Anthropology Misapplied?

The Culture Concept and the Peace Process in Ireland

in Anthropology in Action

This article is animated by a concern that anthropological ideas of culture, particularly the 'old' idea of culture as the way of life of a distinct people, have been misapplied in the government of Northern Ireland during the period of the peace process. Rather than accept disciplinary responsibility for this, I trace the provenance of the notions of culture and identity implicit in the Good Friday Agreement. While people trained in anthropology have been involved in implementing cultural policy, other disciplines—notably law, history and political science—have been more influential in its conception, with only occasional references to anthropology for legitimation. Paradoxically, the influence of the old anthropological concept of culture is a sign of the relative weakness of anthropological influence in government circles. Ultimately, though, anthropological circumspection in this regard might be preferable to the hasty and vainglorious claims of other academic disciplines.

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Anthropology in Action

Journal for Applied Anthropology in Policy and Practice