Oral Presentation Session - Invited Status Awarded
Invited by: National Association for the Practice of Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Policy
Secondary Theme: Ethics
One of the critical aspects of discussions about the roles of practicing and applied anthropology in the discipline is the extent of agency anthropologists truly have in non-traditional roles. The complexity of the issue of agency often is masked in overly simplified characterizations of anthropology “of vs for” organizations. This panel seeks to move beyond reductionist debates to more clearly articulate issues surrounding the agency of practicing and applied anthropologists and how their work is assessed by the discipline.
Practicing and applied anthropologists work in non-traditional positions for many reasons and in many different types of roles: researcher, teacher, administrator, scientific advisor, etc.. Some conduct research projects to assist a community or organization from a standpoint within academia without a financial relationship. Some are independent consultants, providing research and advisory services through grants and contracts. Others work in practicing or applied roles within an organization. In many, but certainly not all, cases, they perceive themselves to be working as change agents with or within organizations. Yet what practicing and applied anthropologists are seeking to accomplish, their intent, and the degree to which they are able to choose their own paths and achieve their goals, their agency, often are opaque to their colleagues.
In the less formal discourses of the discipline, in conference presentations and collegial conversations, this opacity leads to assumptions about what practicing and applied anthropologists are trying to do and their effectiveness. Characterizations of anthropologists working in non-traditional roles as being willingly complicit, naïve dupes, or profiteers are still common. Those attempting more thoughtful efforts to constructively critique these kinds of anthropological roles and work are, understandably, challenged to find an evidentiary base that is satisfactory to both traditional academic anthropologists and the practicing/applied community. Existing publication venues are not ideal for documenting intent, agency, bias, constraint, and ethical decision-making in anthropological work other than in research, leaving much practice undocumented. Archival research provides some additional options for evidence, but is difficult to extend to contemporary cases.
As more anthropological graduates take on roles that do not track perfectly with the traditional model of teaching, research, and service, we run the risk of accelerating the development of a large domain of hidden anthropological labor. If these anthropologists are to stay connected to the discipline and participate in its processes of critique and improvement, we must find ways to render such practice legible and develop approaches to evaluation and critique that are appropriate to the work.
This leaves the discipline with a complex set of questions. How do we know what a practicing or applied anthropologist is trying to accomplish and what compromises they have made, deliberately otherwise? By what standards do we judge influence and effects? What evidence is available? To what degree are anthropologists working in applied or practicing roles (or advocacy) accountable for ensuring there is evidence available to assess their efforts? Panelists will speak to these issues from a range of standpoints, including full-time employment in practicing roles, blended roles, and full-time academic roles.