a thoughtful web.
Good ideas and conversation. No ads, no tracking.   Login or Take a Tour!
comment by lil
lil  ·  2545 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: The Note I Attached to my Final Exam

    I tried, over the months of this course to take something of practical, moral or ethical value away, and I cannot honestly say I succeeded.

Thanks for your post OftenBen. I wasn't aware of the field of Actvist Anthropology, so I looked a tiny bit into it. The University of Texas in Austin has a program in that field with a description of what it is. The description ends with this note:

    Activist anthropology is an option, an emphasis within our graduate program. It is not for everyone. Yet it does promise to offer critical perspectives on issues central to our discipline, issues that no anthropologist can afford to ignore.
Clearly it isn't for everyone. The website contained a link to an article that answered the title question "What is Activist Anthropology?" (PDF, 762K)

Here's a bit I found fascinating:

    The goal is to carry out the research such that a specified group of people can actively participate, thereby learning research skills themselves, contributing to the data collection, taking an active role in the process of knowledge creation.

The article raises four of the main problems with that research methodology, as does this short blog post.

So if anyone wants to read further on OftenBen's issues, go to those items. I'd also like to learn more about it.





OftenBen  ·  2545 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I've never seen it presented that way. The third part that you quoted is a slippery bit of writing. It's written several different ways in different sources that I've read about Activist Anthropologist theory, and each different phrasing allows for other, more radical things to slip in. The fundamental problem that I have is with the second sentence in the article.

    First, there is no necessary contradiction between active political commitment to resolving a problem, and rigorous scholarly research on that problem.

If a person learns about a group of people who is in poverty, oppressed politically, or actively waging war against their oppressors, and that person wants to go help, they should do so. If they want to learn about the situation, so that they can convince others to help, they should do that too.

If an academic wants to go study a particular group of people, and while they are there, they are needed to help someone who is sick, or in danger, they should do so. If after their period of study, data collection, analysis and presentation they want to return and do pure activist work, and get their hands dirty, they should do so.

BUT, most of the A.A. reading I've done, is simply worse quality anthropological research. It has less data, more opinions of the researcher about their informants lives and political opinions. They claim to go to these areas to help, but if they genuinely wanted to help, why not do work that is meaningful? Why not go to Somalia, live in a peasant village, buy them desalination equipment, tend their gardens with them? Instead of staying there for a few weeks under the guise of helping, just to go back to the States and tell everyone how shitty they have it? Because that's what's happening. It's the academic equivalent of those 5 day mission trips white kids take to Haiti or somewhere in high school because it looks good on their transcript. It makes you look really sensitive, caring, suuuuuper progressive and charitable. And it's eternally defensible because if you don't like it then 'you just don't care about these people or issues!'

lil  ·  2545 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    BUT, most of the A.A. reading I've done, is simply worse quality anthropological research. It has less data, more opinions of the researcher about their informants lives and political opinions.
Good point. Their goals might sound good in theory. The reality might be something else. As they say: In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, theory and practice are different. (or something like that).
OftenBen  ·  2545 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Marxism is great in theory.

Good point.

Maybe I should just wash my hands of it and forget it exists, and hope it goes the way of the Chairman.

1010011010  ·  2540 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Keep in mind that "critical perspectives" is possibly a cryptoreference to Critical Theory, not an endorsement that these perspectives are relevant or useful in any way.

lil  ·  2540 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    Critical theory maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation.
We carry various biases into our work. If Critical Theory tries to make us aware of those biases, then it should be part of the curriculum. From the almost nothing that I know, it seems that Activist Anthropology takes that approach, but then has its own biases.

Do you have some insight into the uses of Critical Theory in various disciplines? I'd like to hear it.