What does it mean to do engaged anthropology? How is it different from that which is disengaged? Does it mean being some kind of activist or advocate? Is it a form of 'action research'? More pertinently for the purposes of this article, are anthropologists who do consultancies also 'engaged'? This article discusses what happened when in 2003 I accepted an invitation from a Scandinavian women's organisation to go to Tanzania the following year and take part in an evaluation of the women's group they had been funding. Here I consider not only some of the perhaps inevitable pitfalls, contradictions and difficulties of carrying out such a consultancy but also the extent to which anthropologists themselves are part of the encounter and thus inevitably part of the material of fieldwork. It is shown that being an engaged anthropologist is a risky business before, during and after such projects. This does not mean that engagement should be avoided, and indeed such a stance may provide exceptional insights which one of greater detachment might miss.
Some Pitfalls in a Development Consultancy
Into the New Century
George E. Marcus
Classic conditions of fieldwork research, to which anthropology remains committed, are difficult to establish today within far-reaching projects of neoliberal economy, governance and philanthropy. The forms of collaboration on which these projects insist, and those that ethnography encourages for its own research purposes, must be reconciled. On the bargains or adjustments that anthropology makes with neoliberal projects, within which it establishes scenes of fieldwork, depends its capacity to produce critique - its primary agenda since the 1980s. These issues are what are at stake in the widespread current discussions of, and hopes for, an 'engaged' anthropology.
Activists, anthropologists, and the state in India
Cody, Francis. 2013. The light of knowledge: Literacy activism and the politics of writing in South India. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Middleton, Townsend. 2015. The demands of recognition: State anthropology and ethnopolitics in Darjeeling. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Dilemmas in Rural Mexico
Julia E. Murphy
Feminist promotion of gender equity in development began in the 1970s, challenging development policy and practice and producing a rich body of debate and scholarship. Feminist anthropologists, through scholarship and activism, made important contributions to the project of reforming development. A recent anthropological critique of development, however, referred to as the anthropology of 'development', has raised important questions about anthropology's relationship to development, presenting new challenges to feminist anthropologists who would engage with development. This new approach, despite its attention to power, has not had questions about gender at its centre. Drawing on fieldwork in southeastern Campeche, Mexico, this paper explores challenges of a feminist anthropology of 'development', including pressures for engagement and disengagement, and the apparent contradiction between reflexive critiques of, and feminist engagements with, development.
Many feminists have been troubled by questions of friendship in ethnographic research. For some critics, such assertions elide power imbalances, invoking a 'sisterly identification' built on essentialist models of gender. In this article I combine insights gained from partisan ethnography in the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition with feminist theory to argue that the problem lies not with claims to friendship as such, but with a naturalized model in which friendship is treated as a power-free zone. A more politicized approach to friendship offers analytical tools for thinking about methodological, epistemological, political and applied problems in feminist anthropology and politics and to wider questions about the relationship between intellectual and political life, critique and solidarity.
Diversity, equality, and the politics of knowledge
Thomas A. Reuter
Over the last century anthropological studies have served as a testimony to human cultural diversity, as well as highlighting the existential challenges we all share, but the discipline has failed to provide an undistorted mirror of this unity in diversity. Critics from postcolonial studies and within anthropology have argued that anthropological knowledge cannot be universal so long as representatives of only a few privileged nations participate in the process of its construction, and so long as there are significant power differentials among those who do participate. From the perspective of a performance theory of truth, there are two necessary conditions if we wish for anthropology to genuinely reflect the human condition. The first step is to improve global participation in the social production of anthropological knowledge by creating equality within the discipline. The second is to help create a more level playing field in the world at large by challenging abuses of power in contemporary societies. In this article I discuss recent efforts by international organizations in anthropology to satisfy some of these conditions.
An Activist's Report
This is the first in what we intend to be a series of practically focused and reflective articles by anthropologists who work in policy or practice, discussing and sharing their experiences of ‘engaged’ anthropology.
—Christine McCourt, Editor, May 2011
Tania Murray Li
In this essay I briefly explore three themes I find important for an engaged anthropology of development. First, social reproduction: Anthropologists have a long track record of examining processes of social reproduction—how it is that particular patterns of inequality are actively sustained through practices and relations at multiple scales (Smith 1999).
Why has the recent period of global centralization of capital, from the 1970s to the present, also been a period of resurgence of indigenous movements and of forms of global civil society that have supported indigenous rights? This article argues that tackling this question can only be done by using concepts that emphasize what Hegel called the 'cunning' of history: the fact that the same historical process can on the one hand bring devastation to indigenous habitats and on the other hand create opportunities for political leverage by indigenous societies to gain recognition of the legitimacy of their different social, cultural, and economic systems within their ambient nation-states. Politically engaged anthropological theory, it seems, needs concepts that emphasize these contradictions—which in a nutshell means more Marx and less Foucault.
Rethinking Ethnographic Training and Practice in Action Anthropology
Mark K. Watson
While anthropology students may receive general instruction in the debates and critiques surrounding public and/or engaged anthropology, attention to the growing intersection between participatory action research (PAR) and anthropology is often overlooked. I contend that to think of PAR as a complementary approach to conventional anthropological fieldwork (i.e. interviews, participation observation, and focus groups) is problematic in that it runs counterintuitive to the former’s transformative logic. Drawing from my work co-leading a radio-based partnership project with urban Inuit organisations in Montreal and Ottawa, I repurpose Sol Tax’s ‘action anthropology’ to discuss an attitudinal shift that our team’s use of PAR has provoked, reconceptualising the aims and practice of our ethnographic enquiry in the process. I consider the effects of this shift for anthropological training and pedagogy in PAR projects and propose the use of ‘training-in-character’ as an organising principle for the supervision of student research.