Producing Knowledge for Public Use

New Challenges in the U.S. Academy

in Anthropology in Action

This essay examines changing practices of public anthropology in terms of their relationship to the political economic processes of global capitalism and neoliberalism as well as changes in the position of anthropology within a hierarchy of knowledge-producing disciplines. Examining my own experiences in different historic regimes, I argue that today's call for a public or engaged anthropology partially conflates two contradictory processes: the drive to raise the value of disciplinary expertise and stake a claim to authority in the world of policy elites located in the state, media and academy; and the drive to use contemporary theories and methods to offer cogent critiques of the very institutions which are gatekeepers for public knowledge. We often find ourselves examining actors in the same professionalized settings in which we ourselves are situated and within which we seek more authority. I argue that we should continue to work on two tracks simultaneously with serious analysis of their contradictions. While we conform to dominant public questions, producing knowledge in ways that fit mainstream formats of communication, we must also invest significant effort in finding ways to help audiences reframe urgent issues by working to better convey contextualized understandings of how power and politics work through sociocultural processes. As a result, we will become more mindful of the specific structural constraints and cultural processes which work against broadening and reframing popular understandings.

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Anthropology in Action

Journal for Applied Anthropology in Policy and Practice

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