This post was submitted by David Lempert, Ph.D., J.D., M.B.A., E.D. (Hon.).
Like it or not, Anthropology is now likely to be under increasing pressure to demonstrate specific, measurable benefits and value to students, government agencies, and donors, beyond just the sale of specific services (in applied anthropology) or the benefits of diversity, intellectual breadth, and popular appeal to a “market” of students in the selection of courses. We will need to demonstrate measurable public benefit and value of the discipline while making sure that it is in a way that is protective of cultures and our ethics and prevents the profession from selling out to the “market”, which has already been happening and will likely accelerate in ways that are already causing us to fragment and in many ways to disintegrate and self-destruct (though I think there has been a reluctance to see it in these terms). As a political bloc, even when united we are small, so the most effective strategy in my view is to stand firmly behind standards and codes to set bright lines rather than to negotiate the discipline as a political actor.
That means that we will need to re-examine all of our procedures at every level of professional review, hiring, and testing, as well as in all of the activities of the AAA (with clear, enforceable, legally backed and uniform standards) to assure that everything we do is based on laws and standards and linked with advance of the discipline and real value to the public and not just subject to political factors and self-interests. We will need to demonstrate that there is objectivity and “discipline”, despite an unwillingness to do so. We will need to demonstrate that we are not afraid of measures. We will need to think clearly about the public benefit of our work and why and how we offer real value to people who have lost their jobs and their homes and who are fearful and not just offer stories or ideologies that may help groups feel better about victimization. We need to be honest about how we have also been part of the failures of government that have led us to where we are today, because we have not been forceful enough and courageous enough and willing to hold ourselves and our colleagues to standards. Much of our discipline is seen by outsiders as opportunistic, narcissistic, and in-bred and we need to recognize and face that this view is in many respects true. Much of our applied work is really no longer the core of our discipline and often violates the rules of our discipline: we should not be assimilating peoples or promoting the work of corporations or militaries and rationalize that we have not been part of the harms. We should not be competing against other disciplines (like social work/sociology, public health) because we have some methods to sell but have forgotten our core mission and goals as a discipline (at the level of cultures). We should not be claiming to care and protect various groups as advocates without measurable, effective, testable, verifiable solutions and benefits.
We do need to be politically active in a way that we have not before, during the era of neo-liberalism.
We will need to stop picking only on easy targets and small problems and acting as if we are afraid of the big problems and the most powerful forces and actors because that form of appeasement has not helped our discipline and has reinforced our external and internal image as weak and powerless. We are not weak and powerless. There are anthropologists in high positions (head of the World Bank; a country President, a President whose sister and mother are anthropologists) but we have accepted an ideology of victimization and impotence.
We need to be active as a force for cultural sustainability, environmental sustainability, and peace, with directly measurable economic benefits that are the result of our work based on scientific impact, and that help ordinary people, rather than just telling stories and dissecting philosophy and theory and “discourse” where people do not see any connection to benefits.
If we are going to be advocates for social justice, social equality, progressive social/cultural change, and diversity, then we can’t just talk about it and focus on some inequalities as more important than others but must also be open and responsive to the suffering and oppression (and insanity/ illness) and denial everywhere around us.
I welcome the chance to join in the return to standards and discipline, professional and legal ethics, and activism with measurable benefits for people, rather than academic abstractions and politics/advocacy that has made a lot of noise but had too little in the way of real results to protect cultures, environments, and real progress.