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Sam Beck

What if we use theory and method to benefit the people we study and with whom we partner to develop an increasingly just world in which inequities are reduced and all people may believe in their ability to reach their potentials by having access to resources that are more or less equally available, distributed and accessible? Each in her or his way, the contributors to this ‘Special Issue on Public Anthropology’ provide example trajectories which move anthropologists in this direction.

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Fieldwork at sunset

Visual representations of anthropology online

Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins and Hannah Gould

public anthropology are highly misplaced. In contrast to institutional explanations, applying developments in visual theory suggests a potentially more generous revision of our findings. Several scholars of the visual (e.g., Berger and Mohr [1982] 2016

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Producing Knowledge for Public Use

New Challenges in the U.S. Academy

Judith Goode

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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Introduction

On the Usefulness of Boundary Re-work

Francisco Martínez

Abstract

Boundaries influence how we live, the way we do and see things – but how? What role do boundaries play in effecting disciplinary shifts or stability in turn? And who is excluded when tracing epistemic frontiers and hard notions of relevance? This theme issue discusses the porosity of anthropology's borders and the difficulty of establishing scholarly authority. We set out to reopen the conversation about the permeability of academic boundaries, exploring different conceptual, methodological and historical reconfigurations with and within European anthropologies. We also discuss how the epistemic and institutional boundaries of our discipline are changing, affecting in turn what people can know and with whom, as well as our sense of professional strength and vulnerability.

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Dow Chemical's Knowledge Factories

Action Anthropology against Michigan's Company Town Culture

Brian McKenna

The article describes my efforts as a public anthropologist/journalist in addressing the official culture of silence in Michigan's colleges, universities and towns regarding Dow Chemical's extensive environmental health pollution and corruption. These sites include Midland, Michigan, home of Dow's international headquarters, and my own residence of East Lansing, site of Michigan State University, the state's largest higher education institution. Both are beneficiaries of Dow largess or philanthropy. This relative silence - which extends to nearly all state media and universities - is remarkable considering the fact that, unlike turn of the century company towns, Dow Chemical operates in a civic culture where thousands of highly educated professionals work in education, government and communications. Democracy is degraded by processes of accumulation, ideology, fear, suppression, conformity, specialization and, importantly, the self-censorship of professionals and academics. With Eriksen (2006) and Hale (2008) I argue for an engaged anthropology where anthropologists step out of their academic cocoons to embrace the local public. This is 'not just a matter of … reaching broader publics with a message from social science … it is a way of doing social science' (Hale 2008: xvii). This case study illustrates how an anthropologist engaged contradictions in order to show how Michigan universities are becoming veritable knowledge factories in service to Eisenhower's feared military-industrial-academic complex.

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'J'accuse...!'

Crisis in the Reproduction of Anthropological Scholarship

Heike Schaumberg

The recent wave of important anthropological critiques of the global 'war on terror' is in danger of being undermined by a disciplinary vision that disregards challenging an institutional culture of fear and compliance with injustices and inequality, which is more likely to nurture discrimination and professional malpractices than commi ed scholarship. I am drawing an analogy with Zola's 'J'accuse…!' about how institutional rules of accountability in the tick-box form of neoliberal auditing can serve the purpose of oppressing the rights they are nominally intended to protect. The article argues that debates about disciplinary crisis should be reframed as one about a crisis in the reproduction of scholarship. The discipline needs to employ the anthropological tools of enquiry consistently in its practices and theory, 'at home' and in the wider world. Fundamental questions regarding discriminatory practices and professional ethics in the everyday academic workplace need to be addressed not silenced in order to nurture not only critical but also credible anthropological challenges to important contemporary historical processes.

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Udi Mandel Butler

What could a dialogical anthropology look like? That is, an anthropology where production of knowledge is premised on a close collaboration with research subjects, which is acutely mindful of the power relations inherent in such relationships as well as of the possible multiple publics through which such products could circulate. This article provides an inquiry into the possibility of this form of dialogical engagement, debating the notion of the 'public' of anthropological products and the 'uses' of such products. It discusses the work of some authors who have also been engaged with these themes before going on to provide examples of texts that have attempted to put this approach into practice.

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Coming Together in the So-Called Refugee Crisis

A Collaboration Among Refugee Newcomers, Migrants, Activists and Anthropologists in Berlin

Nasima Selim, Mustafa Abdalla, Lilas Alloulou, Mohamed Alaedden Halli, Seth M. Holmes, Maria Ibiß, Gabi Jaschke, and Johanna Gonçalves Martín

In 2015, Germany entered what would later become known as the ‘refugee crisis’. The Willkommenskultur (welcoming culture) trope gained political prominence and met with significant challenges. In this article, we focus on a series of encounters in Berlin, bringing together refugee newcomers, migrants, activists and anthropologists. As we thought and wrote together about shared experiences, we discovered the limitations of the normative assumptions of refugee work. One aim of this article is to destabilise terms such as refugee, refugee work, success and failure with our engagements in the aftermath of the ‘crisis’. Refugee work is not exclusively humanitarian aid directed towards the alleviation of suffering but includes being and doing together. Through productive failures and emergent lessons, the collaboration enhanced our understandings of social categories and the role of anthropology.

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‘Is Anthropology Legal?’

Anthropology and the EU General Data Protection Regulation

Cassandra Yuill

Abstract

In May 2018, the European Union (EU) introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) with the aim of increasing transparency in data processing and enhancing the rights of data subjects. Within anthropology, concerns have been raised about how the new legislation will affect ethnographic fieldwork and whether the laws contradict the discipline’s core tenets. To address these questions, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London hosted an event on 25 May 2018 entitled ‘Is Anthropology Legal?’, bringing together researchers and data managers to begin a dialogue about the future of anthropological work in the context of the GDPR. In this article, I report and reflect on the event and on the possible implications for anthropological research within this climate of increasing governance.

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Sam Beck

This issue forms the second of a two-part issue focused on Public Anthropology (Beck and Maida 2009). In this second part, the articles by Judith Goode, Udi Mandel Butler, Raul Acosta and Billie Jean Isbell continue the discussion of Public Anthropology and provide examples of a specific form of something I am calling Critical Applied Anthropology. What I had in mind in developing a Special Issue on Public Anthropology is a deepening and expansion of Public Anthropology beyond that which is text-based. Although, for most anthropologists, inside and outside the academy, the text is a prerequisite upon which professional advancement is based and hence inevitable, the non-text-based acts of public anthropology are not and most of the time are dismissed.