I’m sure the subject has come up before, but here it goes again…..Does one need a PhD in Anthropology in order to be called an Anthropologist? Must you belong to an organization such as a university or government agency to say you are an Anthropologist? Can someone without a complete academic degree be called an anthropologist? “Free lance” Anthropology or independent Anthropology, is there such thing.

I say this because one of my co-workers suggested that in my presentations on inmate management I should mention what training I have in Anthropology (less than 100 hrs) and how through ethnography I formulate new concepts. Personally I would like to call them working hypostases’. I am told that this would add value to my presentation and to my message towards approaching incarceration through a different view.

If you are an academic or conducting any anthropological work without academic credentials, I would like to hear what you have to say.

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To me the term Freelance Anthropologist conjures up images of the old style "anthropologists" (circa 17-19th centuries i.e. colonial era) who used other peoples first hand experiences and wrote articles about other cultures from the safety of their own home 1/2 the world away.

I realise your in the US so things will most probably be very different to Australia which is what I'm about to refer to.

Over here (Australia) to work as an Anthropologist you must have completed your Honours year (the 4th year of an Undergraduate degree) with Anthropology as your major. We have a 3 year degree system with an optional 4th year Honours. That is the very minimum legal requirement.

I may be wrong with this next bit but there are a few other Australians on here who know more than I do so they may correct me. From what I have seen not many actually work as Anthropologists until they are in their Masters degree. However there is nothing stopping an Undergraduate from working with Anthropologists supervisor to gain experience. I only know of 1 university in Australia that has an Undergraduate Fieldwork/Research unit in the Undergraduate degree, all the others wait until Honours or Masters level before introducing actual hands on work to the course.
It is obvious that a whole lot of anthropology today is tied up with the universities and most of our members have had some association with an anthropology program there. But this identification of the discipline with the academy is historically very recent, not much more than the second half of the twentieth century, in fact. Before that, many of the best-known anthropologists were attached to universities, but rarely to departments of anthropology as such and their audience was of necessity drawn from the wider public. They themselves were usually trained in another discipline and their students were missionaries, colonial administratros and the like. We often take as our point of reference the academic boom of the 1960s and 70s when anthropologists were able to publish books aimed at other specialists like themselves, including students tied to their courses. But this situation is already long gone and hardly a model for anthropology's survival and development in the twenty-first century.

When I founded the OAC with a group of friends, I knew that most of our members would be drawn from the universities, especially graduate students. And their needs are important. But equally, from previous experience I knew that the insitutional framework of the academy lays a dead hand on the language, norms and potential of such a network. I once founded a listserv called the amateur anthropological association (small-triple-a) with the motto "amateurs do it for love", meaning that we encouraged non -anthropologists to join and professionals and students to indulge their love for the subject in a free way. I believe that the fusion of a medieval guild model with modern bureacracy, which shapes so much of contemporary anthrpopology, cannot provide the basis for the discipline's future. This will have to come from making new connections with the general public, while harnessing the new social and technical possibilities of our era. The universities will remain crucial to that task, but not as a guild monopoly, since the internet doesn't like monopolies.

So I would say that the word 'anthropologist' could be taken in a formal and a substantive way. The first and currently dominant sense (Anthropologist) would be tied to the universities, as Michael suggests. The second sense would be more general (anthropologist) and refer to anyone who has a developed interest in the whole of humanity or in ethnography or whatever, regardless of formal training. Some of the people I have learned most from as an Anthropologist are at best anthropologists in the latter sense. I believe that Anthropology and anthropology can only grow by keeping exchanges flowing across the boundaries of the academic discipline. For that reason I welcome your initiative and hope that we might discuss here how that flexibility might be encouraged here at the OAC and elsewhere.
Hello Steven! I've been calling myself a "freelance anthropologist" since I decided not to attend any Phd or MA program, about 10 years ago... I surely have an academic preparation as an anthropologist from my university in Rome, but I have been working autonomosly in ethnographic projects, in the periphery of Barcelona, without belonging to any institution or following any doctorate project. Actually, I'm dealing with this problem, since all of my academic referents insist I have to apply for some graduate studies: if the profile of the freelance anthropologist had some more credibility, as it does for photographers or journalists, maybe I could continue my studies on the field, and don't have to bother attending universities. At the same time, after many years of "freelancing", I really feel the need to get back in touch with the academics... just to make sure I'm not going the wrong way! Maybe this is the ultimate sense of the academic institution: to provide a common ground for people working autonomously, to make them share and discuss their experiences on the field, to make them less isolated and to help them get an overall view of how anthropologists are working worldwide. Being on the field many years, without a formal attachment with an institution, made me feel a bit alone and a bit crazy. We don't have a "market" as photographers and journalists do, to assure us that what we are doing is really interesting. Maybe we can supply to this need through independent groups and anthropology blogs, but until the moment (or at least for me) these thing don't manage to keep me up to date to the point of bypassing the academies.
Michael thanks for your response. I do apologize for the long response time but I have been very busy lately. Being an Anthropologist associated with an academic institution is my goal. However, given that I have school aged children and the current economic conditions here in the United States; I have to put my work before my education.

I’m a late comer to anthropology. I have always found the subject fascinating but never thought about pursing it as an academic discipline or even a career. It wasn’t unit studying anthropology that I decided to actually pursue a degree plan. Before, I took courses mainly because I love learning, and so I have had various majors before finally finding something I was really interested in, kind’ve kicking myself now.

My goal right now is to work on my writing and of course, get some sort of experience in the field. I have come across various opportunities to volunteer in field work, and I do plan to do so in the very near future. Until then I am using my work with inmates and the dealings with personnel in the criminal justice system to gain whatever experience I can. So far I have been able to bring some minor changes merely by talking to supervisors about what I have observed. While some have appreciated it, I find that most could either careless or have resentment towards what I am trying to do.

I am in the process of creating a blog dealing with the issue of incarceration and hope to add a link on my personal page here if that is allowed. In addition, I have decided to create a blog here with my notes in the very near future, so I can get some feed back and hopefully be told what I am doing wrong and how to fix it. The deal is that now that I am getting some folks’ attention and starting a blog, I want to know what would be an appropriate way, if any, to let people know what I’m doing is anthropology or at least trying to do. I know I have brought some value, however being a corrections officer alone, creates the stereotype by others that you are really just a “turn key”- just there to open and close doors. I appreciate your response it re-enforces my goal of completing my education.


Michael Findlay said:
To me the term Freelance Anthropologist conjures up images of the old style "anthropologists" (circa 17-19th centuries i.e. colonial era) who used other peoples first hand experiences and wrote articles about other cultures from the safety of their own home 1/2 the world away.

I realise your in the US so things will most probably be very different to Australia which is what I'm about to refer to.

Over here (Australia) to work as an Anthropologist you must have completed your Honours year (the 4th year of an Undergraduate degree) with Anthropology as your major. We have a 3 year degree system with an optional 4th year Honours. That is the very minimum legal requirement.

I may be wrong with this next bit but there are a few other Australians on here who know more than I do so they may correct me. From what I have seen not many actually work as Anthropologists until they are in their Masters degree. However there is nothing stopping an Undergraduate from working with Anthropologists supervisor to gain experience. I only know of 1 university in Australia that has an Undergraduate Fieldwork/Research unit in the Undergraduate degree, all the others wait until Honours or Masters level before introducing actual hands on work to the course.
Keith, since joining the OAC, my interest in anthropology and my overall understanding of what anthropology is has only grown. The internet I believe, has evened out the playing field in that now the novice have the same capabilities to operate at the same level as professionals. Both extremes have their pros and cons.

Suppose I were an Anthropologist associated with a university and my research was aimed at the daily interaction between inmates and the jail staff. Because of my credentials, I could ask for permission to conduct such a study and have the ability to follow up. I could ask an inmate for his information and let him know I am there to learn about his time while incarcerated. I could even communicate with his family and find how they are handling his incarceration. I would be able to do the same with jail staff. I would have the permission which would most likely be granted because of my credentials.

As an anthropologist (non-academic ties) I would not be able to gain such permission. In fact I would not be able to follow up with the inmate’s life after incarceration nor with his family while he is incarcerated. That is if I want to keep my job. Whatever anthropological work I do, has to be in the dark, so to speak. I believe that some may criticize the fact that I don’t let my study subjects know I am studying them as unethical.
When I approach administrators with new concepts and ideas based on what I have observed, I have to do so carefully.

A major advantage that I have is that I am working alongside those I have chosen to study, so I fit neatly into the necessary roles to observe first hand the real reactions of real people to real situations. I experience first hand being assaulted by an inmate and feeling the rush of defending myself. I am able to witness the pain of an officer’s family when he or she is hurt. With inmates, I see their true reactions when they are either found guilty or innocent. I can go on but I am sure you understand my point.

Now perhaps what I hope to gain the most from the OAC is guidance from seasoned professionals. I really believe that most people want to be part of something bigger than them and anthropology provides such an opportunity. I don’t plan on studying the societal effects of incarceration for my entire anthropological career, freelance or not. I feel confident however that whatever path in anthropology I choose to follow; the OAC will be a source of information that will guide me along that path. And I hope that is one of the goals you are aiming at, that the OAC will be such a place for the seasoned and the novice from different walks of life to come together and exchange their knowledge, techniques and experiences. Such an community I believe could only benefit our world.


Keith Hart said:
It is obvious that a whole lot of anthropology today is tied up with the universities and most of our members have had some association with an anthropology program there. But this identification of the discipline with the academy is historically very recent, not much more than the second half of the twentieth century, in fact. Before that, many of the best-known anthropologists were attached to universities, but rarely to departments of anthropology as such and their audience was of necessity drawn from the wider public. They themselves were usually trained in another discipline and their students were missionaries, colonial administratros and the like. We often take as our point of reference the academic boom of the 1960s and 70s when anthropologists were able to publish books aimed at other specialists like themselves, including students tied to their courses. But this situation is already long gone and hardly a model for anthropology's survival and development in the twenty-first century.

When I founded the OAC with a group of friends, I knew that most of our members would be drawn from the universities, especially graduate students. And their needs are important. But equally, from previous experience I knew that the insitutional framework of the academy lays a dead hand on the language, norms and potential of such a network. I once founded a listserv called the amateur anthropological association (small-triple-a) with the motto "amateurs do it for love", meaning that we encouraged non -anthropologists to join and professionals and students to indulge their love for the subject in a free way. I believe that the fusion of a medieval guild model with modern bureacracy, which shapes so much of contemporary anthrpopology, cannot provide the basis for the discipline's future. This will have to come from making new connections with the general public, while harnessing the new social and technical possibilities of our era. The universities will remain crucial to that task, but not as a guild monopoly, since the internet doesn't like monopolies.

So I would say that the word 'anthropologist' could be taken in a formal and a substantive way. The first and currently dominant sense (Anthropologist) would be tied to the universities, as Michael suggests. The second sense would be more general (anthropologist) and refer to anyone who has a developed interest in the whole of humanity or in ethnography or whatever, regardless of formal training. Some of the people I have learned most from as an Anthropologist are at best anthropologists in the latter sense. I believe that Anthropology and anthropology can only grow by keeping exchanges flowing across the boundaries of the academic discipline. For that reason I welcome your initiative and hope that we might discuss here how that flexibility might be encouraged here at the OAC and elsewhere.
Steven R. Vasquez said:
I hope that the OAC will be such a place for the seasoned and the novice from different walks of life to come together and exchange their knowledge, techniques and experiences.

I hope so too, Steven. I recall a very interesting exchange, to which John Mac contributed a lot, when you first joined the OAC. Some of what I would say now was said then. The question of how open or covert you can afford to be in research is not just a matter of being an academic or not. In my doctoral fieldwork I preferred to approach questions in a roundabout way and tried to underplay my academic qualifications.This was very time-consuming. Later, I carried out shorter periods of fieldwork while employed by a government or international agency and found that questioning could be a lot more direct, even if I was quite clearly one of Them. This is something of a principle for me: when we make a simple contrast, as been academic and freelance anthropology, we often find that the same issues crop up on both sides of the divide, but usually in a different way.
Hi, Steven. Hope all is well with you. My advice, such as it is, is never to claim a credential when the claim might come back and bite you some day. On the other hand, I see nothing whatsoever the matter with saying, for example, "I decided to study the prison as an anthropologist might. I consulted with professional anthropologists about how to proceed. Here is what I think I've discovered so far." Later, if you decide that you want to do a degree in anthropology, being able to say something like that would be pretty impressive.

Re the issues you raise in your last reply to Keith, I really can't say much. When you say that, for example, ifyou were to contact an inmate's family or the inmate after he left prison you would lose your job, I find myself imagining legal restrictions put in place to prevent guards from becoming illicit conduits for dope, weapons, chocolate cakes or whatever else it is that inmates are not supposed to have. Is this in the right ballpark as a reason for the rules that research conducted from your current position might violate?

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