Introducing Practicing Anthropology| UPSC Important Notes & Study Material

Notes By-
Sachin Gupta
Cleared UPSC 2017 with AIR-3


The block introduces the learner to what practicing anthropology is, how it
developed and the nuances followed in the practice of anthropology. The block
has been divided into three units. The first unit is called Evolution of Practicing
Anthropology. This unit looks into how anthropology and its application began
and depicts the paths it followed to exist as practicing anthropology in present
times. The unit is divided into stages providing a historical description of how
applied anthropology started off as a collector of data to know societies better
and gradually evolving into studying societies to design and implement changes.
In this description, the debates related to academic and non academic practice
and application has been looked into and how finally today terms like applied
anthropology and practicing anthropology only lie in aspects of nomenclature
but not in usage.

The second unit is called Approaches to Practicing Anthropology. This unit talks
about the gamut of research methods and theoretical knowhow used to face and
provide solutions for current social, economic, political and health concerns faced
by societies and organisations. In these methods rather than looking for what is
anthropological or what is not, the main aim is the understanding of reality and
action provided accordingly. The unit informs the learners that collection of
information, creation of policy and putting such policies and plans into action
are the core agendas of practicing anthropology. Thus the methods are designed
and manipulated in such a way to provide best solutions to communities.

In all these, ethics plays a vital role as what the practicing anthropologist does is
directly connected to a group of people or communities, and it is necessary that
the sensibilities of those researched are respected. The last and final unit of this
block thus deals with the ethical concerns associated with practicing anthropology.
The unit is called Ethical Challenges and Dilemmas in Practicing Anthropology
and the unit describes what ethics is, why it is needed, where it is needed, and
how in practicing anthropology it influences the final product of the research
conducted by an anthropologist. To highlight the importance of ethics, the unit
elucidates the use and misuse of it in the history of anthropological research. It
then progresses with a discussion of the debates in the application of ethics and
finally it advices on the kind of ethical concerns a practicing anthropologist should
bear in mind while conducting research in communities. This introductory block
on practicing anthropology will help the learners have a complete idea about the
practical usages of anthropology in everyday life and also in different careers


Evolution of Practicing UNIT 1 EVOLUTION OF PRACTICING Anthropology
1.1 Introduction
1.2 History
1.2.1 Proto-Anthropology and Use of Applied Knowledge
1.2.2 Applied Ethnology to Applied Anthropology (1860-1945)
1.2.3 Applied Anthropology to Practicing Anthropology (1945-Present)
1.3 Summary

Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
After reading this unit, you will be able to know:
Ø how anthropology has an applied or practicing aspect to it;
Ø how applied anthropology developed and passed through different stages;
Ø that finally practicing anthropology and applied anthropology are two sides
of the same coin.

The purpose for a compulsory course on practicing anthropology arose so as to
acquaint and guide you about the many vocations that anthropologists can take
in the modern world. You will be glad to know that after formal training in
anthropology, a person can apply anthropological knowledge in different arenas.
This is not something new and it started many years ago with what we call applied
anthropology. The many processes it went through, brought out a part in it, what
we today call practicing anthropology. However one should not forget the fact,
that both stemmed out from the same objective, i.e., to pragmatically use
anthropology for society.

In this lesson, we will specifically talk about how applied anthropology came
into being, what routes it followed after its inception and how it branched out as
practicing anthropology (See Box 1), while retaining its main focus. As part of
the course we plan to provide a detailed, in depth and critical evaluation of the
pragmatic applications of anthropology. It would hopefully assist you in future,
when you would want to associate yourself with government, non-government
organisations or as individual consultants and provide valuable inputs by
practicing as anthropologists in pragmatic arenas. With this as the core idea, this
lesson will be of help to you as you will, before learning about the involvement
of anthropology as a practice in diverse fields in the next blocks, equip yourself
with knowledge of its growth and progress.

Introducing Practicing
Anthropology Box 1
Practicing anthropology is the use of ideas, values, theories, skills, etc. for
practical purposes in real life. This involves the use of anthropological
perspectives in government, policy making, creation of new laws, corporate
world, education, economic development, different forms of communication, areas
of health, environment, hazards, disasters, media, new media, sports, indigenous
knowledge and much more.

1.2.1 Proto-Anthropology and Use of Applied Knowledge
The practice of using anthropological skills for useful purposes sprouted from
conducive studies conducted in the United States of America and other countries
during the World Wars. These fieldworks were done to understand human
behaviour and provide solutions to concerns and afflictions which existed in
human societies. However it was as early as the late nineteenth century that
anthropology may be said to be used for pragmatic causes. It can be noted that
the founder of the Anthropological Society of London, James Hunt, used the
phrase, “practical anthropology” in the 1860s to express the pragmatic use of
anthropological skills. But before all these took shape, we can still go back to
even older stages where events depict to prove that anthropology is fundamentally
a science concerned with practice and application. Herodotus (485- 325 BC), a
philosopher, who has influenced the beginnings of anthropology as a discipline,
is undoubtedly one of the original documenters of “cross-cultural description”.
He and his contemporaries, believed in providing information having practical
intention, through their writings. Much later, in a completely different period,
the same methodology of gathering information about a population was used to
facilitate proper administration of an area. The appointment of Francis Buchanan
in 1807 to the East India Company is a good example (Sachchidananda, 1972).

His task was to learn and document material on the ways of life in Bengal, India.
During the period of the British regime, such methods of studying the natives
became quite popular as it professed to use the knowledge for the betterment of
the local inhabitants. Establishments [like Aborigines Protection Society (1838)]
were started in London which through investigation of native culture offered
them social service (Keith 1917; Reining 1962).
Initial ethnological work like that of Father Joseph Lafitau who documented the
life of people (Mohawks) residing in New France in North America, led to a rich
collection of custom and rituals (Fenton and Moore 1974). In terms of policy
research, an early example may be that of Henry R. Schoolcraft who was assigned
by the United States government to collect data on the history, condition and
prospects of the Indian Tribes in the U.S. The material is a report from 1852 to
1857 based on which the United States government made policies for the Indians.
Though professionally Schoolcraft was an administrator, with the development
of anthropology as a discipline, he came to be known as an ethnologist as well.
In fact he is one of the initiators of the American Ethnological Society. William
Duncan, another missionary, worked significantly towards social reform of the
Indian tribes. One such program was to provide training to colonial officers by
giving them ethnological knowledge of the Indians for better administration
(Barnet 1969 [1942]). European countries like Great Britain and Netherlands
too offered such programmes in 1806 and 1819 respectively.

Evolution of Practicing
In this proto-anthropology stage of application, though we have learned about
the above examples, as anthropologists of today, there is little we can gain in
terms of methodology of real research. Their documentation was inadequate and
includes nothing to be taken as a base on how applied studies are to be conducted.
The only part which cannot be denied is its applied aspect thus proving that
anthropology has its beginnings in application and practice.
1.2.2 Applied Ethnology to Applied Anthropology (1860-1945)
Applied anthropology in its formative years as a distinct discipline started with
anthropologists as research experts offering their knowledge of findings to
government or private funded administrative initiatives. This was done for the
establishment of administration of power in colonies. But the same design of
working was used later for development programmes. Anthropologists provided
information to the government in policy making and solving of issues. Therefore
it is not surprising that it was the British, during their colonial regime, who
formally employed anthropologists for practical purposes (Forster 1969). At the
same time it was the anthropologists who also realised that in the absence of
funds, they can approach the administration/ government for money. In this way
they were able to conduct their research in the field and also provide the rulers
with the data they needed (Kuper 1983). However in the process of training
administrators in anthropological and ethnographical know how, the department
of anthropology at Oxford University was started. It was only in 1908, under the
rule of the British, that anthropologists were financially supported for proper
academic research. This research was done under Northcote Thomas in Nigeria,
and was called a government anthropologist (ibid). Even anthropologists like
A.R. Radcliffe Brown and Branislow Malinowski, in the 1920s and 1930s
gathered monetary donations from the government with a view to advertise how
pragmatic anthropological and ethnographical representation of colonies studied
can tackle issues that the colonisers encountered. But Kuper (1983) is of the
view that this was a garb really and the main intention of the anthropologists was
to assure themselves a good research funding. Nevertheless it worked on both
As far as the United States of America was concerned, it was only in 1934 that
anthropologists got involved in actual official administrative applied work with
the Indian Reorganisation Act of the New Deal and the Bureau of Indian Affairs
(BIA). Anthropologists at that time offered their service on how the government
should work on reservations for the Indians and also gave suggestions on the
creation of tribal charters and constitutions (Foster 1969). John Collier, the then
commissioner of the BIA, can be said to be the man behind involving the
anthropologists’ proficiencies in the public sector. In the 1920s when the government
got interested in projects related to the public, applied work in archaeology began
(Fiske and Chambers 1997). So from the above deliberations, we can clearly
state that applied anthropology acts as the basis for the growth of the discipline’s
set up. The term applied anthropology was used for the first time as an explanation
of an agenda in Oxford University. During this period the approach used by the
anthropologists was “value-free”. This can also be seen as the application of the
first professional code of ethics in anthropology (Mead, Chapple and Brown,
Introducing Practicing
Before World War II the debate that anthropologists put forward was that they
could not put themselves in any role other than acting as consultants for
administration. It meant compromising with the “value free” stance that they
Colonial service training like the kind introduced in the Netherlands in the late
nineteenth century by the British was also started in the then Union of South
Africa in 1905 (Forde 1953), Anglo- Egyptian Sudan in 1908 (Myres 1928),
Belgian territories in 1920 (Nicaise 1960) and Australian- mandated New Guinea
in 1925. The British employed anthropologists as consultants and they were
found in the military, foreign office, colonial office and India office, thus
increasing interest in ethnological learning. So we find considerable growth of
applied anthropology in the applied ethnology period. The literature too which
were published during this time were the result of applied research. We can cite
ethnographies written by British anthropologists on Africa and the Pacific and
American anthropologists on North and South America.
United States: In the United States, applied anthropologists employed in
abundance with the setting in of the Great Depression and the New Deal as the
need for data by the government increased manifold. But anthropological
employment reached a boom with the coming of the World War II. During all
these periods, anthropologists became involved in many problem spheres and
political backgrounds. In the process, other than focusing on the collection of
general ethnography, they also concentrated on research on nutrition, education,
migration, culture contact, etc. and many more areas. This occurred both in the
United States and in Britain.
Many applied research organisations came into existence in the United States in
the 1930s. To name a few, anthropologists were associated with the Applied
Anthropology Unit (which researched the American Indians settlement patterns,
education policy, economic development etc), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (which
researched issues related to economic and resource development), the Department
of Agriculture’s Rural Life Studies (which involved the classic study of political
economy of agribusiness in California by Walter Goldschmidt), etc.
In the early 1940s, action research methodology was employed by an
anthropologist named Laura Thompson. She used it to bring about changes in
Hopi administration. This method is still used in the study of development. During
this period, in the United States, two research committees were created for policy
research by the National Research Council. The Committee on Food Habits had
anthropologists like Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict and Rhoda Metrax and the
Committee for National Morale had anthropologists like Gregory Bateson, Elliot
Chapple, and Margaret Mead, etc.
These committees looked into the nutritional and psychological aspects of people
along with anthropological perspectives. This involvement of anthropologists
was accentuated by the Great Depression and World War II. The American
Anthropological Association made a commitment to the country by passing a
declaration which mentioned that the “specialized skill and knowledge of its
members, was at the disposal of the country for the successful prosecution of the
war” (American Anthropologist, 1943). Anthropologists were mostly involved
as liaisons with the War Relocation Authority which looked after the internment
Evolution of Practicing
camps that were built to put in prison Japanese Americans. Other initiatives that
American anthropologists of that time were involved in were the Far Eastern
Civil Affairs Training School (created by the University of Chicago) to train
officers assigned to areas recaptured from the Japanese; the Foreign Morale
Analysis Division where anthropologists gave information about the Japanese
to the Departments of War, State and the Navy. Ruth Benedict’s The
Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946) came out from this initiative. The Institute
of Social Anthropology of the Smithsonian Institute was started in 1943 which
conducted both fundamental and applied research. Early work included research
on health. This was done under the leadership of George M. Foster, a pioneer in
the establishment of present day applied medical anthropology.
Applied anthropology blossomed during this time as many employment
opportunities were made available by the federal government connected to the
Great Depression and the war. Many publications (like handbooks related to the
war) came out. The most noteworthy result of this growth of anthropologists
was the creation of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). This
development has been mentioned by Spicer as, “one of the most important events
in the development of anthropology in the twentieth century” (1976: 335)”.
When SfAA started, it concentrated on basically bringing together anthropologists
who had done considerable applied work where they propagated the use of
anthropological theories pragmatically. They published the much popular journal
Applied Anthropology which later came to be known as Human Organization.
SfAA aimed at working towards creating professional identity for anthropologists.
However if we look at the entire scenario of the roles anthropologists played,
they did not extend beyond being a policy researcher or trainer. This meant that
there was no significant change in terms of roles from the earlier applied stage.
Great Britain: In Britain, with the coming of the World War II and also substantial
changes in the colonial policies, the environment of the 1930s and 1940s saw
clear modifications. The British were being touted for not giving attention to the
economic development of the colonies. To rectify the situation, they involved
themselves in new affirmative administrative planning (Mills 2002). For this
purpose funding poured in from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie
Corporation which allowed anthropologists to study subjects in a better way.
Moreover with the introduction of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act
(CDWA) in the 1940s, proper funding was allocated by the government to conduct
social science research in the colonies. An organisation by the name of Colonial
Social Science Research (CSSRC) was established. Raymond Firth and Audrey
Richards from the London School of Economics followed the progressive agenda
of the CDWA and used scientific and pragmatic research ideas in their
investigations (ibid). The members of CSSRC, with its support, as intellectual
leaders sought to bring forth to the public social research problems in untouched
parts of Africa and thus in the process created inter-disciplinary sciences concerned
with issues of all kinds, be it social, economic or political. In the process of
researching social problems associated with being a colony, anthropology altered
such researches into creations with theoretical meaning. This increased its validity
in academy, with the creation of new anthropology departments all over Britain
(ibid). An association named Association for Social Anthropology (ASA) was
founded in 1946 as part of this progress.
Introducing Practicing
The British also employed native anthropologists in the Third World nations
including India, who were trained to study their own nations and states in order
to bring out an insider’s perspective on effects of policies. This was before the
Second World War. These applied anthropologists did pure research in the hope
that it will change the course of their nations. They hoped to build a strong new
modern nation-state. However their participation in policy creation and
reformation or pragmatic research and involvement, did not help in the
establishment of applied anthropology in academic institutions or other arenas.
This was mainly because, even though the colonisers employed native researchers/
anthropologists for local intervention, when it came to the possession of the
realms of pure anthropology, it was in the hands of the British anthropologists.
However there were clashes between the intellectuals of LSE and those at Oxford,
as the latter believed that funding of social academic research should not be
controlled by a colonial body such as CSSRC but by academics themselves.
These clashes did not find any solution and with the demise of the British colonies
by 1961, funding stopped and alternate funding agencies came by in the 1970s.
1.2.3 Applied Anthropology to Practicing Anthropology (1945
– Present)
That anthropology as an applied and a theoretical science could not be one was
emphasised by the European scholars. Instead of removing the label of being
recognised as service providers of the colonisers and arguing for other scholarly
and academic goals, they preferred to dispute the non-possibility of anthropology
existing as an applied science. So when application of anthropology in Europe
drew to closure with the colonies becoming independent near about the time
when World War II ended, in the United States, application of anthropology
expanded to international areas due to its association with different concerns
during World War II. With the United States developing as a super power in all
fields of economy, polity and military, anthropologists in America took this
opportunity to provide applied anthropology with authentic institutional
recognition. It is obvious from this that a separation between pure anthropology
and applied anthropology too occurred in America, however it did not have the
similar reasons as that seen in Europe.
The reasons for the split in America can be said to have occurred due to: 1) An
increase in the need to learn “pure” anthropology which eventually led to the
rise of theoretical anthropology; 2) Questions related to knowledge, meaning,
moral, ethical and political concerns connected to application of anthropology;
and 3) Development of organisations which allowed job opportunities for nonacademic
practitioners with anthropological skills, which also somewhat made
a faint shift in the description of what applied anthropology meant in the United
States. These new vistas did not allow pure and applied anthropology to solve
contemporary problems of society together. Thus slowly a separation between
what is called applied anthropology and practicing anthropology was emerging,
with the practicing anthropologists working purely non-academically.
After the war anthropological knowledge was mostly used in government and
private sectors. This shift was an important move towards practice from a purely
academic field. The demand for applied anthropologists kept on increasing and
led to the formation of many programmes providing new degrees and
Evolution of Practicing
organisations like Local Practitioners Organizations (LPOs), associations like
the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA) by the
American Anthropological Association, groups like the Coalition of Practicing
and Applied Anthropology Programs (COPAA), journals like Practicing
Anthropology and Napa’s bulletin series, etc. (van Willigen 2002) came up. This
also brought home the point that the creation of applied anthropologists for
external work would need anthropologists from the academic field. Hence, during
this time we find academics who also acted as applied anthropologists work
both in academics and also outside. As applied anthropology got institutionalised,
which clearly occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, the meaning of “applied” saw a
slow transformation. Initially applied anthropology tried hard to keep a connect
between theoretical and practical objectives, but this ‘new applied anthropology’
of the late 20th century was completely concentrated on utilising anthropological
knowledge in the arena of policy making. The difference between theory and
practice was however unlike what was seen in Great Britain. The distinctiveness
was in the ability of the American anthropologists to sustain a separate identity
and focus on contemporary concerns. This allowed the growth of applied
anthropology in an extraordinary way in the United States in the later part of the
20th century.
With the end of the cold war, new structures of economy developed and boundaries
were broken to create a new system in economy which is known as globalisation.
In the process both humanitarian conflicts and varied intercultural meetings took
place. Such a situation where people and states were being connected across the
world gave anthropology a fascinating area to practice its skills. Globalisation
led to the differences or distinctions between pure academic and non-academic
practices to become distorted. Now research was oriented towards more present
issues-related interdisciplinary investigations with the use of methodologies which
were both collective and participatory. This new kind of research also concentrated
working more on policy-making.
A term called ‘institutional anthropologies’ (Bennett 1996) came up in the last
part of the 20th century. These though not strictly applied in form connected the
discipline to other areas of study with professional dealings. For example, legal
anthropology, medical anthropology, organisational anthropology, etc. focus on
contemporary issues. However the institutional anthropologists do work in similar
ways used by applied anthropologists and eventually influence the distortion
between theory and pragmatics. When academically connected anthropologists
started using participatory methodology, a huge change was observed in practice.
The first person to use such participatory method in order to work for the
community was Paulo Freire from Brazil (Greenwood and Levin 1998,
Wallerstein and Duran 2003). Through his work he wanted to create a new area
to generate knowledge and in the process, break the myth that it was only academic
organisations which had the power to produce knowledge and distribute it (Elden
and Levin 1991, Taylor 1993). This method of participatory research was deemed
as a novel tactic in anthropological investigation.
Practicing anthropology at the end of the day is all about bringing changes in
people’s lives through research, formulation of plans and policies and finally
action. Anthropology as an applied science has been involved with framing of
public policies for more than a hundred years now. Anthropology and more so
Introducing Practicing
the arena of practicing anthropology is no more about just accumulating
knowledge of cultures and have an understanding of them. It is now more a
collection of knowledge and information to cater to concerns which require
immediate attention. This accumulation of knowledge and finding solutions for
communities and their transformation is to be seen as a global process as it
involves serious issues of different societies and affects all. In this setting the
students would learn skills that will allow them to use as methodologies and
techniques in future when they opt for careers other than academics. This may
include knowledge related to medicine, economy, education etc. where they can
utilise their expertise to create policies and schemes for communities. Such
situations will hopefully take away disputes related to “applied” versus “practice”.
With practicing anthropological methodologies, the use and help of
multidisciplinary subjects can also be seen to be of immense utility as concerns
and issues can only be solved by collaborating with different levels of knowledge.
To summarise, this unit is about how anthropology developed as an applied
science and in this how it followed various paths to build itself as applied
anthropology and later on as both applied and practicing anthropology, finally
blurring the differences in ideology and technique by coming out of trivial beliefs
of applied being part of academics and practicing being part of everyday pragmatic
life and issues. Both today, compliment each other and exist as one with only the
difference being in the use of nomenclature. This unit shows how applied
anthropology was initially about collecting information about societies to know
more about them and if possible to offer them assistance. Gradually it became a
way to study societies to help administrators or colonisers manage their colonies
conscientiously. This kind of collection of data, as time went by, led people with
a background in anthropology being offered jobs, like for example, after the
Great Depression and the World Wars to understand the situation of effected
people and offer them assistance by governments concerned. In this entire process,
debates and arguments started arising between academics and practitioners where,
academics considered themselves to be superior in the dissemination of
knowledge. However with changing scenarios and the need for tackling varied
global concerns in present times has made the separation between applied and
practice indistinct.
————————. 1943. “Proceedings of the American Anthropological
Association for the Year Ending December, 1942”. American Anthropologist.
45 (2) 256- 264.
Barnet, H. G. 1969 (1942). The Yakima Indians in 1942. Eugene, Oregon:
Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon.
Benedict, R. 1946. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese
Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Bennett, J. 1996. “Applied and Action Anthropology”. Current Anthropology.
36 (Supplement): S23-S53.
Evolution of Practicing
Elden, M and M. Levin. 1991. “Co-generative Learning: Bringing Participation
into Action Research”. W. F. Whyte (ed.). Participatory Action Research. Beverly
Hills, CA: Sage Publications.
Fenton, W. N. and E. L. Moore. 1974. “Introduction”. Joseph Francois Lafitau.
Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive Times.
Toronto: The Champlain Society.
Fiske, S. J. and C. Erve. 1997. “Status and Trends: Practice and Anthropology in
the United States//The Global Practice of Anthropology”. Marietta L. Baba and
Carole E. Hill (eds.). Studies in Third World Societies, No 58. Williamsburg,
VA: College of William and Mary Press.
Forde, E. D. 1953. “Applied Anthropology in Government: British Africa”. A.
L. Kroeber (ed.). Anthropology Today. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Foster, G. M. 1969. Applied Anthropology. Boston: Little Brown.
Greenwood, D. and M. Levin. 1998. Introduction to Action Research: Social
Research for Social Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Keith, A. 1917. “How Can the Institute Best Serve the Needs of Anthropology?”
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society. 47:12–30.
Kuper, A. 1983. Anthropology and Anthropologists: The Modern British School.
London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Mead, Margaret, E. D. Chapple and G. G. Brown. 1949. Report of the Committee
on Ethics. Human Organization. 8 (2):20–21.
Mills, D. 2002. “British Anthropology at the End of Empire: The Rise and Fall
of the Colonial Social Science Research Council, 1944-1962”. Revue d’Histoire
des Sciences Humaines 6:161-188.
Myres, J. L. 1928. “The Science of Man in the Service of the State”. Journal of
the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 59:19–52.
Nicaise, J. 1960. “Applied Anthropology in the Congo and Ruanda-Urandi”.
Human Organization. 19:112–117.
Reining, C. C. 1962. “A Lost Period of Applied Anthropology”. American
Anthropologist. 64:593–600.
Sachchidananda. 1972. “Planning, Development and Applied Anthropology”.
Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society. 7:11–28.
Spicer, E. H. 1976. “Beyond Analysis and Explanation? The Life and Times of
the Society for Applied Anthropology”. Human Organization. 35(4):335–343.
Taylor, P. V. 1993. The Texts of Paulo Freire. Buckingham: Open University
van Willigen, J. 2002. Applied Anthropology: An Introduction. Westport, Conn:
Bergin and Garvey.
Introducing Practicing
Wallerstein, N. and B. Duran. 2003. “The Conceptual, Historical, and Practice
Roots of Community Based Participatory Research and Related Participatory
Traditions”. H. M. Minkler and N. Wallerstein (eds.). Community Based
Participatory Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Suggested Reading
van Willigen, J. 2002. Applied Anthropology: An Introduction. Westport, Conn:
Bergin and Garvey.
Baba, M. L. and C. E. Hill. 2006. “What’s in the Name ‘Applied Anthropology’?
An Encounter with Global Practice”. Carole E. Hill and Marietta L. Baba (eds.).
The Globalization of Anthropology. NAPA Bulletin #25. Washington, DC:
American Anthropological Association.
Sample Questions
1) Discuss the development of applied anthropology from the period 1860 to
2) What role did anthropology have to play during the World Wars? Did it help
in the growth of the subject as an applied science?
3) Can anthropologists play the role of policy makers? If so, how can they
4) Is there a demarcation between applied anthropology and practicing
anthropology today? Elaborate.
Evolution of Practicing UNIT 2 APPROACHES IN PRACTICING Anthropology
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Practicing versus Applied
2.3 Methodologies in Practicing Anthropology
2.3.1 General Methodology
2.3.2 Traditional Methods
2.3.3 Participatory Approaches
2.3.4 Cultural Brokerage Approach: An Advocacy Approach
2.4 Being a Professional: How to do Practicing Anthropology?
2.5 Enlisting some Practitioners
2.6 Anthropologists at Work: Hazards
2.7 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objections
After going through this unit, you will:
Ø get an idea about applied and practical aspects of anthropological praxis;
Ø learn about the different methods applied by practicing anthropologists;
Ø learn about the different roles practicing anthropologists take as professionals;
Ø learn about the difficulties they face in their areas of work.
The first evident purpose of anthropological studies for both students and
academicians is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Hence the practical
importance of anthropological work is never mulled. Nevertheless, ever since
anthropology has existed as a research discipline, it has had a practical aspect, in
which anthropologists used their skills and knowledge to solve practical problems.
By and large, this facet of anthropology has been named practicing anthropology.
Robert Chambers says that knowledge and procedures utilised by anthropologists
are not only for the attainment of further knowledge, but they also include actions
in order to achieve some pragmatic purpose. This is understood as practicing
anthropology (1989). These disciples of anthropology are concerned with human
welfare, not with abstract knowledge alone. Although traditionally anthropology
is divided into four subfields (cultural, biological, archeology, and linguistics),
many experts see practicing/applied anthropology as a fifth subfield, reflecting a
growth of the discipline in professional realms and scholarly activity.
Introducing Practicing
Conventional anthropology and practicing anthropology differ from each other
in various aspects. Practicing anthropology applies the discipline’s knowledge
to tackle contemporary social, economic, or health problems facing communities
or organisations (Kedia and Bennet, 2005). Practitioners apply a large range of
research methods and theoretical tactics to embolden people together to focus
upon actual problems of the world and guarantee the continued existence of
groups or communities which are at stake.
Applied anthropology is anthropology put to use. It is usually observed that
whenever innovative means of using anthropology are introduced, new
nomenclatures come into practice, and they are compared to applied anthropology.
This is done so as to keep the distinctive features intact and to guard the creator’s
intellectual vision. However this does not last long (van Willigen, 2002). Early
writing about action anthropology and practicing anthropology drew this contrast
even though all were involved in the use of anthropology and the various
practitioners of different approaches shared many common interests. Differences
in the career and work setting can produce new terms for such activity. Practicing
anthropologists often conceived of themselves as being something different from
applied anthropologists. In the late 1980s, it was generally understood that applied
anthropology was conducted by anthropologists who are fundamentally academics
but offering their consulting services to help solve pragmatic issues and whereas
the term practicing anthropology was more regularly associated with people who
had training in anthropology but were employed in offices and organisations on
a steady basis.
Hence when distinction is made between practicing anthropology and applied
anthropology, employment circumstances seem to be the most important factor
in defining this contrast. Applied anthropologists are thought to be primarily
academically employed, while practicing anthropologists are those working
outside of academia or have little, if any, ties with academia. The anthropologist
who rather than working in the traditional academic roles of teaching and research
in a college or university, started working for many other kinds of organisations
(such as government agencies, non-government agencies, and firms in a wide
range of content areas) became the practitioners. The kind of work they take
may include policy researcher, evaluator, impact assessor, needs assessor, planner,
research analyst, advocate, trainer, culture broker, expert witness, public
participation specialist, administrator/manager, change agent, and therapist (van
Willigen, 2002).
While the above discussed distinction holds up imperfectly in use, there are
some very important differences in the working conditions of these two kinds of
people that lead to differences in knowledge, attitudes, and reference group. Yet
we can take a view here that these all represent kinds of applied anthropology.
To die down the distinction between the two terms practicing and applied it can
be said that practicing anthropologists are those applied anthropologists who
work in private sector.
Approaches in Practicing 2.3 METHODOLOGIES IN PRACTICING Anthropology
The methodologies of practicing anthropologists map the relationships between
information, policy, and action, and the context of application which includes
the knowledge relevant to a particular problem area and work setting. Therefore
it includes the practices associated with producing and communicating
information to solve practical problems. It can also involve various skills
associated with being an interventionist, policy researcher or a change agent. In
sum, the application methodology consists of the intellectual operations by which
practicing anthropologists produce their products and have their effects.
2.3.1 General Methodology
The general methodology of practicing anthropology can be understood in three
activities. These are obtaining information, formulating policies or plans, and
action. These three activities are interrelated. Information is obtained through
research. This information is used to formulate policy, and finally the policy
guides action. Of course, nothing is ever that neatly rational; everything is subject
to state of the problem. The relationship also operates in the opposite direction.
The needs of action and policy often result in information being collected through
research. Typically, in fact, there is a cycling back and forth through research,
policy making, and action. We can call this situation the domain of application.
i) Obtaining Information
Information is seen as the foundation of the other two activities and can
exist in a number of forms. Obtaining information is the diagnostic step of
practicing research where the situation is defined or problem is identified
through hypotheses and information is gathered using interview and focus
group. The information which we deal with can range from raw data to
general theory. Mostly, practicing anthropologists deal with information
between these two poles. Through these methods of research we are able to
move from observation, through various levels of abstraction, to more general
theoretical statements. While the goal of practicing work is not the production
of theory, the patterns of research logic are similar to those used in theoretical
ii) Formulating Policy/Plan
The second activity of practicing anthropologists is formulating/shaping
effective policy/plan on the basis of information obtained. Formulating plan
is the goal setting and analysis step which formulates a guide for action.
Therefore by policy here we mean the guides for consistent action which
can be developed in reference to a wide variety of situations. Usually the
practitioners as researchers provide information to policy makers, or as an
analyst evaluates research data for policy makers and help make/shape
effective policy. However they can also be directly involved in policy making.
iii) Action
The third activity is action. The action tool is used in decision/plan
implementing step where action is directed at some practical goal. This
includes various interventions carried out by practicing anthropologists to
Introducing Practicing
bring change. The information obtained and the plan/policy formulated
consists of a set of related ideas about role, procedures, and values. This is
finally used to guide action.
The methods described above are applicable to all branches of practicing
anthropology which use the knowledge gained from anthropological research to
solve real life problems.
2.3.2 Traditional Methods
The methodology of application in the early stage of practicing anthropology
was not well defined. Also the documentation during this period was poor.
Therefore it was difficult to develop a sense of the nature of the approaches used
by the early practitioners. In the early cases, the cross-culturally informed
administrators used their knowledge to facilitate better “culture contact.” Social
reformers, ministers, and administrators made use of the cultural knowledge to
accomplish their tasks. The practicing anthropologists of this stage worked as
training or research specialists in support of government or private foundation
supported administrative programs. It was mostly observed that the dealings of
the applied anthropologists assisted and encouraged the domination of the state
over indigenous populations under colonial conditions.
2.3.3 Participatory Approaches
As time passed the aspects of a particular applied problem with which the
practitioners dealt increased. The anthropologists became more occupied with
application and intermediation taking increasing responsibility for problem
solution. This necessitated that the roles for practicing anthropologists expanded
beyond the researcher-instructor-consultant core. With role expansion the
practicing anthropology methodology took an important shape. As a first product
the role extension brought an increased intensity of participation. In this role
anthropologists were no longer merely monitors and predictors of change but
came to actually work as participatory agents of change with the help of the
community with which they were working.
This new role involved participation and action. In this action involved roles the
anthropologists were directly engaged in change-producing behaviour with the
help of the community they were involved. This change did not result in a single
new approach, but a multiplicity of new approaches for applying anthropological
knowledge. These include action research and participatory action research,
collaborative research and cultural action. In this mode the anthropologist works
with the community to understand the conditions that produce the problems the
people face.
i) Action Research and Participatory Action Research
Action research is practice oriented, problem solving method carried out by
practitioners where action is undertaken to understand and evaluate problem
and bring change. It is therefore a reflective process of problem solving
where action is taken to initiate change. Also when individuals of an area
extend their hand to help a practicing anthropologist with a view to inquire
about and create changes in their own community, we call it, participatory
action research (PAR). Action research can be conducted in a village,
education centre (like school or college), an organisation, a neighborhood,
Approaches in Practicing
etc. All these places possess the characteristics of a community. While talking
about action research and participatory action research, it can be noted that
sometimes many scholars make a sharp distinction between the two whereas
for some the two expressions are identical. However the term action research
came first and participatory action research historically emerged from the
former. PAR methods involve the detection of problem, collection of data,
preparation of collective plan, and finally action. These are the characteristic
methods which most often transpire concurrently.
a) Identify Problems and Constraint
The PAR process begins when members of a community recognise some
problems they want to solve by bringing change. The themes for
evaluation can be identified by the practitioner himself/herself working
with key informants within the community by constructing basic
questions about community needs, regarding health, agriculture,
environment, economy, education, etc. Once the problem has been
identified, the practicing anthropologist begins communication with
community members. At this preliminary stage, the practitioner works
to gain thorough knowledge of the community in question by doing
literature review and answering a few basic questions about the context
of the community and its capacity. Anthropological research methods
(such as ethnography, participant observation, interviews, field notes,
archival analysis, and case studies) often form the basis of this initial
exploration. The practitioner can conduct formal, in-depth interviews
with community members for important information. Focus group
discussions can be also carried out to help gauge the level of interest,
resources, and constraints for various problems.
b) Obtaining Information, Formulating Policies/Plans, and Action
Data collection is an important way of obtaining information which
begins with the first conversation about the PAR. During data collection,
participants become researchers as they continue to dialogue with other
community members and begin to gain a deeper awareness of the
problem. Planning/policies emerge from the solutions proposed by
participants. Plans for action also include discussions of how much
participation is needed, how to obtain necessary resources, and plans
for continuous evaluation. Action occurs when local participants and
other collaborators begin to put the plan into action such that the social
situation improves.
To sum up, action research and participatory action research
methodologies represent a useful array of practices that address
problems in a constructive, capacity-building way. The action research
links research and action and shows the community-orientation of
practicing anthropologists.
ii) Collaboration Approach/Collaborative Research Approach
In the collaborative approach, the researchers, programme developers, and
community members are networked to do research for “joint problem solving
and positive social change” (Schensul and Schensul 1992:162).
Collaboration here means using one’s research skills to support the attainment
Introducing Practicing
of community goals. Therefore, this is a research activity where the
practitioner is involved in change producing action. The practicing
anthropologist here is not a direct change agent but an auxiliary to community
leaders. However, it is important for the success of the process that the
relationship between the community and the collaborating practitioner must
be direct. Hence in collaborative research approach practitioners are well
adapted to working in direct relationship with the community organisation
as opposed to working through an intervening agency. The role of the
collaborative practitioner is focused on the expressed needs of the
community, usually expressed through its leadership. Collaboration does
not usually call for a practicing anthropologist to be directly involved in
change-producing decision making.
a) The Components of Successful Collaboration
For collaborations to be fruitful, many finite rules are to be adhered.
The community control of research operations makes the collaboration
successful. Here the informed and involved community should
determine if a specific research project (and its related methods), is
appropriate to community needs. The research results should be
reviewed by community activists. Thus, real collaboration is only
possible where there is substantial ideological sharing and agreement
between the practitioner and the activist. The quality of collaboration
is evaluated through analysis of its positive impact on the community.
Research based on collaborative objectives should be worked out in
such a way that is beneficial to community requirements. Hence the
techniques used in such research should take time into consideration.
Both time effectiveness and the fundamental idea of collaboration are
coherently associated with the involvement of the community to the
research process. The most significant aspect of this process is the way
instruction is provided to the community members to make them
proficient investigators.
b) Steps in collaborative approach
The collaborative methodology is conceived as having a series of steps
as mentioned by Schensul (1973). They are:
1) Development of Rapport and Credibility of Applied Research
2) The Identification of Significant, Indigenous Action Programs
3) The Negotiation of Relationships (Cooperative and Reciprocal)
between the Applied Researchers and the Action People
4) Initial Participation in Specific Action Programs
5) The Identification of Specific Informational Needs of the Action
6) Meeting the Needs of Long-Range Research Plans
7) Formalised Research and Data Collection Operations
8) Analysis of Data
9) Data Dissemination, Evaluation, and Interpretation.
Approaches in Practicing
To sum up, collaborative method implies the continued involvement of the
practicing anthropologist in problem solving where achievements are
measured with reference to the community’s achievement of its goals.
iii) Cultural Action
Cultural action is a method directed at changing the relationships between
poor people and power elite. In this method, a community, through reflection
and study, can understand those factors which cause their predicament. It is
highly participatory and focused on increasing self-determination in the
context of cultural dominance and oppression. While it was developed in
the context of poor communities, the ideas have been applied to several
The basis of this technique is to have an exchange of ideas and
communication between the community members which is created with
the assistance of a mediator. The objective of this discussion is to comprehend
the issues at hand. This feat helps them understand their problem better and
in turn find better solutions.
Thus this methodology involves people defining problems based upon their view
of the world and their situation. It involves a team composed of a facilitator, who
acts only to guide the activities, a number of investigators (or educated experts)
who are typically from social sciences such as practicing anthropology or
sociology, and the local people who act as co-investigators at all stages of the
process. Such groups which are formed in this manner are called “culture circles”
or “reflection groups”. People meet and talk about their issues in these “culture
2.3.4 Cultural Brokerage Approach: An Advocacy Approach
In cultural brokerage approach practicing anthropologists often mediate between
people of different cultures. The most common is the situation where the
practitioners serve to mediate between health care providers and individuals or
communities that are ethnically distinctive. In such a scenario the practicing
anthropologist either becomes the mediator or sometimes trains others to be
one. The processes used to train include research and creation of media. Examples
of cultural brokerages can also be cited from cultural resource management in
which the practicing anthropologist connects government run bodies in the
building of a project with the affected community (Downum and Price 1999).
Cultural brokerage methodology is an intervention strategy of research, training,
and service that links persons of two or more socio-cultural systems through an
individual, with the primary goals of making community service programs more
open and responsive to the needs of the community, and of improving the
community’s access to resources. Interestingly in cultural brokerage the interventions
affect the agencies working towards change more than the communities themselves.
The cultural broker with his/her determined and deliberate atribute is an important
mediator between two halves of a bigger cultural set up.
Introducing Practicing
Practicing anthropology is seen in various categories like action anthropology,
advocacy anthropology, social impact assessment research, needs assessment,
cultural brokerage, etc. Practicing anthropologists face different working
conditions depending on the location and nature of the organisation they work
for and their role in that organisation. The combination of background,
anthropological training, and prior work/internship experience provides the skills
that assist in making the transition from either academics to practice, or from
one practice job to another. NAPA1
defines practicing anthropologists as having
keen observation and interpersonal communication skills, which is of complete
value and assists in fitting into any new work environment.
i) Looking for a Profession
For practicing anthropologist the most important step is the process of finding
a profession. Earlier the job market for practicing anthropologist was based
on demand for persons with skills in social science research methodology.
Though this is now changing, yet some job markets are not aware of
practicing anthropologists. This sometimes creates a situation where there
are opportunities for professional work but very few are available for
“practicing anthropologists only.” It is because of these conditions that the
practicing anthropologist seeking work must be ready to deal with employers
who are unfamiliar with the true capabilities of well-trained, contemporary
anthropologists, or who hold grossly inaccurate stereotypes of the practicing
anthropologist’s capabilities. The practitioner should be able to adapt to
such situations and should be able to enlighten the employer about his/her
credibility towards work and this may be displayed through an acute
presentation of one’s experiences and competencies.
Success in seeking a profession requires special preparation and tactics. At
the very onset it is important to assess who s/he is and what s/he wants to
accomplish in the future. This requires continual self-assessment. Reading
of employment advertisements in newspapers and specific profession based
newspapers helps in getting ideas about a profession to be chosen and taken
up. There are, what we call anthropological newsletters which put up a long
list of careers outside of the academia. Though government agencies have a
rather complex system of disseminating employment information, yet their
employment offices should not be overlooked.
Relatively few employers have a clear conception of what practicing
anthropologists can do. This relates to some basic conditions which practicing
anthropologists face while seeking any profession. They compete with
persons who are not trained in anthropology, for example, social workers,
sociologists, and urban planners. They are hired on the basis of what they
can do, not what they are. The practicing anthropologist needs to work to
overcome stereotyped potential employers. This will require that s/he focuses
on her/his skills in her/his presentation of self. The acquisitions of skills
which are appropriate to the goals of the potential employing organisations

Practicing Anthro

Approaches in Practicing
are very important. A skill such as doing statistical analysis using a computer
program such as SPSS can make the difference. This is why training and
the profession seeking are coincidental.
ii) Selling the Practice in the Job Market
The job market for practicing anthropologists is difficult to characterise.
The requirement to know the market is absolutely crucial in practicing
anthropology where so few employers are aware of the potentials and nature
of practicing anthropology. It will be necessary to “sell” practicing
anthropology by showing the usefulness of the skills one has learned. A
practicing anthropologist is in a better position because of her/his acquired
anthropological perspective in problem solving. The employers need
practitioners but they just do not know it yet. A practitioner must know
enough about the organisation to be able to identify its problems and to
associate her/his skills with solutions to its problems. A practitioner is not
hired on the basis of her/him being the best anthropologist. S/he is hired
when employers see her/him as a skills-possessing problem solver that relates
to the organisation’s need and is more efficient, more sensitive, more
effective, more responsive, and in the end more profitable.
iii) Practicing in Research Market
The research support obtained through grants and contracts is highly
marketable and the most important means of a practice development.
Research support for practicing anthropologist can be obtained through either
grants or contracts. Both are subject to their own special kind of procedures
and regulation. Although at times it is difficult to distinguish between grants
and contracts, it is possible to point out certain differences. Contracts provide
a means of paying for an activity which meets a specific need identified by
an agency. One finds that contracts have stricter and bounded rules than
grants. This is because, grants are regularly utilised in researcher developed
experiments and investigations aimed at positive changes. Researches with
grant allotments do not face severe updating or apprising obligations.
Funding is made available for various types of research activities. These
include basic research, applied research, and development programs which
have a research component. It is often necessary to have the support of
specialists who continually search for research opportunities, provide
preliminary support, assist in proposal preparation, and negotiate contracts
properly in order to be consistently successful. It must be made clear that all
these processes are highly competitive and that success is based upon
competence in both research and the funding process. A means to enable
procuring funds for research is by building one’s own non-profit research
organisation. Such institutions are generously supported by the government
and other mentors if they are designed keeping in mind interests of the
public. Many anthropologists by training tread this path, open such nonprofit
agencies and become successful and invaluable practitioners.
iv) Practicing as Consultant
Due to special skills of the practitioners, the special needs of the client
organisation, and the limitations of the client organisation, the practicing
anthropologists are hired as consultants. In some cases the fact that the
Introducing Practicing
practicing consultant is an outsider is essential to his or her contribution. In
other words, he or she may be hired as an outsider, and less as an expert.
When the practicing anthropologist engages a client’s problem, he or she
must to some extent conceptualise the problem in anthropological terms.
This allows the practitioner to deal with the problem, but it also causes the
need for translation of the results back to the meanings which are significant
to the client. This process can result in an effective use of the anthropologist’s
skills, and therefore, a potential for improving the efficiency of meeting
client needs.
v) Reasons for using Practitioners as Consultants
van Willigen gives the following reasons for the use of practicing
anthropologists to work as professional specialists, i.e. consultants (2002):
1) The practitioner’s knowledge of a specific region or aspect of culture
may not be available within the organisation.
2) The practitioner’s special research skills may not be available within
the organisation. These skills may be derived from the generalised pool
of social science techniques (e.g., questionnaires and survey techniques)
as well as techniques specific to anthropology (e.g., excavation,
3) The practitioner’s special problem-solving skills are not available within
the organisation. This may relate to the goal of improving the
organisation functioning of the client’s group.
4) The practitioners as consultant may possess skills which, although
available in the client organisation, are required to meet temporary shortfalls
in manpower.
5) The practitioners as consultant may be “certified” to have the skills
necessary to meet certain legal requirements which the client must
6) The practitioner’s status as a credible outsider may allow him or her to
provide a noninvolved, and therefore objective, evaluation of the client
group’s functioning.
7) The practitioner’s status as a credible outsider may be used by the client
to reduce the social cost of certain organisational or policy changes.
That is, the interventions for change may be designed by the client for
application by the consultant.
8) The practitioner’s teaching skills coupled with her/his knowledge may
allow her/him to contribute to the development of the client
organisation’s knowledge and skill levels.
9) The practitioners as consultant may provide the client with a mechanism
for increasing organisational prestige, or a “headliner” attraction for a
conference or other meeting.
Approaches in Practicing 2.5 ENLISTING SOME PRACTITIONERS Anthropology
There are two major types of anthropological practice viz. intervention
anthropology and policy research (van Willigen, 2002). Policy research combines
the methods of social impact assessment, evaluation research, and technology
development research while intervention anthropology combines the approaches
of action anthropology, research and development anthropology and advocacy
anthropology. For example practitioners with the knowledge of design
anthropometry knowledge are employed in technology development research
where they provide measurement of humans for making work stations, cockpits,
improved clothing size, machinery and other industrial design.
Typical practicing anthropology practices will consist of many roles. Sometimes
the practice title reflects the role and at other times, it does not. There is a general
tendency for the number of roles to increase. Some practitioners can be enlisted
as (van Willigen, 2002):
Policy Researcher
The role of practicing anthropologists is also to give information to policy makers
and it is in this role they become policy researchers. The given information is
vital in the making of policy decisions. The findings of ethnographic research
with the use of different core research techniques can create knowledge which
assists in better policy formulations. This is a common role of the practitioner
and can be taken up as a stage of research, from the creation of a research design
to collecting of data and its analysis. The research function is common to many
applied positions, and therefore, all potential practicing anthropologists need to
have preparation as policy researchers.
As opposed to policy researcher, the role of an evaluator is specialised. The
evaluator’s task is to utilise his/ her research expertise to decide whether a project,
strategy, or policy is operating and functioning successfully or not. Sometimes
an evaluation is also known as programme monitoring. Thus a practicing
anthropologist as an evaluator is assigned to impartially ascertain the success or
failure of a project or plan.
Impact Assessor
The role assigned to an impact assessor is also specific and is part of the policy
research role. S/he has to envisage the results of any scheme, project, policy or
programme. A practicing anthropologist in the position of an impact assessor
endeavours to ascertain the consequences of any strategic project designed by
the government for the public. This data related to the outcomes is aimed at
guiding the strategy or plan of a programme/project. The impact assessor hence
offers different substitute strategies so that a programme or a project can work
better. For example the construction of larger systems (like airports, highways,
dams, etc.) creates havoc in the entire population surviving in these planned
areas. It is here that the impact assessor plays an important role of providing a
structure which is beneficial and supportive of the inhabitants long with the
success of the proposed constructions. This in fact briefly also defines what
social impact assessment is all about. Anthropologists are trained to understand
communities always from their perspectives, and thus as practitioners they can
enact a pivotal role here.
Introducing Practicing
Needs Assessor
Another specific policy research role of the practicing anthropologist is the role
of the need assessor. In this, the need assessor collects information on public
programme needs expected in the designing of programmes related to social,
economic, educational and health concerns. The practicing anthropologist as a
need assessor fundamentally evaluates and participates in the administration of
designing and reasoning of any programme or project.
The role of a planner is not very usual. However if a practicing anthropologist
does get an opportunity to work as a planner, s/he contributes to the framing and
modeling of projects, policies and programmes to be taken up in the future. This
also includes among other things collection of information and research
investigation which assists the decision makers.
Research Analyst
This role is a common one and decision makers like policy makers, planners,
programme supervisors, etc. use practicing anthropologists for this. Here the
research analysts have to infer the outcomes of research and help in creating new
Practicing anthropologists as advocates perform complex role which involves
acting in support of community groups and individuals. It almost always involves
direct political action consistent with the community’s self-defined goals.
Advocacy may be part of the other roles. This is not a common role.
A practicing anthropologist as a trainer develops training materials for different
client groups and content areas. Often this involves preparation of technicians
for cross-cultural experiences. This is a role with a long history in practicing
Culture Broker
Practicing anthropologists as culture brokers serve as links between programmes
and ethnic (and local) communities. The role appears especially useful in reference
to health care delivery and the provision of social services. Many other roles
have culture broker functions attached to them. Brokerage is always a two-way
communication role.
Public Participation Specialist
This role is a recent one and has come as a reaction to the requirement of public
involvement and contribution in the process of planning. It sounds similar to
that of the concept of culture brokerage however here the participation of the
specialist with the public is on a case to case basis instead of being uninterrupted,
as is the case with the former. As a public participation specialist the practicing
anthropologist organises public education using the media and public meetings.
The amount of anthropological involvement in this role is increasing.
Approaches in Practicing
Practicing anthropologists may also take up or be asked to take up administrative
duties in programmes and projects for which they provide investigative and
research support. This kind of participation does not arise at the beginning. It is
only when their role of researcher and analyser is appreciated, are they offered
the jobs of an overseer. Though such positions were not so popular among
anthropologists in the past, these last few decades have seen an increase in
anthropologists being approached for such posts. The anthropologists do play
influential roles here and it is their responsibility in such arenas to work for the
betterment of communities and people.
Anthropological knowledge and know-how is used as a therapeutic means by
practicing anthropologists to converse and connect with people troubled by myriad
issues. When anthropologists act as therapists, they are referred to as “clinical
When anthropologists move out of hard core academics and move to professions
outside it, to practically use their knowledge, they face many unexpected hurdles.
And the problems may not be the same for everyone. In some cases, discrepancies
arise when needing to collaborate and work with people from other disciplines
and fields. In other cases research perspectives can clash. If in one situation
quantitative methods get an upper hand, in others it may be the qualitative method.
At times ethical and moral confrontations are to be dealt with, for example giving
out particular knowledge to clients. Again in other situations, practicing
anthropologists may need to repeatedly market their proficiency of the role of a
consultant or contractor to the organisations’ employers who are not acquainted
with anthropology or its methods. Practicing anthropologists may also find
themselves in jobs which involve a good amount of risk and threat.
Anthropologists studying and researching issues like use of drugs or gangs or
racial conflicts or inconsistencies in the military, etc. have to make use of all
their skill sets and knowledge to tread such paths carefully and still bring out
positive ideas and solutions to the best of their abilities.
Client organisations may use practitioners to produce an impact on third parties.
Clients may also use the anthropologist as a means of solidifying, protecting, or
enhancing the position/image of the client. The anthropologist should use his/
her position of centrality to increase control and access to information.
The various methodologies of practicing anthropologists are nothing but the story
of the growth of public recognition of practicing anthropology and its use from
ancient times to the present, from colonial powers establishing trade and
conquering indigenous populations to practitioners working to preserve at-risk
cultures and empower communities for self-determined positive change. Over
the past 25 years a new synthesis has emerged. This new synthesis revolves
Introducing Practicing
around a newly emerging relationship between anthropologists and the persons
and communities they study. Most recently a trend for short-term, contract work
makes us brood over the question that do practicing anthropologists practice
The methodology of practice should improve the client’s or community’s
understanding of anthropology. Before developing the methods one should not
be absorbed into “whether or not it’s an anthropological problem.” As practicing
anthropologists we cannot afford compulsively maintained boundaries. Attempts
to rigidly define what is or is not anthropology are unproductive. The focus of
concern of a practicing anthropologist is not the discipline, but reality that we
see through what we have learned as anthropologists.
The information, policy and action which are the heart of practicing methodology
should ultimately focus on the total situation. If the needs perceived by the client
are different from and perhaps contradictory to the needs discovered in the
community at large, the practitioners through suitable methods should identify a
significantly large range of needs within the total community served by the agency.
This will bring holism in the true sense. The client may be presented with a copy
of the Society for Applied Anthropology or the National Association for the
Practice of Anthropology’s ethics statement to make them understand the
professional ethics of the anthropologist.
One of the benefits of using these methods will be an improved understanding of
the nature of anthropology as a practicing discipline.
Chambers, Erve. 1989 Applied Anthropology: A Practical Guide. Prospect
Heights, Illinois.: Waveland Press.
Downum, C. E. and Laurie J. Price. 1999. “Applied Archaeology”. Human
Organization 58(3):226–239.
Kedia, Satish, and Linda A. Bennett. 2005. “Applied Anthropology.” In
Anthropology, from Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS). Developed
under the auspices of UNESCO, published online at Oxford,
UK: EOLSS Publishers.
Schensul, Stephen L. 1973. “Action Research: The Applied Anthropologist in a
Community Mental Health Program”. In Anthropology Beyond the University.
A. Redfield, ed. Southern Anthropological Society Proceedings No. 7. Athens:
University of Georgia Press.
Schensul, Jean J. and Stephen L. Schensul. 1992. “Collaborative Research:
Methods of Inquiry for Social Change”. In The Handbook of Qualitative Research
in Education. Margaret D. LeCompte, Wendy L. Millroy, and Judith Preissle,
eds. San Diego, California: Academic Press.
van Willigen, John. 2002. Applied Anthropology: An Introduction (3rd Ed). New
York: Bergin and Garvey.
Approaches in Practicing
Suggested Reading
van Willigen, John. 2002. Applied Anthropology: An Introduction (3rd Ed). New
York: Bergin and Garvey
Sample Questions
1) Is there a difference between a practicing and an applied anthropologist? Is
the distinction real or is it just an extension of how they work?
2) What are the methodologies applied in practicing anthropology. Discuss
3) Who is a practicing anthropologist? Identify and describe some of the roles
practiced by a practicing anthropologist.
4) What are the hazards faced by a practicing anthropologist?
Introducing Practicing
3.1 Introduction
3.2 What do we mean by Ethics?
3.3 Ethical Concerns in Anthropology’s History
3.4 Disputes in Ethical Usages
3.4.1 The Dispute of Confidentiality
3.4.2 The Dispute of Consent
3.4.3 The Dispute of Utility
3.4.4 The Dispute of Knowledge and its Transmission
3.5 Practice of Ethics by Practicing Anthropologists
3.6 Ethical Responsibilities as Cited by a Professional Anthropological Body
3.7 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
After reading this unit, you will be able to:
Ø understand the meaning of ethics;
Ø learn why ethics is required in anthropological research;
Ø know how ethics developed variedly due to different mishaps of
anthropologists in the history of anthropological research;
Ø understand the issues of confidentiality, consent, utility and transmission of
Ø learn about more detailed ethical practices; and
Ø learn about the guidelines provided by the National Association for the
Practice of Anthropology (NAPA).
In the previous chapters we have learnt about the development of practicing (or
applied) anthropology. Now that we are equipped with enough knowledge to
make ourselves comfortable with the subject, we are ready to learn about the
vital concern an anthropologist should keep in mind when s/he applies or practices
her/his skills. Among many concerns, an important concern is the issue of ethics.
This unit thus will deal with what ethics is, how it came to be used, what its role
in application and practice is, what its need is and how its use influences the
final creation of an anthropologist.
Challenges and Dilemmas of
Ethics in Practicing
Ethics may mean moral conduct, codes, beliefs, values, integrity, conscience,
principles, etc. It is a system of moral principles that regulates the appropriate
demeanour of an individual or a group. Now that we know what ethics mean,
you must be thinking how this comes into the turf of anthropology.
We know from our readings of our earlier texts that anthropology is basically a
field science. And this designation is what has led us to act as applied or practicing
anthropologists in different organisations. Our main purpose for being in the
field to investigate and research brings us in contact with many dealings. The
place where we investigate, the people we study, their lives, relationships,
equations, etc., are their own which we enter and somehow try to offer to the
world with academic, intellectual or professional intentions. As practicing
anthropologists we may even go to find solutions for the people whom we study
and try to bring about change. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that we get
in touch with people and populations and “use” what defines them for the
immediate purpose of serving our intentions. The impact of such activities may
be high. It is in such situations that ethics plays a big role. For example, we
should keep certain questions in mind, like: How the findings of a population
can be used without disclosing the identity of the informants? How do we know
that the results of our findings will not eventually be a burden on the people
studied? Or how much as an investigator, can we become involved with the
population at a personal level?
In view of these questions, we may like to believe that ethics denotes a complete
criterion of conduct. However it is important for applied and practicing
anthropologists to understand the notion of ethics subjectively. This is because it
is not easy to identify ethical norms precisely and it is also difficult to employ
them steadily as the areas in which practitioners’ research may each have different
and problematic ethical needs. Then again ethical concerns are also to be viewed
in terms of the respondents, the funding agencies or co-workers, all put together
so as to not hurt the sentiments of the involved parties. As there are different
outlooks, most of the time there is tension among these associations. Hence
ethics is not always as simple as it may sound in the beginning.
It is not as if ethical tenets are specific to practicing anthropologists. Concerns
such as reverence for individuals or groups, kindness, and impartiality are all
basic to any research, whether he is an anthropologist or otherwise. Any layout
or execution of a study is determined by manifestation of the tenets which is
influenced by the limitations prescribed by a particular research framework. As
a result anthropologists might face more hurdles than other researchers,
specifically anthropologists who are employed in research connected to policy
formulation where ethnographic and qualitative methods are used. This is no
less than a challenge for practicing anthropologists as they have to retain both
“scientific and moral integrity in a research reality of competing social values
and ambiguous social facts.” (Marshall, 1992: 4).
Introducing Practicing
With the growth of new ideas and notions anthropology has flourished immensely.
Fields of investigation are increasing with great rapidity. Along with it the growth
of applied actions has given birth to fresh challenges and confrontations. In turn
this builds new concerns related to ethics.
To delve into history, we find that deliberations on ethical code always occurred
with it becoming a major issue of concern during the Vietnam War. The anxiety
was aggravated by research projects which were highly ill devised and were
conducted without any moral ethos. These were “embarrassing disclosures that
anthropologists had cooperated in government counter insurgency research in
Latin America in the early 1960s and in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s.” (FluehrLobban,
1991: 62).
In fact much before the Vietnam War or the debacles of the 1960s, in 1919,
questions were raised by Franz Boas in a letter to The Nation where he openly
alleged four anthropologists working as spies under the façade of their job as
researchers. In Boas’ own words, he stated that, “a person, who uses science as a
cover for political spying, who demeans himself to pose before a foreign
government as an investigator and asks for assistance in his alleged researches
in order to carry on, under this cloak, his political machinations, prostitutes science
in an unpardonable way and forfeits the right to be classed as a scientist.” (Boas
1919, in Weaver 1973:51)
This incident cited by Boas is still a matter of debate among many anthropologists
and the gravity of the act still finds mention in published papers, pledges taken
at public meetings, and the ethics codes brought out by the American
Anthropological Association and The Society for Applied Anthropology. The main
concern, among many others which is always discussed in ethical deliberations,
is the possible injury or damage that the actions of an anthropologist may do to
a group of people or to an individual. An anthropologist, practicing or academic,
has to be sensitive to this concern. As s/he gets intimately connected to the
community s/he works with, it becomes inevitable that the relationships between
the investigator and the studied community or person becomes complex. In such
a situation the results of the research as to be carefully put forward or else there
may be critical unforeseen consequences. This can be explained in a clearer
manner with the following example.
Cora Du Bois, an anthropologist and advocate of the culture and personality
school of thought, had done research in Indonesia in a place called Alor. This
work was published as the People of Alor. Alor was conquered by the Japanese
at the time of World War II. Once the war was over, Du Bois learnt from sources
that due to an action of a few Alorese, resulting from their acquaintance with Du
Bois, led to the untoward execution of them (publicly beheaded) by the Japanese
during the war. The story goes that unwittingly these Alorese had mentioned that
the Americans should achieve success in the War as they thought the Americans
were “good” people. The Alorese prior to knowing Du Bois had no knowledge
about America or its inhabitants. Du Bois writes with trepidation that “there is
no end to the intricate chain of responsibility and guilt that the pursuit of even
Challenges and Dilemmas of
Ethics in Practicing
the most arcane social research involves.” (Du Bois 1944 in Weaver 1973: 32).
This incident may sound unreal in terms of simple conducting of research having
such a horrific consequence. Nevertheless its reality highlights the fact that
scientific efforts have the ability to produce astonishing damage.
In this part of the lesson, we try to look into more such incidences from the
history of anthropology in connection with research ethics. Unethical conduct
by anthropologists in the past has been aplenty but the most infamous and debated
cases happened during the Vietnam War time. Here we will discuss the notorious
Project Camelot introduced in Latin America and some monetarily aided research
work conducted in Northern Thailand during the Vietnam War.
Before the Vietnam issues occurred, the research project which faced much
ridicule was Project Camelot. It was started in 1964 under the management of
the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of the U.S. Army. This initiative
was created to fund research in order to bring a stop to proliferation of communism
in South America. This was to be done by the use of social research methods to
contradict insurgency research. The scheme at a larger level was to include in its
gamut of study, Asia, Africa and Europe besides Latin America. In this dubious
venture, anthropologists too were taken in, to conduct research. However as
luck would have it, the dealings of this undertaking was made known to the
Latin American press slyly even before the project gained any momentum. The
project and its model faced powerful local response and the project was aborted.
However the inclusion of anthropologists in it, left scars within the discipline’s
ideologies. Anthropologists after this debacle of questioned virtues, tried to
reaffirm their academic position of scholars refuting vices like wars. There were
protestations by the locals and the academics as the project was considered to
have a fundamentalist bias and research was said to have powerful political
insinuations. In the presence of overtly subjugated classes in these areas, many
people did not find the use of social sciences to sustain social tranquility as
approving. To explain simply, the involvement of social scientist to conduct
research which obviously meant encroaching on the undertakings of other
countries was not acceptable (van Willigen, 2002).
But sadly in the late 1960s, a post for an anthropologist to conduct intelligence
work in South Vietnam was advertised in the journal (American Anthropologist)
of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). The proposal was highly
criticised by the anthropology fraternity with strict warning to the AAA not to
entertain such promotions in the future. In the 1970s there were instances again
of anthropologists assisting government on war related research in the Southeast
of Asia, particularly in Thailand. In these circumstances, an important study took
place which tried to look into the tricky issue of ethics. It was done by Ralph L.
Beals and was called Politics of Social Research (1969). This work and
deliberations between the major members of the AAA brought out a Committee
on Ethics which drafted the first AAA professional code of ethics in 1971 (FluehrLobban,
1991, Willigen, 2002).
Another project which had acute repercussions in the anthropological community
was the “Thailand Project”. Without understanding the cultural makeup of the
inhabitants of Thailand’s hill tribes and their relationship with the elite lowlanders,
some anthropologists went ahead with their studies funded by government
Introducing Practicing
supported agencies to offer their services to create social changes. To give a
brief, the highland tribes lived in semi-isolation with their only means of contact
with the rest of Thailand and the world being their production and selling of
opium. Due to their trade, the Thailand government was coerced by international
nations to stop the increasing opium transactions. Moreover, these tribes were
looked down upon by the plain people of Thailand who deprecated them and
their lifestyles. Needless to say the tribes hardly had any political or economic
influence and were not in good terms with the government (Belshaw 1976). This
region came in the spotlight, when the Vietnam War got bigger. In the 1960s
social investigators from the western world proliferated in number in the name
of research. The investigators, including anthropologists, did not take into
consideration the existing facts into account and only concentrated on the good
amount of money that was pouring in for such investigations. They completely
ignored the valley’s culture (Jones 1971). The Advanced Research Projects
Agency (ARPA) was one such funding agency of the American government from
the Department of Defense, which provided monetary support to this scheme.
Their main interest was to conduct research directed towards counterinsurgency
This entire process of conducting research was done without any regard towards
the country’s cultural set up and ethical responsibilities. This led to the ridicule
of these researchers in 1970 by the Student Mobilization Committee to End the
War in Vietnam, who termed this as “counterinsurgency research.”(ibid) This
example of ethical violation worked as a lesson for anthropologists, subsequently
generating awareness in ethical concerns. In a way it was through the discords
experienced during the Vietnam episode, indirectly felicitated the understanding
of our moral obligations. The process of discussing and finally accepting to respect
ethical considerations was a painful and difficult one. However the attempt by
the AAA to make changes in 1971 which were finally out in 1981, with renewed
codes of conduct for anthropological investigators was commendable, though it
too had its flaws.
When we deal with ethics and ethical concerns, there are some areas which
clearly stand out and cannot be ignored. It is these concerns that we will discuss
in the following paragraphs.
3.4.1 The Dispute of Confidentiality
In anthropological research the investigator may in many societies have to live
and work among people and societies, whom they are not familiar with. Even if
there is familiarity of some sort between the researcher and the researched, there
may be norms which the researcher would have to abide by. One cannot forget
the fact that it is the investigator who is the “taker” and thus placed in a supposedly
subordinate position. It is of utmost importance that great care must be taken as
to how one must behave among a society studied and represent them later in
their writings in a way that their lives are not compromised with in any way.
Rapport building and creating a relationship of utmost trust is the base of a
healthy relationship between both so as to be beneficial to the researcher and not
harmful to the researched. The trust created in the minds of the respondents,
allows them to divulge a lot about their own society, however it is the researcher’s
Challenges and Dilemmas of
Ethics in Practicing
responsibility to protect their identities and retain confidentiality if sought for.
Rapport and friendship built may lead to the revealing of information which
might be helpful to the researcher but may turn to be damaging for the respondent
and her/his community. It is the task of the researcher to comprehend such
information and either not use it or if it is of vital need for one’s investigation,
use them in such a way by not giving away the identity of the information giver.
Mostly the informants give away information that might be damaging to them,
without realising it due to their feeling of hospitality towards the researcher or
also because they might be in awe of the “power” that the anthropologist might
hold. They also reveal things unwittingly due to the need to flaunt their knowledge
or because they seek recognition.
It should be borne in mind that though we try to provide the respondents enough
privacy and secrecy, yet the use of important and at the same time harmful
information, may not be completely possible. In most cases, the assurance of
anonymity promised becomes difficult. Mostly the legal rights to any information
collected by a researcher belong to the funding agency funding a project. Thus
even when the researcher might want not to use any information or reveal a
community’s or person’s name, s/he might not be in a position to do so. Thus it
is to be noted that such situations must be tread cautiously. Though research
findings are of immense help in myriad ways, they should not be utilised at the
cost of the respondents’ lives.
Researchers should try their best to respect and protect the confidentiality of our
respondents. However difficult, they may try to take care in their own small
ways whenever and wherever possible. If not invited, one must not infringe upon
the subjects’ personal space. Wherever possible, they should do away with the
collection of sensitive information. If collected, proper ways of keeping them
should be devised during and after fieldwork. Sometimes if names are to be
used, pseudonyms can be used during the time of writing or documenting data.
The researchers should always be truthful to the respondents and should let them
be aware of all pros or cons, like the revealing of identities of families or groups
or administrative officials unintentionally. They should from the beginning let
the respondents be aware of any legal obligations and proceed accordingly. Lastly
it is always best to learn from the earlier experiences and mishaps of other
researchers and the methods they used to cope with the issues of confidentiality.
3.4.2 The Dispute of Consent
The issue of confidentiality is in sync with the issue of consent. This is a major
concern in the arguments of ethics. Before resorting to anonymity of respondents
when needed, the bigger task at hand for the anthropological researcher is to
seek permission to probe into their lives and culture. It is highly important that
the researcher while taking consent also makes the prospective respondents aware
of the fact that they will be getting involved in. The respondents should be aware
of the necessity of the research work, the knowledge of the research funders,
their objectives, the ultimate use of the findings and the effect that only these
might have on them. Only when they are aware of these and give their consent to
the researcher to proceed, can the investigation be called ethically sound.
The respondent should always be told that her/his participation is voluntary.
This is termed informed consent. In informed consent, lies the basis of ethical
enquiry. This term and use of it has been borrowed from research in medical
Introducing Practicing
arenas, as it mostly uses human subjects to investigate. Cases of human abuse
during experiments have also been heard from the medical world. All these
connected with the administration’s concern about the ethical aspects of hugely
funded research projects, have made the concept of informed consent imperative.
To explain informed consent clearly, a definition given by the Board of Regents
of the State of New York in 1966 is presented (van Willigen, 2001). It was made
for medical professionals but is now applicable for other researchers, including
practicing anthropologists. The definition says, “No consent is valid unless it is
made by a person with legal and mental capacity to make it, and is based on a
disclosure of all material facts. The federal government defines some populations
as vulnerable and not able to give informed consent. These include the underaged,
mentally handicapped, institutionalized or incarcerated, persons under risk
because of the illegal status or activities, people who can’t read, and people who
are ill or physically handicapped. Any facts which might influence the giving
and withholding of consent are material. A patient has the right to know he is
being asked to volunteer and to refuse to participate in an experiment for any
reason, intelligent or otherwise, well-informed or prejudiced. A physician has no
right to withhold from a prospective volunteer any fact which he knows may
influence the decision. It is the volunteer’s decision to make, and the physician
may not take it away from him by the manner in which he asks the question or
explains or fails to explain the circumstances” (Langer 1966:664).
The definition above may seem simple and easy to practice, however it is not so.
The job of the researcher to create the situation for informed consent would also
include explaining to the prospective respondents about the consequences their
information may create later. However, at the stage of explaining this to the
respondents, the researcher is himself or herself not sure, if these would be the
real consequences which s/he predicts. In fact in anthropological research such
are the cases where future implications of the research work cannot be forecasted.
It is noticed in research of anthropological nature, there is change in the way
research is conducted due to new or different or unexpected data found in the
process of investigation. Thus at the beginning when consent was taken from the
respondents for a particular kind of knowledge, the problem of new permission
from the same people with the rise of a new condition, occurs. Consent allowed
for a particular kind of enquiry may not work for another kind. There are authors
like Jorgensen who says that “consent should be requested for the research ends
that are anticipated” (1971: 328). But it is not necessary that this would make
things easier. The only thing that may help the researcher in all this is to believe
and remember that the aim of informed consent is to conduct research enquiry
without trickery and distortion.
3.4.3 The Dispute of Utility
Once the informants start giving data about themselves and their community,
they might do so leisurely and abundantly. They would do so if they are assured
of confidentiality. However the information gathered from the respondents may
be used to dominate them. Once the research information gets into the hands of
the sponsors it cannot be predicted they will always be put to use so as to benefit
the communities studied. The knowledge may be used as a power to exploit
them. Thus practicing anthropologists should create terms or ways by which the
respondents would not have to suffer the “potential” harm later.
Challenges and Dilemmas of
Ethics in Practicing
But it is difficult to bring this to reality. First the fact needs to be accepted that
most of the times it is the researcher who accumulates profits from the findings
while the same does not have any significance to the respondents. Many societies
studied are not aware of what to do with the required data of the researcher or the
topic of relevance to the researcher has no meaning to the community. In most
cases the researcher herself/himself does not provide the society with enough
detail about their own work which they should do. It helps if the researcher
before beginning investigation can take meticulously into regard the prosperity
of the people studied in the research design stage itself. A solution may be a deal
between the researcher and the community for the research matter and objectives
of the research design. This may lead to some changes in the process of research
and also parts which the society is not comfortable with may be removed in the
design stage itself. The project can be restructured to be designed in such a way
that the information provided by the respondents would be helpful to the
respondents’ society. The way the final output would also come out should be
accessible to the respondents’ community. Or the researcher’s entire project should
be designed in such a way that everything should be created for the advantage or
utilisation of the community studied. This way the moral obligations towards a
community remain. In fields where research is done for application or practice,
this process of building utility is not difficult as the main interest of the researcher
should be a betterment of the community. However one must be careful to note
that the clients who hire anthropologists to work for a community might not be
related to it, and thus might not be completely aware of the intricacies of the
community’s life. In such a situation the ethical scenario should be taken care of
more carefully. The researchers should think about the effects or consequences
their work might have on the communities, as they would represent the clients
who usually are the government, social service institutions, development
organisations, etc. All in all the benefit of the community should always be at the
back of the mind of the researcher.
3.4.4 The Dispute of Knowledge and its Transmission
Transmission of knowledge means how findings are disseminated, that is usually
through publication in the form of books, articles or reports. This is one of the
important ethical issues that is connected to the practicing anthropologist.
Practicing anthropologists are always confronted with how to distribute the
knowledge they gather. It is their duty to circulate their findings so that it may be
added to the already available knowledge for better productivity. It is but obvious
that research only comes to an end when its results are learnt by all. Mostly
practicing anthropologists need to publicise their work not just to provide help
to the communities they work with, but also so that their work gets known both
in the academic and non-academic worlds. In doing so, the anthropologist must
be careful as what to reveal and what not to. Their publications may also help
them work better and convincingly in the applied field. The published work will
give ideas to the other prospective practicing anthropologists in their area of
work. However even when all this may sound easy, the issue of how much can
be published, and how much needs to be kept from the public, is still a concern.
One cannot ignore the fact that the practicing anthropologist’s knowledge is
more often than not, owned by their clients. In all this, researchers are believers
of the ethical use of the distribution of data. The anonymity of the subjects is
maintained if need be during such distribution of knowledge and is not to be
compromised with in any circumstances.
Introducing Practicing
Let us now discuss how ethics is to be really practiced. Two vital aspects that
practicing anthropologists need to look into are 1. accountability and responsibility
and 2. quality (Gardner and Lewis, 1996). It is really necessary that the practicing
anthropologist knows whom to be accountable. It should never be the clients but
the informants whose lives s/he intrudes by extracting valuable information.
Quality of work is equally vital as during the time period the anthropologist
spends with the informants, it should be assured that the material collected should
be of worth. Behaviour is also an important factor. Overbearing and bossy attitude
will not go down well with informants and might slow the process of rapport
building in the beginning. It is imperative that the practitioner listens intently to
the views shared by the respondents and show ample respect to the inhabitants,
especially to women, lower classes, lower castes, aged people, etc. When people
offer their time to share their thoughts and knowledge, it is equally important
that the researcher should return the favour by helping them in day to day work
or wherever possibility of helping them occurs. Promises made in return of
information should always be kept. The complete sincerity of the practicing
anthropologist is depicted by the good deeds, conduct and manners s/he exhibits.
The respect should be mutual between the researcher and the researched.
Hence if ethical dictates are followed and recognised then the sought after results
would also follow. The position and status of the practicing anthropologist will
also get acknowledged as an implementer, investigator and promoter of applied
practices which enhances betterment and development of societies studied.
In this section we provide the learners with the statements on ethical practices
for application as listed by the National Association for the Practice of
Anthropology (NAPA). The statements were written so as to act as guidelines
for the practicing and applied anthropologists.
The preparation of the ethics statement involved a unique partnership between
the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA) and the
Southern California Applied Anthropology Network (SCAAN). Jean Gilbert, a
SCAAN member and Chair of the NAPA Ethics Committee, worked with a
local committee composed of several of her fellow SCAAN members (Claudia
Fishman, Neil Tashima and Barbara Pillsbury) to create the first draft, which
appeared in the December 1987 Anthropology Newsletter, pp 7 -8. Membership
comments were solicited at that time. The Guidelines were also sent to all of the
local practitioner organizations (LPOs) for comment, and in addition were the
topic of discussion in a regular SCAAN monthly meeting. The final version of
the NAPA Ethical Guidelines for Practitioners was published in the November
1988 Anthropology Newsletter, pp 8-9. Gilbert thanked the membership of
SCAAN and the following individuals who reviewed and commented on the
draft: Fred Hess, Elvin Hatch, Barbara Frankel and Gene Anderson. The final
version incorporated many of their comments.
Challenges and Dilemmas of
Ethics in Practicing
NAPA Ethical Guidelines for Practitioners
These guidelines have been developed by the National Association for the Practice
of Anthropology as a guide to the professional and ethical responsibilities that
practicing anthropologists should uphold. A practicing anthropologist is a
professionally trained anthropologist who is employed or retained to apply his
or her specialized knowledge problem solving related to human welfare and
human activities. The designation “practicing anthropologist” includes full-time
practitioners who work for clients such as social service organizations,
government agencies and business and industrial firms. This term also includes
part-time practitioners, usually academically based anthropologists, who accept
occasional assignments with such clients. The substantive work of practicing
anthropologists may include applied research, program design and
implementation, client advocacy and advisory roles and activities related to the
communication of anthropological perspectives. These guidelines are provided
with the recognition that practicing anthropologists are involved in many types
of policy-related research, frequently affecting individuals and groups with
diverse and sometimes conflicting interests. No code or set of guidelines can
anticipate unique circumstances or direct practitioner actions in specific
situations. The individual practitioner must be willing to make carefully
considered ethical choices and be prepared to make clear the assumptions, facts
and issues on which those choices are based.
These guidelines therefore address general contexts, priorities and relationships
which should be considered in ethical decision making in anthropological
1) Our primary responsibility is to respect and consider the welfare and human
rights of all categories of people affected by decisions, programs or research
in which we take part. However, we recognize that many research and
practice settings involve conflicts between benefits accruing to different
parties affected by our research. It is our ethical responsibility, to the extent
feasible, to bring to bear on decision making, our own or that of others,
information concerning the actual or potential impacts of such activities on
all whom they might affect. It is also our responsibility to assure, to the
extent possible, that the views of groups so affected are made clear and
given full and serious consideration by decision makers and planners, in
order to preserve options and choices for affected groups.
2) To our resource persons or research subjects we owe full and timely
disclosure of the objectives, methods and sponsorship of our activities. We
should recognize the rights of resource persons, whether individuals or
groups, to receive recognition for their contributions or to remain anonymous
if they so desire or to decline participation altogether. These persons should
be informed of our commitment to the principle of confidentiality throughout
the design of research or other activities involving resource persons and
should thoroughly investigate and understand all of the limitations on our
claims of confidentiality and disclosure.
3) To our employers we owe competent, efficient, fully professional skills and
techniques, timely performance of our work and communication of our
findings and recommendations in understandable, nonjargonistic language.
As practicing anthropologists, we are frequently involved with employers
or clients in legally contracted arrangements. It is our responsibility to
carefully review contracts prior to signing and be willing to execute the
terms and conditions stipulated in the contract once it has been signed. At
the outset of a relationship or contract with an employer or client, we have
an obligation to determine whether or not the work we are requested to
Introducing Practicing
Anthropology perform is consistent with our commitment to deal fairly with the rights
and welfare of persons affected by our work, recognizing that different
constituencies may be affected in different ways. At this time, we should
also discuss with our employer or client the intended use of the data or
materials to be generated by our work and clarify the extent to which
information developed during our activities can be made available to the
public. Issues surrounding the protection of subject confidentiality and
disclosure of information or findings should be thoroughly reviewed with
the potential employer or client. We will not undertake activities which
compromise our ethical responsibilities. We will carry out our work in such
a manner that the employer fully understands our ethical priorities,
commitments and responsibilities. When, at any time during the course of
work performance, the demands of the employer require or appear to require
us to violate the ethical standards of our profession, we have the responsibility
to clarify the nature of the conflict between the request and our standards and
to propose alternatives that are consistent with our standards. If such a conflict
cannot be resolved, we should terminate the relationship.
4) In our relations with students and trainees, we will be candid, fair,
nonexploitative, nondiscriminatory and committed to the student’s or
trainee’s welfare. We recognize that such mentoring does involve an
exchange in which practitioners share their knowledge and experience in
return for the significant effort and contribution of the students/trainees.
We should be honest and thorough in our presentation of material and should
strive to improve our teaching and training techniques and our methods of
evaluating the effectiveness of our instruction. As practicing anthropologists
we are frequently called upon to instruct, train or teach individuals,
anthropologists and others in nonacademic settings (workshop participants,
in-service trainees, continuation or certification program trainees and
research teams). To such persons, we owe training that is informed, timely
and relevant to their needs. Our instruction should inform both students
and trainees of the ethical responsibilities involved in the collection and
use of data. To our students and trainees we owe respect for and openness
to nonanthropological methods and perspectives. Student and trainee
contributions to our work, including publications, should be accurately and
completely attributed.
5) To our colleagues, anthropologists and others, we have a responsibility to
conduct our work in a manner that facilitates their activities or that does
not unjustly compromise their ability to carry out professional work. The
cross-disciplinary nature of the work of practicing anthropologists requires
us to be informed and respectful of the disciplinary and professional
perspectives, methodologies and ethical requirements of nonanthropological
colleagues with whom we work. We will accurately report the contribution
of our colleagues to our research, practicerelated activities and publications.
6) To the discipline of anthropology we have a responsibility to act in a manner
that presents the discipline to the public and to other professional colleagues
in a favorable light. We will point out the value of anthropological
contributions to the understanding of human problems and humankind.
Where appropriate in the context of our work, we will encourage the use of
anthropological approaches and recommend the participation of other
anthropologists. We will contribute to the growth of our discipline through
communicating and publishing scientific and practical information about
the work in which we are engaged, including, as appropriate, theory,
processes, outcomes and professional techniques and methods.
Source: NAPA (
Challenges and Dilemmas of
Ethics in Practicing
To sum up, this unit discussed a major concern in the practice of anthropological
knowledge, i.e. ethics. In today’s world ethics and ethical concerns cannot be
avoided. And the very fact that anthropology deals with human beings, its need
is most vital. The unit begins with the description of what ethics is and what it
involves. It then gives a detailed description of the history of anthropology where
the use or misuse of ethics in studying communities led to the creation of various
anthropological bodies coming up with guidelines for ethical practice. The unit
progresses with the various kind of pertinent debates that is involved in the practice
of ethics, the major ones being the issues of confidentiality, consent, utility and
dissemination of knowledge. The unit further looks into some more ethical
concerns that a practicing anthropologist can deploy while conducting research
and lastly the unit provides the guidelines stated by NAPA for the learner to have
a better knowledge of the ethical scenario and its need in anthropological research.
Beals, R. L. 1969. Politics of Social Research: An Inquiry into the Ethics and
Responsibilities of Social Scientists. Chicago: Aldine.
Belshaw, C. S. 1976. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Anthropology of Public
Policy. New York: Pergamon Press.
Fluehr-Lobban, C (ed.). 1991. Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Patricia A. Marshall. 1992. “Research Ethics in Applied Anthropology”. IRB:
Ethics and Human Research.Vol. 14, No. 6 (Nov. – Dec., 1992), pp. 1-5.
Weaver, T. 1973. To See Ourselves: Anthropology and Modern Social Issues.
New York: Scott, Foresman.
van Willigen, John. 2002. Applied Anthropology: An Introduction (3rd
Ed). New
York: Bergin and Garvey.
Suggested Reading
Fluehr-Lobban, C (ed.). 1991. Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press
Jacobs, Sue-Ellen, and Cassell Joan. 1987. Handbook on Ethical Issues in
Anthropology. New York: Amercian Anthropological Association.
Sample Questions
1) Define ethics. Why is it important to be ethical in our practice?
2) The issues of ethics begin with the investigator. Discuss.
3) Give a critical account of the ethical concerns in the history of anthropology.
4) Discuss the importance of confidentiality and anonymity in anthropological