Anthropology should not be constrained to academia. The statement below describes my opinion on the relevance of anthropology in a broad sense. It is addressed to academic anthropologists, but the ideas it supports should be of concern to publics and communities at large.
Anthropology & the Public
The specialties of the anthropologist are cultural relativism and understanding, concepts that the world’s population desperately needs to internalize in an age of intolerance and strife. This is an age of virulent inequality in which nation-states are pillaging land from indigenous peoples, societies are oppressing and marginalizing their women under the guises of social values, leaders are using naturalistic fallacies to justify their abhorrence of queer people, and governments are ensuring the continual impoverishment of 99% of the people through neo-capitalist policies that prop up the other 1%.
None of these tactics are new. But, all are happening in a world with a new crop of anthropologists, eager to make up for a past of colonial bargains, racist typologies, and isolated scholarship. For decades, we have been eager to unsully our discipline’s reputation and prove that our field can be relevant to all. To do so we must act justly and with fervor.
We must engage in more public outreach. Anthropologists possess a wealth of potentially world-altering information, and for too long we have hoarded it, doling out small portions in classrooms and at conferences. It must be made accessible to all. We also should reevaluate our values. Social justice actions should be seen as highly as the number of a scholar’s peer-reviewed publications- anthropologists should be on the front lines as people around the world work to achieve equality. The Open Access movement needs our support, participatory ethnography should be the norm, and our children should be growing up with anthropology in their schools.
Our students need training to meet these goals. We need to organize and mobilize our talents. We need action- workshops and conferences and summits on how to use our hard earned anthropological skills with that fervor and desire for justice. We need to know how to value ourselves as public citizens, and how to perform in that role.
(note: this is an excerpt from a winning piece originally submitted to the National Association of Student Anthropologists’ Travel Award Competition)