What does it mean to be an Applied Anthropologist?
For me it has meant a very exciting and challenging life. It has been a life filled with mood swings from the joys of a successful project to the despair that comes with the realization that you can't change the world. It is to learn that my anthropological training has given me a conceptual framework that works to solve human problems -- those impacting people and those caused by people. I have learned to celebrate the courage of humankind and to accept the evil humankind can inflict upon itself and on the planet.
Anthropology, for me, means a very special point of view. A point of view, I call, the Mobious view. It is based on the basic foundational principle of the discipline -- the psychic unity of humankind. That is, on the most basic level, we are all members of a single species and as such we are all brothers and sisters. We are connected across space and time by the single Mobious strip composed of human history. It is a philosophy that promotes US over the US vs THEM mentality; and demonstrates how US is stronger then ME and/or YOU.
Applied, to me, has meant to be an active participant and observer. An active participant takes responsibility for his/her actions and decisions. An active participant acts at the invitation of the client, and in the client's informed best interest. An active observer is one who uses his anthropological observational skills to identify problems affecting the client. An active observer objectively and honestly evaluates the impact of the client's efforts at a solution to those problems by providing honest and candid feedback. Applied means the client defines the problem and has a significant say in the outcome. To be an applied anthropologist is to respect and acknowledge that the client is ultimately responsible for his/her own actions.To be an applied anthropologist is to adhere to the art and craft of anthropology in the service of another.
For the past 30 years I have been working as an applied anthropologist. I have been working as a sole proprietor of a consulting practice. My clients, in the non-profit and for-profit sectors, have called upon me to be a consultant, researcher, planner, evaluator, trainer, teacher, program/project manager, and coach. In service to them, I have worked on human resource issues, agricultural and marine resource and technology issues, substance use and abuse services planning and evaluation, small and family business development, total quality assessment, arts management, many other issues. I have been called upon to work in the rural and urban area throughout western, southwestern and New England regions of the United States, in Peru, and in the Middle East. I have worked for and with indigenous peoples, local and federal government officials, foreign government officials, NGO staffers.
All of this is not to brag but to give you the reader a sense of the range of data, and experience that inform the comments and observations I will be offering in this blog.
LESSON 1: Selecting a client
What is your Plan B? (Follow this link).
In my experience the greatest service an applied anthropologist can do for the client is to help the client to maximize his/her investment in their lifetime. By investment, I mean how they use their time on the planet, not just the money they make. This is accomplished by teaching him/her the Mobious view and show them how they can use it to break out of their short term, daily results oriented, business life so filled with schedules and routines. Show the client how to open his/her eyes to the real world in which they are acting out their lives. Help them to re-envision themselves in that world. Help them to see and seize opportunities. Help them to anticipate and deflect the threats lurking in the shadows. Help the client understand that the long term value of their personal interests lays in a holistic assessment of their investment. And, finally help them to develop a strategy to maximize the return on their investment.