It is no surprise to anyone that has read this blog in the past that am an applied anthropologist, particularly work that I consider directly applied. By that I mean the use of anthropological theory and method as a tool to move the goals of an organization further. Applied anthropology that focuses on studying the culture of organizations or focuses on assessments I think of as indirectly applied anthropology. The primary difference being that with indirect applied work, the primary goal is to create what could be considered an academic product or publication. In direct applied work, cultural anthropology is just one discipline among many to move a larger goal forward, often resulting on a specific product, strategic direction, or other development goal. Just my particular bias, but when I refer to applied anthropology, I am referring to direct work.
With this is in mind I watched with interest a few months ago the reaction of academic anthropology when the governor of my state, Rick Scott of Florida, proclaimed that anthropology should no longer be taught given it was a not a valuable discipline. My interest was not in Gov Scott however. Those of us living in Florida have grown somewhat use to being the main source for the various “news of the weird” columns you read. Hardly a week seems to go by without the state government debating nonsensical legislation, some crank publicly threating to burn a Koran or a guy legally adopting his 40-something year old girlfriend. It is not just retirees and the homeless that move here for the great year-round weather, it turns out that bat-shit crazy people like nice weather and low rental prices as well.
Indeed, what caught my interest was how quickly applied anthropologists, (along with archaeologists and physical anthropologists) were trotted out to exclaim the value of anthropology. Of course that response was led by the University of South Florida, one of the few Ph.D programs in the country to focus on applied work. But what was not mentioned in any of that was small detail that the last major change to the code of ethics prior to the military issue was over applied anthropologists working in industry. People tend to forget that a lot of those people that are examples of anthropology’s value: working in major corporations, commercial think tanks and design / strategy firms were being dismissed by most as having sold out at best and were unethical moneygrubbers at worst. I would still argue that if a prospective Ph.D student expressed an intent to work in industry, or worse horrors – the military – they are not going to be accepted into many Ph.D programs.
But it did one thing, it put a bug into my ear about blogging again: About applied anthropology, where I think it can go, where I hope to see anthropologists working in the future and of course anthropologists in the national security and policy issues.