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Published by: me_18793 on Feb 26, 2012
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Applied Anthropology, its Contribution to Development and Planning,and its Ethical Dilemmas.
Carolyn Colleran.
The following paper briefly examines the historical beginnings of applied anthropologgy and itscurrent role in planning and development. The paper attempts to show that applied anthropology is aworthwhile element of the anthropological discipline. Due to the sensitivity of data, precautions againstfalsification and manipulation of data is essential. Applied Anthropologists routinely face ethical and moraldilemmas as a result of the very nature of the data and issues they address.
 Today the world is in crisis. Much of the world's natural resources have been depleted,seriously affecting the world's delicate ecological balance, of which humankind is a part. Inthe absence of responsible resource management much of the world's forests, plains, andwaterways have been decimated with adverse impacts on the world's "small-scale"indigenous societies. Anthropologists have a role to play in resource management anddevelopment of territories, . This paper will detail the role of applied anthropologists indevelopment and planning. It will demonstrate the notion that applied anthropology, unlike"pure" anthropology, allows the anthropologist to become actively involved and thereby,take a stance, if necessary, for the benefit of the indigenous people being studied. Thispaper will also touch briefly on the ethical dilemmas that applied anthropologists may beconfronted with whilst in the fieldAnthropology as a study of humankind has many applications. Anthropologists have theability to use their skills in various areas, from teaching and research to planning anddevelopment. "Ever since anthropology has existed as a research discipline, it has had apractical, problem-solving aspect' (van Willigen, 1993:vii), historically labelled appliedanthropology which includes practice, development, research and developmentanthropology, and advocacy anthropology (van Willigen, 1993:vii). 'Applied anthropologyrefers to research and activities intended to produce a desired sociocultural condition thatoptimally will improve the lives of the people concerned' (Howard, 1993:369).Applied anthropology is pro-active. Unlike those anthropologists who go with a "value free"position into the field to study a society, applied anthropologists enter an arena prepared totake a stance, or act, for the good of the population so as to attempt to prevent any harmfulevents. They can become actively involved as peoples' advocates and 'this position suggeststhat applied anthropology should assume social responsibility' (Sodusta, 1993:324).However, applied anthropology has been a "tool" of governments and private agencies forsome considerable time. The mid-eighteenth century marked the beginning of mechanisedmass production, that is, the industrial revolution. Under the premise of "progress", thischange in means of production and subsequent increased need for natural resources, was acatalyst for much social change in Europe and consequently, via colonisation, the rest of theworld. "Progress" led to 'an unprecedented assault on the world's relatively stable tribalpeoples and their resources' (Bodley, 1975:2). Anthopology can be seen as a tool, forexample, when the British were colonising parts of Asia because they realised 'the
usefulness of anthropology for understanding remote cultures and ‘exotic' populations'(Sodusta, 1993:325). The British used anthopological data to provide training for theirofficers, planners, and technicians in public policy, and modified parts of the indigenousculture to conform with the British ideals of society.Since "first contact", much of the world has been dramatically transformed. Small-scale,subsistence societies have all but vanished, natural resources have been consistentlydepleted, and the rate of irreversible environmental damage has intensified (Dodge,1976:203). Such transformation can be explained by the increase in material consumption of Western industrial societies.Industrial societies place great emphasis on continual economic growth and progress,'characteristically measur[ing] "standard of living" in terms of levels of materialconsumption' (Bodley, 1975:4). Alternately, small-scale socieities place emphasis onsubsistence needs, and accumulation of wealth 'is rarely the basis of social stratification'(Bodley, 1975:4). The contrast between the two types of societies is the basis of incompatibilities which cause problems and misunderstandings 'during the modernizationprocess' (Bodley, 1975:4).When cultures collide, particularly two as contrasting as Western industrial culture andsmall-scale subsistence culture, cultural change is inevitable. Cultural collision has beeneither by accident through exploration, planned action through colonisation, or overseasdevelopment programs. Regardless of the impetus for collision, small-scale indigenoussocieties have been and are affected by cultural change and ecological environmentaldamage.When it comes to implementing development programs in small-scale societies, anthro-pological knowledge can be used to increase understanding with regards to the way in whicha society functions. This knowledge may aid in the preservation of ethnic or cultual integrityand can help to 'predict the outcome of a programme, without creating new problems, or tofind adequate remedies before they become manifest' (Sodusts, 1993:326), therebyattempting to ensure the success of the program, first time round.Various aspects, such as communication, team work and a multi-disciplinary approach, aidin the success of development programs. Fruitful communication between social scientists,administrators and the indigenous population is essential. Involving the indigenouspopulation in the decision-making process allows them to become a part of the researchprocess, rather than simply the object of the research (Tyson, 1995). 'Programs which areconstructed of local input are more likely to be accepted by the local group' (Rogers andShoemaker cited Robins, 1985:15), rather than programs forced upon them withoutadequate explanation, by government authorities.A development program's success is, as mentioned above, dependent upon the acceptanceof the program by those it is designed for. To this end, anthropologists play a vital role'bring[ing] to [the development] team, detailed knowledge of the people in an area, and theholistic, integrated perspective that is essential to successful planning' (Howard, 1993:370).With a multi-disciplinary approach, the other members of the team, such as technicians,agronomists, engineers and economists, can be better informed, and thus, be able to betterformulate and implement their plans. The main objective of the applied anthropologist is to somehow, and in whatever capacity,improve the quality of life of those people who are under study. This may 'simply be amatter of keeping them from being exterminated or being reduced to even lower levels of poverty' (Howard, 1993:369). Anthropologists are able to achieve this objective, to a degree,by using their knowledge of the people, to help foster understanding by the other teammembers involved in the development program. For example, anthropologists, when
involved in land reform programs or birth control programs, are able to point out constraintsin the belief system of people which may hinder the program's success, or they may point to'institutions which can be mobilised and on which the proposed reforms or projects can bebuilt' (Cochrane, 1976:8).Anthropologists, with their holistic approach to research, are also able to demonstrate howpolitical, economic, social and cultural forces need to be taken into account when planningdevelopment, so as to reduce the impact that proposed plans will have on all concerned. It isfor this reason that, 'applied anthropology is concerned with both explicit and implicit formsof change' (Sodusta, 1993:337). Cultural change results from any development programwhether social, such as birth control, or physical, such as the implementation of irrigationprograms. And all forms of change impact on other aspects of the indigenous society.Because one form of development 'constitutes only one aspect of [the] social change'(Sodusta, 1993:336), it may engender an incorrect analysis in the first place and can havedire effects on a community.In the field, an applied anthropologist will experience more than a few dilemmas, eitherphysical, social, or bureaucratic. Many have expressed the hostility they felt whilst workingwithin a development team. Sacherer states that potential applied anthropologists shouldrealize that 'having detractors, even antagonists, is probably an inevitable part of working insuch a controversial and stress-filled occupation' (Sacherer, 1986:254). Hoben also statesthat the hositility is mainly due to the 'pessimistic adversary role' (Hoben cited Sacherer,1986:254), that anthropologists play, due to the fact that their sympathies usually always liewith the villagers, as opposed to the bureaucrats (Sacherer, 1986:254).Hoben has suggested administrators of bureaucracies believe that anthropologists are 'toonarrowly trained,...interested in only long-term research,...are hypercritical [and make] toofew constructive suggestions' (Hoben, 1982:354). It has been suggested thatanthropologists need to become more familiar with bureaucratic processes and becomefamiliar with 'documents and procedures, get involved early, be constructive and be realisticabout facing data constraints' (Greeley cited Hoben, 1982:362-363). Sacherer explains thatprior to designing any development program, an 'in depth anthropological survey of theneeds and problems of the targeted peoples of the region' (Sacherer, 1986:249), is neededso that the practical programs can be planned accordingly. The ethical perspective of applied anthropology, is still under widespread debate. Appliedanthopology, by its very nature of "pro-activism", contradicts the very basic principles of anthropology, that is, to watch and learn but not to intervene. But, as Sacherer explains,how can she 'in good conscience sit now on the sidelines, living in comfort provided in partby the money [she] saved while working with the villagers' (Sacherer, 1986:260). When ananthropologist decides to become actively involved s/he must keep in mind how theinformation gathered will eventually be used.When conducting sensitive research theanthropologist must be aware of any "hidden" agendas which may be associated with thecommissioning agency, and must always be aware that their data can be manipulated to thedisadvantage of the people being studied and to the benefit of the agency. Thus,'anthropologists can find themselves caught between the demands of their funding agencyand the people they study' (Sodusta, 1993:329).In conclusion, development in its most general sense implies some kind of improvement inthe quality of human lives (Howard, 1993:360). To achieve this objective, aid organisationssuch as the World Bank, have recently introduced new requirements advocating theusefulness of anthropological analysis. By doing so, they are attempting to ensure thesuccess of their development programs by making sure all team members are fully aware of the project's effects on the socio-cultural aspects of the indigenous societies (World Bankcited in Hoben, 1982:362).

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