The High Plains Society
Applied Anthropology

Applied Teaching and Community-Based Fieldwork for Undergraduates. Mentor, Model, and Community Chief: An Impassioned Plea for Useful Educational Experiences

Bill Roberts

We anthropologists are a diverse lot. Although relatively few in number compared with sociologists or economists, we have coined a large number of labels for the professional identities we assume ourselves and apply to each other. These labels reflect professional values and, to some extent, act as barriers to constructive dialogue among different ‘types’ of anthropologists. For example, many ‘academic’ anthropologists, secure in their tenured niche at the university, consider the work of their ‘applied’ colleagues as somehow ‘inferior’ to their own ‘purer’ and ‘loftier’ pursuits. This longstanding, false dichotomy between academic and applied anthropologists results all to often in the groups talking past one another, if they try to talk with one another at all. A more promising perspective is to see the locus of their pursuits as different points along the spectrum of ‘doing’ anthropology. The ‘practitioners’ are yet another group of anthropologists who, having completed their degree requirements, largely work outside the university setting. Other than occasional participation in the annual AAA or SfAA meetings, they have very limited contact with those who trained them, and likewise little opportunity to offer constructive feedback on professional training concerns. Anthropologists seem content to construct these identities of opposition, e.g., academic/applied, postmodernist/positivist, humanist/scientist, in a way that might well fit a structural model akin to those proposed by Claude Levi-Strauss for tribal societies. It is paradoxical that the discipline which has done more than any other to record and celebrate human diversity seems incapable of tolerating diverse approaches to doing anthropology within its own ranks. Perhaps this is because, as one senior colleague once told me, “the fighting in academia is so fierce because the stakes are so small.”

High Plains Applied Anthropologist No. 1, Vol. 19, Spring, 1999 pp 72 – 92

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