Engaging in 'Engaged' Anthropology

Some Pitfalls in a Development Consultancy

in Anthropology in Action

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.

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Anthropology in Action

Journal for Applied Anthropology in Policy and Practice