I'm very excited to be part of this network dedicated to the future of anthropology. But what is open anthropology?

Or to put it in other words: what does/can the open anthropology community do for each of us? Or again in other words: which actions or behavior could be typical for the open anthropology community?

If anthropology itself is concerned with bringing about a more equal and democratic society than ever existed, then what is open anthropology? Is it simply a collaborative approach to this concern or is it more than that?

Can open anthropology give us access to outcomes that are otherwise not accessible? Is meaning of open not related to the concern of anthropology itself?

So many questions, what's your take?

Steven

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While I would agree that anthropologists/ethnographers cannot (always) avoid doing some form of 'harm' through their work, a deliberate decision or ‘mission’ to do harm, to name and shame, discredit and condemn others under the guise of dedication to human understanding does anthropology a great disservice.

Anthropologists are human beings with their own beliefs, moral backgrounds, subjectivities and opinions, and have thankfully long stopped pretending that it is possible to remove these entirely from their research. Anthropology is about lived experience, and part of my understanding of "open anthropology" in this respect is that no one owns it: it is ‘ours’ and it is ‘theirs’ in equal measure. I therefore do not agree that an anthropologist’s actions should be entirely about self-interest or social agenda motivated by ideas like proving “which society is better”.

To believe in certain moral imperatives, to be disgusted by inhumane behavior and to have an innate desire to eradicate it, are fairly common positions among people, even as their societies record infinite counter examples of the ‘harm’ that humans inflict upon each other. As anthropologists, we are not exempt from passing judgement, and we shouldn’t be. Anthropologists encounter (un)ethical situations every day in the field – some relatively minor, and others with great or life-threatening consequences on a massive scale – but all potentially ‘harmful’. I think Paul’s example was an apt and sensible illustration.

We make decisions to act (hopefully) based on respect and compassion for others as well as any personal motivation as academics or interested parties in the interactions that we become a part of. However, in the end, the idea that anthropologists have the right or duty to "do all harm possible to those of whom one does not approve" is a seriously distasteful suggestion when considered to its full implications. Think for a moment of the missionary or military history of anthropology’s sometimes murky past (and present?) or, indeed, of magnifying the cases that Philip notes with repugnance.

I, too, consider myself a critical, committed, engaged anthropologist and I recognize that relationships between people are complex and constantly negotiated. I believe in the ability of an “engaged anthropology” to challenge existing tenets of thought, power and injustice by allowing informed perspectives to make a difference. However, the fact that anthropologists can potentially upset power relations, draw connections between the activities and histories of peoples and places around the world, and inspire individuals to think critically about themselves, is not, in my opinion, an open entitlement to manipulate others. And it certainly does not alleviate the need to judge situations according to both their long- and short-term impact on all involved.

This is an endless issue and ethical codes in anthropology are woefully inadequate because of it. If an anthropologist observes a grave injustice to humanity, are they not bound to report it, to take a stand, to do something to protect the lives of innocent people? I think we’d unanimously say yes, and not simply to take credit for "justice", "equality" or "progressive change". On the other hand, I take issue with doing harm to achieve morally superior ends as something righteous in and of itself - for much the same reason that I would not support, for instance, military or religious plans that claim to do exactly the same thing.

Are anthropologists de facto experts on right and wrong? Is it really acceptable to choose our enemies and weaponize anthropology against them?

I was drawn to anthropology because of its realistic understanding of the complexities and challenges of human agenda and motive; of many sides to the same issue. Isn’t “open anthropology” about dialogue on these points, not sweeping statements accepting and condoning more harm being done? IMO, a blanket assertion of doing harm can only, in the end, do more harm, rather than “bring about a more equal and democratic society than ever existed” (though the jury is out on how to make that happen or if its even possible).
Francine Barone said:
While I would agree that anthropologists/ethnographers cannot (always) avoid doing some form of 'harm' through their work, a deliberate decision or ‘mission’ to do harm, to name and shame, discredit and condemn others under the guise of dedication to human understanding does anthropology a great disservice.


Fran,

When I gave my instant response to Deniz, it did not occur to me that a case might be made for seeking to harm some persons or interest encountered during fieldwork. I was thinking of the enormous debt ethnographers usually feel to the people who took them in and gave them insight into their own lives and circumstances, when they would be unlikely to be able to anticipate the social implications of their confidences. I responded to her particular query about how 'open' we should be with such information.

If I had taken more time to think through my response, I would hope that it might come close to what you have written here. Not to be coy, I would like to frame your statement and offer it as an example to newcomers of the best that the OAC has to offer.

Keith
What about all these anthropologists that have been reported to have active commitement to military operations such as in Afghanistan ? Do they harm by definition local populations or they just 'help' their employers to 'understand better' the local traditions as the official motto goes on ? Is that an example of open anthropology or something else ? I saw yesterday some videos of Max Forte in that site that paradoxally has exactly the same name as this threat OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY. Also Jamil Hanifi a member of OAC wrote many articles on the involvement of anthropologists in the military zones. I should like some colleagues here to relate the OPENESS OF ANTHROPOLOGY with these military activities.
NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
What about all these anthropologists that have been reported to have active commitement to military operations such as in Afghanistan ? I should like some colleagues here to relate the OPENESS OF ANTHROPOLOGY with these military activities.

There is a vigorous debate about the use of anthropology by the military and David Price hosts an active discussion group here on that topic. Feelings run high on this issue and I know which side I am on. Max Forte was part of the founding group of OAC, but subsequently left in response to disagreement over the theory and practice of 'open anthropology'. His site is one of the most prominent in our field. There is obviously room for argument about what 'open anthropology' is. How could it be otherwise?

My personal view is that the OAC should be open to anyone with an interest in anthropology and 'open' would then mean as little restriction as possible on the constitution and activities of members. The administrators continue to discuss among ourselves and in public what kind of behaviour would be inadmissible and how we should regulate it. There is something of this under the About tab and in the OAC policy forum.

Recently there was some concern when a serving soldier in the US army joined the OAC. This was controversial in view of the advanced political argument in which Forte, Price and Marshall Sahlins (reprising his active role in contesting the Vietnam war) have taken the lead. We quickly decided that we would not exclude anyone on grounds of status alone, preferring to control anti-social behaviour when it occurs. We therefore advocate a network for the practice of open anthropology that, on the religious analogy, would be a broad church, not a sect. The keyword here would be tolerance, but not unprincipled licence.
An anthropology bent on moralizing not only puts those of its informants of whom the anthropologist disapproves at risk of harm, but is itself a retrograde effort. Certainly it is true that anthropologists are all human, more or less, and that we all have our values, ethics, and morals, or at least sentiments and opinions that we label as such. But, as we are agreed, that does not distinguish an anthropologist from any peasant, tribesman, or town dweller anywhere in the world. If all anthropology is is “critical,” “committed,” and “pro/anti-this-or-that,” it is no different from, and no more than any village, tent, or urban culture.

Today, there are highland Sardinians committed to community unity, who, in defence of equality, will shoot or burn any individual or enterprise threatening that by rising above the others. Around the world there are families of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin highly sensitive to local mores in the Middle East, and critical of local mores in Europe and North America, and ready to defend their honour by killing their wives, sisters, and daughters. In Iran today, those upholding the strict view of the rule of the just Shia jurist, know in their hearts that demonstrators in the streets are committing an offense against God, and will use all the power of the state to crush those demonstrators and destroy them and their families. All of these folks “know what is right or wrong” and are critical and committed to advance their visions. Why would anyone care what sentiments anthropologists have about these or any other issues?

While moralizing is normal and universal among humans, it is not anthropology. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a moralist, or an activist, or a politician, and many have chosen to be terrorists, but being these is not being an anthropologist. To pretend that doing these is doing anthropology destroys the value in anthropology, as we replace knowledge with moralizing and sloganeering.

Let us take Steve’s concept of anthropology as an example: “anthropology itself is concerned with bringing about a more equal and democratic society than ever existed.” This is not a research project with a goal of advancing knowledge. This is a political project, not that different from that of socialist parties of 19th and 20th century. I have no objection is Steve wants to start a political movement or party; but I do object if he want to call it “anthropology.”

This is not to say that anthropology cannot concern itself with “equality” and “democracy.” It certainly can, and perhaps should. But as a research enterprise. For example, we could direct research to understanding the conditions under which equality increases, and the consequences of such an increase. Similarly, we could direct research to understanding the conditions under which democracy arises, and the conditions under which it is sustained. Furthermore, we could, and perhaps should, look at relations between equality and democracy, to determine the extent to which they are compatible and incompatible. We might also wish to understand the rise and implications of other values, such as prosperity, freedom, order, excellence, holiness, superiority, creativity, etc., and the relations among them, and their relative compatibilities and incompatibilities. Our findings would be highly “relevant” and constructive, both in understanding human life more generally, and in considering pursuing one or other of these values in practical life.

I find it odd to say, as Francine has done and Keith has enthusiastically endorsed, that we should strive for something without knowing whether it is possible or what the costs may be: Anthropology should strive to “bring about a more equal and democratic society than ever existed (though the jury is out on how to make that happen or if its even possible).” There are at least three things odd about this: First, why would we be advancing something if we do not seem to know anything about it? Shouldn’t we have some idea what the possibilities are, and what the costs are, before advocating such a project? Second, wouldn’t it be the job of a serious research anthropology to collect information about how such changes happen and what the costs are? Why say “who knows?” when it is our job to try to know, or at least advance our knowledge on the subject. Third, the view presented seems to suggest that the many experiments in equality and democracy during the 19th and 20th centuries are not pertinent. I would think that a study of “people’s democracies” would be instructive: try the USSR, North Korea, China prior to 1980, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, Cuba, etc.

If anthropology is to have a future, it had better be sure to make a serious contribution to understanding.
Philip

If I understand well your claim for understanding everything turns around the old subjectivity/objectivity riddle that tortured all social scientists in the last 100 years ( including us here in OAC recently- see the relative discussions-). What could be a generalised conclusion to all this dispute ( because we NEED some generalizations sometimes are n't we ?) is that old Max Weber who precised well the limits of the '' profession '' of a politician ( politik als beruf)' and who tried to create an objective sociology of VERSTEHEN ( understanding) in order to illuminate the reasons of human activities, failed to his neutral objectivity and we anthropologists bored after a loooooong mariage with this so said objectivity, return and flirt again with the seductive SUBJECTIVITY. So, when you claim that WE MUST KNOW or at least TRY TO KNOW instead of saying 'WHO KNOWS ?' I think we have to precise first clearly WHAT EXACTLY TO KNOW because there are not limits to the moral terms depending to different cultural trends, so the question is : IS THERE A UNIVERSAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE DISTANCIATED FROM MORAL AND ETHIC PRESCRIPTIONS ? If yes,we should be the first to conquere and propagate it , but if the experience of life ( and not any Academia) will prove that there is not THEN WE MUST BE THE FIRST TO DECLARE THIS FACT (and consequently limitate our ambitions to more humble aims ).
Nikos, there are two substantial discussion threads at the group "Theory in Anthropology," one on "How important is 'evidence' for anthropological knowledge, and theory?" and the other on "Post-subjective anthropology." A fair amount of exploration of the issues you raise can be found in these threads.
i know Philip i 've read these discussions and participated to some questions but the point is HOW ALL THESE THREADS ARE RELATED TO THE OPENESS OF ANTHROPOLOGY AS A DISCIPLINE
We had better try to produce something substantive beyond our personal and political opinions and preferences, or close down and admit that anthropology has nothing to say. Why should tax payers give us money to wax enthusiastic about views with no more reliability than those of their children, or of anyone plucked from any corner of the earth?

"Openness" is relevant because a marketplace of ideas, in which divergent views compete, is a major mechanism for ascertaining the soundness of different ideas, or so some have argued.
I agree to this motivation of being active as a professional anthropologist paid by the state taxes.
Yet, remains the problem of all amateur and marginal anthropologists who work for pleasure and are not paid by any state tax and yet contribute to the discipline. Maybe this category of marginal anthropologists are more OPEN for obvious reasons than the others who have to be reserved if not willing to loose ,jobs, salaries and academic careers.
Nikos, the more basic question is whether anthropology is anything more than our sentiments and attitudes. This would be relevant to both professional and independent anthropologists.
Philip,

This is the post I was hoping for earlier (rather than having you take my statements, change them, and beat me over the head with them).

I am pretty sure that I agree with nearly every statement you made regarding what is and isn't anthropology. It seems to me too that when anthropologists become activists on behalf of the cultures they study, it is no longer just anthropology. When anthropologists do more than describe, analyze, and generalize, and begin to place value judgments on what they see, that too is going beyond anthropology. It doesn't mean that they are not anthropologists, but that they may be stepping into activities that are better described as politics, activism, etc.

My question for you: What is your view of Applied Anthropology? In order to focus anthropological methods onto the problems we face today, doesn't an Applied Anthropologist need to first make value judgments to identify what is a problem and what isn't? Won't they necessarily become an advocate for one group and be at odds with another? Isn't doing harm (by your definition) part and parcel of the Applied approach?

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
An anthropology bent on moralizing not only puts those of its informants of whom the anthropologist disapproves at risk of harm, but is itself a retrograde effort. Certainly it is true that anthropologists are all human, more or less, and that we all have our values, ethics, and morals, or at least sentiments and opinions that we label as such. But, as we are agreed, that does not distinguish an anthropologist from any peasant, tribesman, or town dweller anywhere in the world. If all anthropology is is “critical,” “committed,” and “pro/anti-this-or-that,” it is no different from, and no more than any village, tent, or urban culture.

Today, there are highland Sardinians committed to community unity, who, in defence of equality, will shoot or burn any individual or enterprise threatening that by rising above the others. Around the world there are families of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin highly sensitive to local mores in the Middle East, and critical of local mores in Europe and North America, and ready to defend their honour by killing their wives, sisters, and daughters. In Iran today, those upholding the strict view of the rule of the just Shia jurist, know in their hearts that demonstrators in the streets are committing an offense against God, and will use all the power of the state to crush those demonstrators and destroy them and their families. All of these folks “know what is right or wrong” and are critical and committed to advance their visions. Why would anyone care what sentiments anthropologists have about these or any other issues?

While moralizing is normal and universal among humans, it is not anthropology. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a moralist, or an activist, or a politician, and many have chosen to be terrorists, but being these is not being an anthropologist. To pretend that doing these is doing anthropology destroys the value in anthropology, as we replace knowledge with moralizing and sloganeering.

Let us take Steve’s concept of anthropology as an example: “anthropology itself is concerned with bringing about a more equal and democratic society than ever existed.” This is not a research project with a goal of advancing knowledge. This is a political project, not that different from that of socialist parties of 19th and 20th century. I have no objection is Steve wants to start a political movement or party; but I do object if he want to call it “anthropology.”

This is not to say that anthropology cannot concern itself with “equality” and “democracy.” It certainly can, and perhaps should. But as a research enterprise. For example, we could direct research to understanding the conditions under which equality increases, and the consequences of such an increase. Similarly, we could direct research to understanding the conditions under which democracy arises, and the conditions under which it is sustained. Furthermore, we could, and perhaps should, look at relations between equality and democracy, to determine the extent to which they are compatible and incompatible. We might also wish to understand the rise and implications of other values, such as prosperity, freedom, order, excellence, holiness, superiority, creativity, etc., and the relations among them, and their relative compatibilities and incompatibilities. Our findings would be highly “relevant” and constructive, both in understanding human life more generally, and in considering pursuing one or other of these values in practical life.

I find it odd to say, as Francine has done and Keith has enthusiastically endorsed, that we should strive for something without knowing whether it is possible or what the costs may be: Anthropology should strive to “bring about a more equal and democratic society than ever existed (though the jury is out on how to make that happen or if its even possible).” There are at least three things odd about this: First, why would we be advancing something if we do not seem to know anything about it? Shouldn’t we have some idea what the possibilities are, and what the costs are, before advocating such a project? Second, wouldn’t it be the job of a serious research anthropology to collect information about how such changes happen and what the costs are? Why say “who knows?” when it is our job to try to know, or at least advance our knowledge on the subject. Third, the view presented seems to suggest that the many experiments in equality and democracy during the 19th and 20th centuries are not pertinent. I would think that a study of “people’s democracies” would be instructive: try the USSR, North Korea, China prior to 1980, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, Cuba, etc.

If anthropology is to have a future, it had better be sure to make a serious contribution to understanding.

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