Scholarly Activism


    The fact that anthropology has become more politically active and entered into other fields is undeniable. An article from the Anual Review of Anthropology called “The Anthropology of Public Policy: Shifting Terrains” by Okongwu and Mencher says that “anthropology as a field has contributed, and continues to contrubute, to social policy research, practice, and advocacy in the current international context.” To be clear, I do not argue that current works in anthro are blatantly expressing a political opinion, because objectivity still remains of utmost importance. What I’m arguing is that because an anthropologist will write objectively about a world with clear global linkages that often result in injustice for those with less power, the literature is, to put it in the most appropriate terms, CHOP CHOP CHOPIN. hah! (cant write on this wall without sayin it least once)

Anthropologists do the documenting as the world’s powerless population, largely the same population that used to be called primitive, is effected by today’s brand of globalization in different and constantly emerging ways. This is purely contemporary and easily located in many of the latest Anthropology Journals. Although it is true that anthropology throughout history did strive to better or enlighten its home society, it has never been so bold in ethnographic literature as it is contemporaneously.

Increasingly anthropologists have no choice but to tackle issues such as what it means to be a citizen of a developing country and how this changes an individual’s relationship to and outlook on the rest of the world. Frankly, this notion of the rest of the world has only recently become an immutable reality for indigenous and traditional cultures. Further issues such as third world poverty, often caused by overpopulation, government corruption and integration into a western economic system represent an urgent and ever-present backdrop to most any culture today. Although ethnographies written about cultures outside the developed west do not often contain statistics about development, it difficult to imagine that any ethnographer who is not aware that an overwhelming majority of the world’s population lives outside of the ‘developed’ world.


    It is not surprising that contemporary ethnographies contain information about international politics and history. Realistically, it is difficult to imagine how they could avoid it. Factors such as the fall of the Soviet Union and the politics of the two main powers during the cold war have had undeniable effects on the lives of people in Cuba today, just as the will of the worlds most powerful and wealthy transnational agricultural corporations effects the lives of farmers and lifestyles of non-farmers around the world. These are not details one can simply leave out if he or she wishes to properly analyze a situation, especially if the subjects of the ethnography feel the effect of globalization, as more and more do.

    This influx of anthropologists into other scholarly disciplines has made the clash between anthropology and many other fields bolder.

    It seems that in many areas of international relations there is still a belief in the unilinear evolution model. Although groups or people with power have not blatantly said this, there is a clear acceptance by a majority of governments of the modern world that the western way is the most desirable and advanced way to organize a people. The term ‘newly industrialized economy’ is one great of pride for its proprietors. This is because the economists and politicians from industrialized economies who created the term have endowed it with great prestige. Countries given the title “Newly Industrialized” have for all intents and purposes been given assurance by the worlds leading powers that they are on the right track; the trajectory of success. They have been given whats called the flame of life by the gods, and we are saying let it go! for the end is inferno! Even in the instance of a problem as worldwide as climate change, resolutions like Kyoto leave ‘underdeveloped’ countries free from emissions regulations because it is widely acknowledged that industry, as invented in England’s industrial revolution, is necessary to achieve a desirable existence. Even the word ‘underdeveloped’ seems to send a message of inadequacy.

The reason this sort of western ethnocentric validation system appears so often in world politics is that the evolutionary social theory is still quite alive in the western collective consciousness. Just as anthropology once espoused the belief that cultures far and wide were destined by natural law to become civilizations with workings akin to those in prominent western countries of the day, much of politics and in part economics today urge similar models. Many political systems, a good example being the current government of the United States, have made it their mantra. This concept of unilineal evolution is now an abandoned artifact in contemporary anthropology similar to phrenology in psychology. Though respected western anthropologists have boldly abandoned these ideas, their aura appears in many other areas of modern thought. This clash results in anthropological ethnography assuming something of a war footing against the disciplines with which it disagrees. Though anthropology has always been multidisciplinary, the difference is that today it can serve to expand other disciplines instead of mainly vise versa.

Contemporary anthropologists no longer have the luxury of studying cultures that know little or nothing about he western world they represent. The clichéd subject has gone from seeing the anthropologist as a mysterious man with a typewriter and note pad to being a symbol of the western consumerism that has overtaken the world leaving deep and controversial consequences in the lives of all.

Furthermore, anthropology is also becoming more and more political, because in its contemporary form, anthropological consensus inherently disagrees with that of politics. Similar relationships can be found to varying degrees between anthropology and other modern disciplines. For dealing with issues such as patriotism, polity, history, technology, and globalization, a new generation of Activist Anthropologists are born. They have not only moved beyond belief in the unilineal model of evolution or in the relevance word primitive; they have also begun to breach the gap that separates them from other islanded disciplines. Since this gap is filled with modern myths, anthropologists and other social scientists are starting by bringing the truth; the end is to bring the hegemons down!

with love


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