How does anthropology contribute towards knowledge production within and beyond the boundaries of its discipline? Are different kinds of knowledge produced according to the context? What does anthropology have to offer that is truly its own in an interdisciplinary context? Whether it be theory in anthropology or theory for anthropology, does the theory used in anthropology have any significant impact in the wider world?  

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Elizabeth, have you had a chance to read the first issue of anthropologies? Lots of relevant stuff there.
The one time I attended a meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA), I was impressed by the variety of work in which the people I met there were involved. Also the upbeat mood of the meeting, a sharp contrast with the dark mood of the meeting of the American Ethnological Society that was just a few blocks away. The reason seemed pretty clear. The established professionals in the SfAA crowd were all people who had found niches in which the work they did was highly regarded—they even got paid for it. Their students expected to follow their path. Anyway, you might want to check out the SfAA home page, especially their statement of goals.
Finally, the attached file is a piece I wrote for the Association for Asian Studies newsletter at the invitation of anthropologist John Traphagan, who was then the Newsletter's editor. It offers a third direction from which to approach your questions.
Attachments:

Wow! Thanks for your speedy three replies! I wasn't aware of the first issue of anthropologies and shall certainly check all of this out.

 I think I should come clear on what my intention was in posting this question which I knew was not exactly original! I shall be giving a session next week in a course open to the general public on "multiculturalism and interculturality" and for my own research interests, will open the class by asking people what use they think anthropology has. At the end of the class, I shall ask them if anybody wants to revise what they have written and why. I then thought it would be interesting to compare their statements with responses from anthropologists on OAC.....so if anybody is up to the challenge, if you had to say what is the use of anthropology to a public of non-anthropologists in just a couple of sentences, what would you say?

Elizabeth, I write a lot about the use of anthropology, but I have always found this summary stimulating:

Foucault (in The Order of Things) ended his “archaeology of the human sciences” with some reflections on why psychoanalysis and social anthropology (ethnologie) “…occupy a privileged position in our knowledge”:

“…because, on the confines of all the branches of knowledge investigating man, they form a treasure-hoard of experiences and concepts, and above all a perpetual principle of dissatisfaction, of calling into question…what may seem, in other respects, to be established.” “[They] are not so much two human sciences among others, but they span the entire domain of those sciences, they animate its whole surface…[They] are ‘counter-sciences’; which does not mean that they are less ‘rational’ or ‘objective’ than the others, but that they flow in the opposite direction, that they lead them back to their epistemological basis, and that they ceaselessly ‘unmake’ that very man who is creating and re-creating his positivity in the human sciences.

 

My own two sentences: Anthropology is more of an anti-discipline than a discipline. It starts from what living people really do and it aims to embrace humanity as a whole (past, present and future).

At first I was a little suspicious of the phrase 'knowledge production' in your statement since the implication seems to be that anthropology is only of use if it can establish and sell a product to people with money. But if the idea of production is simply making - and all people make things and all people contribute to making their own environment - then anthropology is an open-ended but explicit reflection on that process; it is useful in the same way that reflection is useful generally. Here in Britain, anthropology is now one of the academic subjects that are no longer considered worth subsidising by government for undergraduate study. I am not even sure what the effects of this are likely to be, but perhaps one might be that anthropology could reinvent itself - either as a very elite form of reflection or as a much more democratic one - noone can say for sure at the moment.

Fascinating, Keith. Thank you for drawing my attention to this. The "perpetual principle of dissatisfaction" applies really well, I think to how anthropology relates to the concept of culture. In some contexts, anthropology is dissatisfied with the way in which culture is ignored and so anthropology is needed to elucidate its significance but then in other contexts, where  "culture" has become established, anthropology is again dissastisfied, calling into question the received wisdom generated by its usage.

Keith Hart said:

Elizabeth, I write a lot about the use of anthropology, but I have always found this summary stimulating:

Foucault (in The Order of Things) ended his “archaeology of the human sciences” with some reflections on why psychoanalysis and social anthropology (ethnologie) “…occupy a privileged position in our knowledge”:

“…because, on the confines of all the branches of knowledge investigating man, they form a treasure-hoard of experiences and concepts, and above all a perpetual principle of dissatisfaction, of calling into question…what may seem, in other respects, to be established.” “[They] are not so much two human sciences among others, but they span the entire domain of those sciences, they animate its whole surface…[They] are ‘counter-sciences’; which does not mean that they are less ‘rational’ or ‘objective’ than the others, but that they flow in the opposite direction, that they lead them back to their epistemological basis, and that they ceaselessly ‘unmake’ that very man who is creating and re-creating his positivity in the human sciences.

 

My own two sentences: Anthropology is more of an anti-discipline than a discipline. It starts from what living people really do and it aims to embrace humanity as a whole (past, present and future).

The idea was not at all about selling a product but, rather, as I am glad you went on to say yourself, about reflection. What is it about anthropological ways of thinking that differs from dominant/mainstream ways of thinking? And since in the UK, the government no longer thinks it is worth subsidising undergraduate study,  this suggests that the discipline has failed to get its message across regarding its think tank value.  I find your distinction between an elite and democratic form of reflection extremely interesting. When anthropologists talk to anthropologists they do so, often in a very different way than when they talk to a non-anthropological audience. My experience in the latter has been very useful in calling into question what I had taken for granted because it has been established in anthropology. (Dont ask for an example, I cant give one at the moment,it is more of a general sense of becoming aware of the need not to take anthropological theory for granted and perhaps an awareness that it needs to be constantly"unmade" - to quote Keith quoting Foucault above ). I think OAC plays a very valuable role in promoting a more democratic form of reflection within anthropology. Open courses for interested citizens could do the same in the wider world.   

Huon Wardle said:

At first I was a little suspicious of the phrase 'knowledge production' in your statement since the implication seems to be that anthropology is only of use if it can establish and sell a product to people with money. But if the idea of production is simply making - and all people make things and all people contribute to making their own environment - then anthropology is an open-ended but explicit reflection on that process; it is useful in the same way that reflection is useful generally. Here in Britain, anthropology is now one of the academic subjects that are no longer considered worth subsidising by government for undergraduate study. I am not even sure what the effects of this are likely to be, but perhaps one might be that anthropology could reinvent itself - either as a very elite form of reflection or as a much more democratic one - noone can say for sure at the moment.

Nikos I have certainly been following the events as they unfold in Japan, as I am sure many people have been doing through the radio and television and have found them upsetting. To have the foundations of your whole life washed away in a few minutes is an experience that I can not begin to imagine or to understand how it must call everything into question. So I guess, all I can say for the moment in response to your questions is turn them on their head and ask how does this kind of crisis influence the way we do anthropology?

NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:

Question : What anthropology - as a discipline studying what people do- could say on the Japanese actual tragedy ? What more than journalistic and politico-financial reports ? What more than deep socio-economical analyses ? Maybe something related to the peculiar culture of the Japanese people ? But how to avoid generalisations and ethnic stereotypes ( like :all Japanese seem to be highly disciplinated)? How to articulate arguments based on actual facts ? After all anthropology is the discipline of ad hoc while history studies the psast by discovering written material, various documents and even ancient manuscripts. How anthropology could serve the truth better than the journalists, economists, politicians and sociologists dealing mostly with quantitative measures ? Can humans and humanity be measured or defined by numbers ? If rejecting statistics what tools of analysis and synthesis remain to an anthropologist ? Is still participant observation efficace ? What more to invent ? How the anthropological findings could influence people in a crisis like this ?
Here is one crude advantage of anthropology over some related subjects - anthropologists actually go to and spend time in the places they are supposed to understand. I know many colleagues in related disciplines - e.g. International relations, terrorism studies etc. - who are 'experts' on Africa but who have never been to Africa, or experts on iranian politics who can't even read basic Farsi.

I met a pastry chef who  had  an   undergraduate degree in anthropology from UCLA.  She said anthropology  helped her baking.  She  got to know how different  cultures baked their  breads.  When I  hear  such explanation about the use of  anthropology, I can't help  but  release a smirk and be strong with my  belief  that  anthropology, as it is currently done, has  no definite  or exact  purpose. 

 

To me the purpose of anthropology should be to treat human societies and  cultures as systems that also  experience malaise that needs a  professional intervention, plain and simple.  If a  community suddenly has a spike in cases of  honor killing, it should be a social anthropologist that should be called to work together with cops to get into the crux of  the matter  and to  stop or control it once and for all..     

I really like the idea of cops working together with social anthropologists but they would need some basic training first. Maybe the British government should fund anthropology for cops since it doesnt want to fund undergraduate courses......

M Izabel said:

I met a pastry chef who  had  an   undergraduate degree in anthropology from UCLA.  She said anthropology  helped her baking.  She  got to know how different  cultures baked their  breads.  When I  hear  such explanation about the use of  anthropology, I can't help  but  release a smirk and be strong with my  belief  that  anthropology, as it is currently done, has  no definite  or exact  purpose. 

 

To me the purpose of anthropology should be to treat human societies and  cultures as systems that also  experience malaise that needs a  professional intervention, plain and simple.  If a  community suddenly has a spike in cases of  honor killing, it should be a social anthropologist that should be called to work together with cops to get into the crux of  the matter  and to  stop or control it once and for all..     

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