psychological origin, nor
> that it results from the ideas and images peculiar to our cultural
> tradition, nor that our basic problems can be explained by "
> deficiencies in channels of communication;" so we do not believe
> that studies on these themes will give us the knowledge that
> we fundamentally need to face our problems." (Batalla 1966: 91-2)
An anthropologist, or anyone else calling themselves practical and
realistic, are usually prohibited by law under the terms of their visas
from participating in the politics of the host country. Thus they are not
in the same situation as they are when working in their own counties. My
own development work among aboriginal people in Canada has, for this
reason, a different character than my work in foreign countries where I
am a guest. Imagine the screams of "colonialism" if a development worker
started to reoragnize 'institutional structures'.

I am not saying you can never influence change in the institutional
structures that are the cause of underdevelopment, but this can be
construed as a potentially subversive activity, so that action must be
undertaken only on the basis of a firm partnership with the "subalterns"
[see below].

I also think that anthropologists, while somewhat guilty as charged, are
getting a bum rap here, when their performance is compared to that of
other development professionals. Most anthropologists I know form close
long-term links and commitments with village people or the urban poor. The
large international development agencies (and - anticipating flack - I
admit I am speaking only impressionistically here) have most of their
contacts and commitments with administrators and politicians, the very
people who have most of their self-interest tied up in maintaining and
perpetuating the 'institutional structures' which cause and perpetuate

> This is the view of anthropologies Others, and it seems that the
> discipline continues to ignore the reality that Ed Said has
> so aptly stated as the position of anthropology viz. subalterns:
> "The native point of view, despite the way it has often been
> portrayed, is not an ethnographic fact only, is not a hermeneutical
> construct primarily or even principally; it is in large measure a
> continuing, protracted, and sustained adversarial resistance to
> the discipline and the praxis of anthropology..." (Said 1989: 219-
> 220)
Anthropology, more than almost any discipline or form of praxis I know of
(even if we limit the discussion to anthroplogy in the developed world) is
not a unitary thing. The above statement has the ring of truth in only
some particular cases among only certain practitioners.

> citations:
> -joe reilly

Adrian Tanner