Anthropology News • March 2006


Anthropological Relevance and Social Capital


ow can anthropologists in the US productively contribute to policy and practical activities like program development and evaluation? The profession has long struggled with this issue. Challenges integrating the expertise of AAA congressional fellows into core association Jo Anne Schneider activities, and the eventual discontinuation of the program, are just one example of the association’s ambivalent relationship with interdisciplinary policy and practical activities. Interdisciplinary Engagement At present, two contradictory approaches have developed among anthropologists. An increasing number of anthropologists participate in interdisciplinary research. They contribute to a wide array of public issues, ranging from welfare reform, to health care, environmental conservation and human rights and social justice. Through research, testimony, practical programs and other mechanisms, these anthropologists help redefine issues and raise consciousness regarding the importance of qualitative, systemic and holistic approaches. While many are housed in anthropology departments, perhaps more work outside of the discipline. Some of the most visible in policy circles—scholars like Alex Stepick, Katherine Newman and Carol Stack—are associated with interdisciplinary policy, sociology and education environments. Those of us doing interdisciplinary work are often assumed to be sociologists, not anthropologists. Disciplinary Limitations In contrast to these anthropologists reaching across disciplinary boundCommentary Policy

aries, within the core US discipline—professional anthropology meetings, anthropology journals and many courses—conversations turn inward. Discipline-focused anthropologists increasingly concentrate on discourse and a narrow range of theoretical issues currently important within anthropology. I agree with George Marcus’ comments in last September’s AN that individual ethnographies have become “intelligible for the most part only within the terms of fashionable theories,” unfortunately theories which have limited currency and connection among those engaged in policy and practice. The cohesion of this internal dialogue often limits the range of interdisciplinary work discussed among these anthropologists. The limits sometimes circumscribe the literature taught to anthropology students. As a doctoral proposal reviewer for interdisciplinary funders, I have been saddened to review anthropological proposals that offer rich, sophisticated methods and analysis, yet fail to acknowledge relevant literature outside of the discipline. Theoretical concepts from other disciplines, or which fall outside the approaches currently in vogue, are discounted or ignored. Many of these anthropologists are content to critique from the outside, often from purist positions divorced from the complexities of every day practice. Debating Social Capital Take for example the hotly debated topic of social capital. Paul Durrenberger’s assertion in the December 2002 AN that “social capital is a bad idea” is one of several anthropological critiques of social capital that fail to engage the interdisciplinary conversation on this theoretical concept or its practical applications. Durrenberger thinks social capital is a bad concept primarily because it ignores class and misappropriates the concept of capital. Anthropologists, according to him, should not use economists’ terms, but instead focus on structural disadvantages

caused by the inequalities of our socio-economic system. Critiques like this one pay scant attention to the evolution of the concept as used by political scientist Robert Putnam or other social scientists. Most definitions of social capital, including Putnam’s, characterize the concept as trust-based social relations that lead to resources. Several policy definitions of the term, for example that used by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), include “norms that facilitate cooperation” as part of the concept. Putnam and his colleagues closely link social capital to civic engagement, assuming that participation in voluntary activities represents social capital. Putnam’s followers confuse generalized trust in society at large with the specific trust in members of a particular network characteristic of social capital. This use of social capital often ignores inequalities. A host of social scientists, led by Alejandro Portes, have offered an alternative definition grounded in an understanding of social structures. Unfortunately, anthropologists have largely remained outside of this theoretical debate, reinforcing views of the discipline as “a marginal discipline studying marginalia,” in the words of Don Brenneis and George Marcus. C O M M E N TA RY

AN Commentaries are designed to explore diverse views of the discipline from an anthropological perspective. Commentaries reflect the views of the authors; their publication does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA. Authors are expected to verify all factual information included in the text.

Views of Social Capital I agree that much of the policy discussion of social capital ignores class and power relations. Yet, rather than simply rejecting the concept, combating these misconceptions involves understanding the interdisciplinary debate and actively working with these other colleagues to restore core anthropological concepts in understanding social capital. This involves claiming the concept in anthropological terms, grounding the concept in ethnography, and using our consciousness of power relations in social systems to promote effective social change. Social capital has deep roots in anthropology. Pierre Bourdieu, often identified as an anthropologist, saw social capital as part of a

constellation of forms of capital— cultural, social, symbolic capital— working hand in hand with economic capital. In Distinction, Bourdieu describes how webs of social relations combine with cultural cues to maintain class factions. Social capital ensures that a small group will maintain control of key processes and means of production through their social connections, thereby limiting access to jobs and other resources. Carol Stack’s classic All Our Kin, for instance, shows how low-income African Americans rely on social networks to survive. Her later book, Call to Home, shows how middle class African Americans returning to the rural South use their knowledge of governmental bureaucracies gained through employment in the North to combat barriers to services created by long-standing racial inequality. Through bridging social and cultural capital developed by working in government, these African-American women fought white networks to open a day care center. As in these pieces, Stack’s later work explores the power relations inherent in social capital, closely linked to cultural capital. Emphasizing connections between cultural, economic and social capital contradicts the view of some policy makers that social capital is portable and can be divorced from its cultural context. Likewise, Katherine Newman’s No Shame in Our Game shows how low income workers similarly rely on their networks in finding and approaching employment. This combination of social connections and cultural context explain who gets and holds jobs in the inner city. These studies build on social network analysis, long a staple in anthropological research. They also emphasize the ways that networks reflect and reinforce social systems, power hierarchies and culture. As such, an anthropological approach to social capital draws on the emphasis of holism, structure, systems and processes characteristic of traditional anthropology. We have much to contribute to the ongoing debate over the meaning and utility of social capital.


offering our own methods and theories as important to understanding our topical issues. New and Old In National Security and the Global War on Terror CAROLYN FLUEHR-LOBBAN PAST COMMITTEE ON ETHICS CHAIR fter September 11 the failure to assess global terror threats to the US and its allies created intense interest in national security. for generating discussion and guidance on these new ethical challenges? Old Issues in National Security For a new generation of anthropologists it is relevant to recall that it was the revelation of anthropologists involved in counterinsurgency research in Southeast Asia that brought about the birth of the association’s first code of ethics during the Vietnam war era. and provide humanizing facts to the many myths about the ways that low income families spend money and why. changed the way scholars and policy makers understand income packaging for low income families through their book Making Ends Meet. the persuasive argument that the AAA is not a licensing association capable of censure prevailed. working with sociologist Katherine Edin. the profession would profit by revisiting this issue in our current period of global conflict. Edin and Lein demonstrate that low income families rely on a combination of work. Respected journalist Seymour Hersh. I nonetheless question whether the education mandate has proved sufficient to guide anthropologists to an understanding of clear standards of professional practice. or can be. indeed. the contribution of anthropology as a whole to policy and practice remains muted as long as the core of the US discipline fails to engage fully in interdisciplinary conversations. written in 1976 by deceased anthropologist Raphael Patai. at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons. They also show that it costs more for low income workers to work than rely on other supports. may have been used as a manual for intensive interrogation. What should be. and recalling his warning to the profession not to use anthropology. investigate or evaluate allegations of harm or abuse alleged by the use of anthropology as a discipline. or any science. The worthy objective of the code of ethics as a vehicle for education is neutral or silent as a mechanism for making statements or inquiries about the ethical conduct of anthropologists. meeting sessions. new challenge. stated as a core principle that “anthropologists’ paramount responsibility is to those they study. A direct question may be raised: by which mechanism(s) can the AAA assess or make any statement evaluating whether an anthropologist is upholding or harming the reputation of the discipline? I fear that the AAA. given its current ethics code and program. Thus the study of culture in all of its complexity has again become a vital but underutilized resource to national security. to journalists or others to determine them or shape them through their institutions. the response of the AAA if this journalist. would not be able to inquire. If we are. Only in this way can we hope to make a difference in our world. then we leave the interpretation of our ethics and principles of professionalism to the courts. supports from family. anthropologists would do well to enter the ongoing interdisciplinary debate. Members of the profession continue to play roles in a variety of fields. the Principles of Professional Responsibility (1971). Rather than critique from the side. often expanding ways of viewing issues or offering alternative solutions based on more systemic analysis grounded in the experience of people involved in a particular setting. and how they are conceptualized and practiced by anthropologists in dynamic contexts. ethical or professional. However. unable or unwilling to make statements about the ethical values of our profession. and an education model for the code of ethics was instituted. Appropriately withdrawing from any grievance or enforcement model (due to the use of previous codes of ethics for grievances primarily between colleagues). the primary responsibility is not to the financial backers. Core ethical principles of anthropological professionalism. committee work and peer review based on an expanded. Ethical Challenges. publications. ETHICAL CURRENTS Who is an Anthropologist? As debated in other social science disciplines such as psychology—where distinction is drawn between professional psychologists and counselors—the definition of who is a professional anthropologist and by which standards.” by inference. in as objective a framework as possible. In other professions—drawing upon more stringent biomedical models of ethics. faith communities and nonprofits. one may be held is urgently in need of discussion and debate. The Global War on Terror Anthropology News responded appropriately with several articles on the subject in its September 2004 issue. AN I A 5 . as a cover for espionage. in the global war on terror. The current AAA Code of Ethics states that “anthropologists bear responsibility for the integrity and reputation of their discipline. revealed in a May 2004 New Yorker article that The Arab Mind.DIALOGUE March 2006 • Anthropology News Making a Difference Anthropological approaches to social capital and other concepts can make a difference to policy and practice. reveals names of anthropologists employed as consultants or interrogators? What counsel or advice (affirming or negating their choices) do we offer to younger anthropologists contemplating employment with governmental intelligence or defense agencies? How can debates that occurred within the profession during the Vietnam War era inform the present moment regarding the use of anthropologists’ expertise in counter-insurgency research and direct action? As one of the members of the commission that drafted the present code of ethics adopted by the membership in 1998.” The current global war on terror raises questions regarding anthropology’s “integrity and reputation” and the ability of anthropologists to work effectively in the present international climate of research. or by anthropologists as practitioners. the old issue of covert or secret research needs to be revisited in the current context of the global war on terror. or another. The discipline can further foster anthropological engagement in interdisciplinary conversations by promoting courses. such as injunctions to “avoid harm or wrong” and to conduct research with “openness and full disclosure” need to be subjected vigorously to this “education mandate. The first code. In the spirit of the recent successful referendum to undo the censure of Franz Boas (after 86 years). We also abdicate a fundamental responsibility of a professional association and its leadership. Anthropologist Laura Lein. interdisciplinary conception of theory and practice. Does the code of ethics provide a sufficient vehicle for debate and the generation of clear positions that inform colleagues? Are there other documents adopted by the association. This is an urgent. for instance. Carolyn FluehrAnthropologists Lobban are likely being sought in greater numbers for employment in the global war on terror. or even yet unimagined frameworks. AN I Jo Anne Schneider is an associate research professor at George Washington University Institute for Public Policy and the anthropology department. and as an advocate of the model of an education mission for the association’s ethics program and code.” What does it mean in practice to “avoid harm” and when are standards breached and lines crossed in the conduct of research? What standards of informed consent in practice meet the “openness and full disclosure” admonition? Likewise. and is the author of Social Capital and Welfare Reform. with anthropological responses building on a combination of the discipline’s rich history and engagement with colleagues across disciplines working on an issue. such as nursing—professional conduct and standards are defined and enforced. emphasizing a critical need for better human intelligence. government. which some argue is torture. such that professionals are required to report misconduct. for instance. clients or government programs sponsoring research. The first step involves encouraging anthropologists to address a full range of interdisciplinary perspectives on concepts. She served as a AAA Congressional Fellow and an American Association for the Advancement of Science Science and Technology Fellow at NIH.

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