Anthropology and the Public Interest. Fieldwork and Theory by Peggy Reeves Sanday

By Peggy Reeves Sanday

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This time, if anthropologists do not win, they will lose, and, in losing, the discipline will become vestigial. What do anthropologists have to know to win? What do they have to know to make their points accurately and convincingly, to keep their vision of human behavior an effective force? First, they must be careful not to forget what they already know. It will do no good simply to turn anthropologists into something else, for the victory over vestigiality would result only in extinction. All the skills that have been learned (and some, sadly, forgotten) ought to be maintained—the habit of working with small groups, of allowing one's self to be resocialized, of learning strange-seeming systems of values, the willingness to undergo the psychic isolation of fieldwork.

This was all learned through what we usually call participant observation—a great many anthropologists of my generation and older have had similar experiences, usually as department chairmen, although, in that capacity, they perhaps do not come as close to the bank of the Styx as deans do. TRAINING ANTHROPOLOGISTS FOR EFFECTIVE ROLES IN PUBLIC POLICY 33 Even more illuminating has been my observation of what my colleague, Aaron Wildavsky, has been able to accomplish by training students to operate in bureacratic roles.

This difference in experience inclines us to overlook or to deprecate cultural differences in our own society. People from different classes or other sectors of our society deal with one another in narrowly circumscribed contexts: as employer and employee or as professional practitioner and client. We may spend a great deal of time in these contexts, but their narrowness of focus limits the kinds of dealings we have with one another in them and, hence, limits our chances of ever discovering the range of cultural differences among us outside of these contexts.

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Anthropology and the Public Interest. Fieldwork and Theory by Peggy Reeves Sanday
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