• 2016 AA Editor Search
  • Get Ready for the Annual Meeting

    From t-shirts to journals, 2014 Annual Meeting Gear Shop Now
  • Open Anthropology
  • Latest AAA Podcast

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 17,785 other followers

The Burdens of a Public Anthropology

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a UC-Berkeley medical anthropologist best known for investigating illegal organ trafficking, was featured in a Times Higher Education article describing the difficulties that often confront publicly engaged academics. Scheper-Hughes stresses the importance of a public anthropology, but warns anthropologists of the troubles that can accompany such work:

Scholars who want to reach diverse publics—through popular writing, speaking or participating in social activism—are not only under-rewarded by their universities, they are often penalized for ‘dumbing down’ anthropological thinking, cutting social theory into ‘soundbites’, ‘vulgarising’ anthropology, sacrificing academic standards or (in the US) for playing to the anti-intellectual, illiberal American popular classes.

Agree? Disagree? Leave us a comment.

Related Links:

4 Responses

  1. As a new student of anthropology I don’t know enough to agree or disagree, but I do know that this means I shall be quite the academic hellraiser! My entire purpose for my graduate degree is to produce relevant scholarship. Studying “the other” and not contributing the shared knowledge of the subjects we study is tantamount to supporting the hierarchies of power that stratify along lines of race, ethnicity, class and gender. I have no desire to do that…besides I hear that ship is kinda full.

  2. Many topics that are to reach the public risk being, and most likely need to be, simplified because of course, most of the public is not expert on the subject. That is the whole point of sharing it with the public in the first place– so people understand a little bit more of what is going on in other fields that are not their own. I agree that scholars ought not to dumb down their work to cater to the public, but I’m sure there are ways scholars can present their information and work in a clear cut way that doesn’t compromise their standards as well. Scheper-Hughes just sounds a bit elitest IMO.

  3. What’s that saying among physicists that no matter how brilliant a physicist’s research may be, if you can’t explain the way the world works to an eight year old, you don’t actually know what you are talking about. ..?! I forget the exact quote. But i believe the sentiment applies here: there are many ways to talk about and address culture and belief systems, and while I respect the academic traditions anthropology is founded upon, it has been rightly critiqued for staying perched up in the institutions. We left the armchair years ago, so we do we feel the need to keep returning there for our powerpoint presentations? Public anthropology is in no way a “dumbing down” but rather a creative adaptive way to keep moving the discipline forward. We need to face the question, of how is it that journalists, artists, and non PhD’s, are writing books and creating work that sometimes answer’s anthropological questions better than we do.

  4. I’ve long been intrigued about why applied knowledge is seen to be of lower status in academia. For example a Ph.D. in Education, or educational research doesn’t have the same status in academia as a Ph.D. in anthropology or anthropological research. I am thinking that when one actually tries to apply knowledge outside academia (for the purposes of greater understanding and possibly to address what one considers “problems”) one encounters complexity that can’t be controlled for as in an academic context.

    Instead of lambasting attempts by academics to make the ivory tower more responsive to addressing pressing issues of today — for example questions of how children learn, what kinds of educational programs work well/why/under what circumstances, or whatever the issue is — we could learn valuable insights from those who step bravely step outside of academia.. realizing that what they are doing can be very complex.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,785 other followers

%d bloggers like this: