Practicing Anthropologists Make Anthropology Matter

The 2017 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, was the usual whirlwind of presentations, meetings with colleagues and friends, and far too many coffees, but something was a bit different this year. More than ever, participants were talking about the meeting theme, “Anthropology Matters,” including discussions about how our discipline can be relevant in our current social, political, economic, environmental, you-name-it context. It feels like a moment when there’s so much to do—whether through our professional engagements or through our responsibilities as citizens.

Applied and practicing anthropologists are skilled at taking our anthropological training and turning it toward the resolution of real-world problems.

The AAA keynote address “Bending the Arc of Change,” a conversation among Alisse Waterston (AAA president), Paul Farmer (Harvard; co-founder, Partners in Health), and Jim Kim (president, World Bank Group; co-founder, Partners in Health), focused on doing, on making anthropology matter in the real world. But, of course, practicing anthropologists do this every day. The points made in the address, however, were powerful—anthropology must engage with the contemporary challenges our world faces, and we should not make critique an end-goal in and of itself. Waterston pointed out, injecting a bit of humor, that it was time for anthropology to “put up or shut up.”  Farmer further challenged us to think beyond our specific academic silos, saying, “We make the mistake of conflating our professional training with what we can do for social justice.”

It feels like a moment when there’s so much to do—whether through our professional engagements or through our responsibilities as citizens.

In line with these calls for action, NAPA organized a one day career expo for conference attendees. This expo drew together various organizations from the non-profit, corporate, and government sectors, all employers who utilize anthropology and anthropologists to conduct their work. The breadth of participating organizations and individuals demonstrated the range and variation of what the practice of anthropology can look like outside of more traditional academic settings. In speaking with representatives at the expo, it became clear that “thinking like an anthropologist” is a valuable asset far outside of the academic milieu. They raised some concerns that the organizations they represented would be eschewed by conference goers as overly applied uses of anthropology, however that did not appear to be the case. To make this point, one presenter mentioned in jest that, much to his surprise, he hadn’t “had anything thrown at him, yet.” Perhaps surprisingly, the expo was well attended by graduate students, early- and late-career anthropologists, demonstrating how many anthropologists are interested in applied and practicing work and how we are actively cultivating the ways in which anthropology can and does matter.

Applied and practicing anthropologists are skilled at taking our anthropological training and turning it toward the resolution of real-world problems. The spirit of the keynote address, and the meetings as a whole, were invigorating, and NAPA members should feel that this is a time to lift up our applied work and illustrate how anthropology does really matter.

Rachel Hall-Clifford, is a is a medical anthropologist working at the intersections of anthropology and public health. She is an assistant professor of anthropology and public health as well as the chair of the Public Health Department at Agnes Scott College. She is also is also co-director of the NAPA-OT Field School in Antigua, Guatemala and a contributing editor of the NAPA section for Anthropology News

Briana Nichols, is a doctoral candidate in the departments of Anthropology and Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently conducting research on deported youth migrants in Guatemala and is a contributing editor of the NAPA section for Anthropology News.

To submit contributions to NAPA Section News, please contact contributing editor Briana Nichols ([email protected]).

Cite as: Hall-Clifford, Rachel and Briana Nichols. 2018. “Practicing Anthropologists Make Anthropology Matter.” Anthropology News website, January 24, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.738

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