Advancing the Value of Ethnography

To the End of Theory-Practice ‘Apartheid’: Encountering the World


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Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings 2005, pp. 205–217.

A historical and comparative examination of ethnographic practice in sixteen nations around the globe reveals that theory-practice relations in anthropology and ethnography (A/E) have been shaped and re-shaped over time and space by complex contextual influences. This paper explores the evolution of theory-practice relationships in A/E over various regions of the world, tracing the beginning of a theory-practice ‘split’ from its origin under British colonialism, to its reappearance and institutionalization in post-World War II America, and postulating its absence in the ‘Second and Third Worlds’. Global practice in ethnography now appears to be converging toward a re-integration of theory and application across multiple disciplines and professions (a ‘hybrid’ approach), as ethnographers work to address urgent and poorly understood problems that are not well theorized.


Rick Robinson’s opening remarks challenged us with the thought that there is a potential theoretical space represented within the frames of practice that we have contemplated here, but that the space often has not been explicitly engaged intellectually. Others have noticed the theoretical lacuna in applied ethnography and practice, whether in industry or cognate fields. For example, in a major review for the journal Current Anthropology, Bennett’s (1996) chief criticism of applied anthropology was the failure to produce its own body of theory, and the tendency to engage in a horizontal build-out of case studies with no effort to synthesize vertically. There are many reasons for this pattern, all readily understandable, but it is not my purpose to root-cause analyze this pattern or recommend ways to address it.

Rather, in agreement with Robinson, I would like to take up the idea that theory is action – the potential to change what we might become in the future. Toward that goal, I will share a perspective gained from a study of anthropological and ethnographic (A/E) practice in sixteen nations around the globe that has been on-going since the early 1990s, and what has been learned in that project about the so-called ‘split’ between theory and practice1 (Hill and Baba forthcoming). Through an historical and comparative examination of theory-practice relations in A/E on a global scale, we can see that this interface has been shaped and re-shaped, historically and culturally, over time and space. If such relations have been different in the past, then why could they not change in the future? This is the territory I will explore in these closing remarks2.


By now it is commonplace to acknowledge that the theoretical project of British social anthropology was financed and legitimated under the auspices of empire (Mills 2002). What may not be recognized, however, is that our current view of this fraught relationship between theory and what we now see as a tainted form of practice is refracted through the lens of our times – an era in which academic institutions are culturally dominant and hold a near monopoly on the criteria for determining professional status. In the past, relationships between pragmatic and scholarly interests were fuzzier and more entangled than the received version would have us believe. Indeed, academic anthropology only emerged as an autonomous academic discipline after the 1930s (Mills 2002); before that time the ethnographic tradition was shared with a constellation of professionals and amateurs that included colonial administrators, missionaries, and travelers. Scholarship and pragmatics were more or less co-mingled in the ethnographic practices of the early days, and only became separated from one another after anthropology was captured by academia and the British colonies fell. The boundary between theory and practice thus is sensitive to contextual influences, and may shift over time.

My first glimpse of a theory-practice interface different from that which we are accustomed to today came when I noticed that there are only two countries, and only two points in history, in which the term ‘applied’ anthropology appear: 1) in Great Britain during the colonial era, after which point the term ‘applied’ was essentially dropped, and 2) in the United States, from before the time of World War II up to the present3. In all of the other fourteen countries represented in the sample of cases, there was ample evidence of applied activity, but without formal institutions named as such. Many anthropologists and ethnographers in these other nations (regardless of whether or not they are academic or non-academic) engage in what might be called ‘applied’ work – that is, they use anthropological and ethnographic knowledge and methods to address problems beyond those defined by an academic discipline. Yet, the name ‘applied anthropologist’ is not used. As an anthropologist who recognizes that names reflect cognitive categories and cultural meanings, I wondered about this separation of activity from nomenclature, and its potential significance for theory-practice relationships.

I set out to explore the origin of the name ‘applied anthropology’ and learned that the term dates at least to 1881 (see Gardner and Lewis 1996), when British anthropologists used it to advocate the potential utility of their emerging profession, which did not yet have a firm constituency (Kuper 1983). In the years before World War II, the British colonial government provided virtually no funding for social science research in Africa, the main theatre of anthropological and ethnographic operations (Mills 2002). There was funding for training of colonial administrators in anthropological and ethnographic skills, and that is how the first anthropology department was founded at Oxford (Van Willigen 2002). Some colonial governments created positions for a ‘government anthropologist’, and even sponsored applied studies that anthropologists could take on, but otherwise, anthropologists and ethnographers had to be creative in their search for funds. According to Adam Kuper (1983), leading anthropologists such as Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown became known in the 1920s and 30s for touting the practical virtues of anthropology and ethnography as means to address colonial problems, but this was primarily a ‘sales pitch’ aimed at securing ad hoc research funding. Kuper (1983) argues that once the money was in hand, anthropologists were likely to do what amounted to a ‘bait and switch’, conducting a basic research investigation, assuming that the colonial sponsor could extract the necessary information from it, without the anthropologists’ help. Further, according to Kuper (1983), many British anthropologists at the time were functionalists and/or liberals, and therefore were both theoretically and/or ideologically disinclined to aid and abet the administrators’ interests in understanding ‘social change’ (which many anthropologists viewed as ‘dangerous’). Needless to say, these proclivities did not endear the anthropologists to the administrators (the latter often stereotyping the former as ‘romantic reactionaries’). Another anthropological practice of the time was to assign one’s protégé or a junior scholar to do an applied study, as such work was thought to be better suited to less well prepared individuals:

When, more or less reluctantly, the anthropologist ‘did some applied work’, he tended to pick one of a limited range of topics. (I say he, but applied work was often regarded by the more mandarin as less demanding intellectually, and therefore as best suited to women. Malinowski’s first student to be dispatched to do a study of ‘culture change’ in Africa was chosen because it was thought she was still too new to anthropology to do a conventional tribal study)…(A/Es participated) only grudgingly (as a rule) in the little studies dreamt up by the administrators, and accepting the view that they should not speak out on matters of policy, not being ‘practical men’. Kuper (1983:110-12)

Kuper goes on to argue that as a result of such practices, A/E was little ‘applied’ in the British colonies, either by the colonial governments, or by the A/Es themselves. However, other scholars have noted that there was complicity and symbiosis between the two, as the A/Es used the promise of applied solutions as a means to extract funds to do basic research, and this is how the initial theoretical foundation of social anthropology was formulated (Mills 2002; see also Pink forthcoming).

My interpretation of the foregoing is that early colonial practices established an implicit two-tier model of knowledge production in anthropology and ethnography, and that this model provided the grounds upon which theory and practice later were separated. The first tier was reserved for free-wheeling ‘pure’ theory, with the ‘Other’ or second tier intended for more short-term, derivative ‘applied’ studies. In accordance with the paternalistic tendencies of colonialism, the Big Man was given ‘right of first refusal’ to the second tier, but generally speaking, it was considered peripheral work. By implication, those who were assigned to work on the second tier, however, could not choose to work on the first tier. This implicit two-tier structure was not so cut and dried as I am portraying it, however, because there were very few academic posts available, and A/Es had to be flexible regarding postings.

Things began to change in the 1930s and 40s with shifts in British colonial policy and the beginning of World War II. As a response to critics who charged that the colonies were isolated and not ‘developing’ economically, it was decided to engage in more affirmative administrative planning that could provide a stimulus to the economic growth of the colonies. Funding began to flow toward social science research in Africa during the 1930s through a number of mechanisms, including grants from the Carnegie Corporation and Rockefeller Foundation. Some of these funds supported anthropological research in Africa (Kuper 1983). Then, in the 1940s, the British enacted the Colonial Development and Welfare Act (CDWA), a legislative reform agenda for the colonies that finally provided substantial government funding for social science research in the colonies, including funds for anthropology and ethnography. The principal contextual shift prompting this official change in policy was the start of World War II in 1939, and Britain’s need to respond to those who criticized its empire (especially the Americans). Mills (2002) argues that Lord Hailey, a pro-colonial architect of the African research program, viewed anthropologists as integral to this work, and fended off criticisms and slights of the discipline from other quarters.

Importantly in the present context, Mills (2002) demonstrates that the CDWA intended that both ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ research be included within its purview, such that scientific knowledge could advance. This suggests that in 1940, official British policy encouraged the integration of theoretical and pragmatic interests; indeed, the CDWA formalized this linkage. A Colonial Social Science Research Council (CSSRC) was established to set and implement policy for the allocation of research funds that would fulfill the CDWA mandate. Initially, it was anthropologists at the London School of Economics (LSE) who became most closely affiliated with the CSSRC (Raymond Firth and Audrey Richards). This is significant, since both were protégés of Malinowski, one of applied anthropology’s great protagonists, and they embraced the reformist goals of the CDWA and were proponents of integrating scientific and pragmatic research objectives. Mills (2002:171) notes:

There is a little doubt that the members of the CSSRC saw themselves as intellectual pioneers, leading the way both in mapping out uncharted territories of African social research problems, and in trail-blazing the new possibilities for a problem-oriented multi-disciplinary social science.

The CSSRC supported four regional research institutes in Africa and the Caribbean that were intended to strengthen colonial research capabilities as part of the reformist agenda. The new research council also was centrally engaged in the selection, training, supervision and support of younger scholars to pursue research through these institutes. Since it was difficult to identify suitably prepared candidates for training, the council often dismissed the traditional disciplinary requirement for language skills or previous time in country, and instead developed its own training regimen that was successful in preparing a substantial number of young scholars for fieldwork. Some of these trainees later made important contributions to the discipline (Mills 2002).

A sharp distinction between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ research, such as some would describe these activities today, was not evident in work supported by the CSSRC. The government did not attempt to micromanage the research agenda, as it recognized the importance of advancing the knowledge base overall, and viewed both fundamental and pragmatic research as pursuant to this goal, since little was known about human society in Africa. Also, it should be noted that while colonial social problems provided an overall context within which research was framed, anthropology was able to transform such research into a satisfying theoretical product that could enable the discipline to gain legitimacy within the academy (Mills 2002). Without this transformation, the entire project would have collapsed; anthropology had to emerge as a ‘science’, or it would not receive funding. That this process was successful is attested to by the fact that the number of academic departments and positions in anthropology grew steadily over this period. By 1953, there were 38 teaching positions in A/E, compared with only a handful prior to 1940. Indeed, an entirely new professional association was spun-off in 1946 to represent strictly academic anthropologists (i.e., the Association for Social Anthropology or ASA4).

Significantly, however, tensions mounted between anthropologists based at the LSE and those based at Oxford, especially between Audrey Richards and Max Gluckman, the latter being an anti-colonialist who did not agree with CSSRC funding policy. A serious rift developed regarding the funding of the regional research institutes and the program of study for doctoral students5. Those at Oxford believed that such matters should be under the control of academic departments, not the colonial office or the regional research institutes (as was the practice under CSSRC funding)6. The opposing sets of interests were both institutional (Oxford versus LSE) and political (anti-colonial versus reformist). There also was the problem of a perceived pro-LSE bias on the CSSRC (i.e., the other academics had this perception). It must be emphasized, however, that although the Oxford scholars did not hold practical anthropology in high regard, they still wanted to receive the CSSCR funding – they just wanted to control it themselves. Tensions eventually mounted to the point that the ASA demanded a meeting with the British Secretary of State, which was granted, and during the meeting Radcliffe-Brown insisted that academics have more professional control over funding decisions and student training. As a result, anthropologists from different universities (e.g., Oxford, Cambridge) were placed on a CSSRC sub-committee panel to give input to decision-making (Mills 2002).

While the reformists and anti-colonialists battled for control over resources and against each other’s institutional agendas, the British empire continued to sink, and would abruptly close with the outbreak of violence in Africa during the late 1940s and early 1950s. After the CSSRC finally wound up its affairs in 1961, it became clear how dependent the British anthropologists had been upon it for student training funds, as these went dry and there were no ready substitutes until later in the decade.

The relationship between theory and practice within the colonial context of Great Britain thus represents a paradox (Mills 2002). The colonial regime provided financial support and a framework within which anthropology could develop as an independent academic discipline. The context for anthropology was decidedly pragmatic, at the very least because the government needed the cover provided by intellectuals who appeared to be doing careful studies that supposedly were going to lead to colonial ‘development and welfare’. At the same time, academic anthropology was struggling to emerge as an autonomous profession from the midst of many others that proffered ethnographic skill (colonial administrators, missionaries, and travelers; see Pels and Salemink 1999). Arguably, the struggle between LSE and Oxford was just as much about “the criteria of what constitutes knowledge, what is to be excluded, and who is qualified to know” (i.e., power; Foucault 1971; c.f. Garner and Lewis 1996:71) as it was about anything else. The financial support and the autonomy provided by the CSSRC enabled the discipline to expand and legitimize itself, and, at the end of the day, British academia gained the upper hand in the production of anthropological and ethnographic knowledge. Ironically, however, a part of the process by which anthropological knowledge was produced went ‘out of business’ when the CSSRC closed down, a shift that was linked to the end of empire. As the British shut down their colonies, ‘applied anthropology’ was politically disgraced, and academic anthropology ended its use of the ‘applied’ name. Theory thus became separated from practice, and as empire ended and anthropology lost its pragmatic value, the discipline became increasingly marginalized.


Intriguingly, although the United States had no external empire in a formal sense, a similar tale can be told of American anthropology. Prior to World War II, academic and theoretical anthropology in the United States were not well developed, and many anthropologists and ethnographers found positions related to the administration of the internal colonies (i.e., Native Americans; see Gardner and Lewis 1996). The US still was relatively isolationist as a nation, and was focused on its own troubles (e.g., recovery from the Great Depression). It was within this context that an interdisciplinary group of anthropologists and ethnographers joined together at Harvard in May, 1941 to form the Society for Applied Anthropology. The Society was founded by a distinguished group that included Conrad Arensburg, Gregory Bateson, Ruth Benedict, Elliot Chapple, Margaret Mead, George Murdoch, William Foote Whyte, among several others (Partridge and Eddy 1978). Like the anthropologists at LSE, their goal was to integrate ‘scientific’ and pragmatic objectives, as is clear in the mission statement of their journal, Applied Anthropology (later renamed Human Organization):

to promote scientific investigation of the principles controlling the relations of human beings to one another and to encourage the wide application of these principles to practical problems (cited in Arensberg 1947:1).

The founders of the SfAA viewed theoreticians as primarily interested in the search for abstract laws or principles, while they were more intrigued by concrete applications of knowledge to specific cases in the modern world, and what could be learned from investigating such instances. They recognized the intellectual synergy between generalized knowledge and practice, and they wanted their own journal, devoted to “attempts to appraise and use the agreed-upon core of knowledge or tested method”, which might otherwise be crowded out by ‘abstract’ science (Arensberg 1947:1).

There are significant parallels between the American anthropologists of the World War II era and their British counterparts at the LSE. Both envisioned their brand of anthropology as a new kind of interdisciplinary practice that could join science with application on equal terms to solve important contemporary problems. Many disciplines and professions were invited to join – this was not an exercise in ‘pure’ anthropology. Attention was warranted by the most distinguished practitioners of the time, names that we continue to recognize today. In both Atlantic cases, the majorities in the anthropological core did not embrace the notion of ‘application’, but still were more interested in abstract, theoretical pursuits, and ultimately, these mainstream colleagues became more prominent and dominant, even as the discipline was marginalized.

Already discussed were the developments in Great Britain after 1940 that led to an academic monopoly on knowledge production and the demise of applied anthropology. In the United States, the post World War II rise of America as a hegemonic superpower set the conditions for an expansion of academic and theoretical anthropology during the 1960s and 70s, and with this growth came an array of epistemological, political and ethical issues that influenced the status of application. For example, there arose the notion that ‘real’ anthropologists could only do research outside their home culture and language, and that one must spend at least one year at a field site abroad, if not more (see Messerschmidt 1981). Methodological training was not necessary, as fieldwork was essentially a rite of passage, with the criteria of competency being the production of an ‘ethnography’, whose quality was judged by others who had produced one. Such epistemological assumptions and standards guarded the gates of professional membership and guaranteed an academic monopoly in anthropology for decades. They also served to de-legitimize and de-value anthropology that focused on contemporary problems within the United States. Another may be found in the ethical and political issues associated with employment outside the academy. As a result of a scandal related to the proposed use of anthropologists in covert military research, the American Anthropological Association’s Principles of Professional Responsibility (1971) were written to include a provision that prohibited any research that could not be published openly. This code was in place up through the 1990s, meaning that – if taken literally – no anthropologist could be employed by an organization that conducted proprietary research during that two decade period. Such subtle and not so subtle stigma tended to lower the epistemological, ethical and political status of application within academia, gradually maneuvering it into an ever more ‘Other’ category. These moves replicated the two-tier knowledge structure first seen under colonialism. The top tier was devoted to the production of ‘pure’ knowledge, and an ‘Other’ tier was devoted to the production of applied knowledge for ‘other’ venues. Baba and Hill (forthcoming) hold that only the hegemonic power has resources sufficient to support a ‘pure’ knowledge production tier with a monopoly on theory, and a second tier whose products are available to be deployed into the expanding realms of the superpower. In the case of the US, some of the first extensions of the second tier were into the arena of international ‘development’, where practitioners collided head-on with post-colonial academic critics, producing a rift between ‘applied development anthropology’ and the ‘anthropology of development’ (Escobar 1995, Gardner and Lewis 1996).

Just as in Britain, the expansion of academic anthropology, with its monopoly on knowledge credentialing, had the effect of producing a split between theory and application. This split had a fundamental difference in the United States because of the popular ‘applied anthropology’ degree programs that credential anthropological practitioners. My interpretation, however, is that these programs do not alter the existence of what is still basically a two-tier structure; indeed, they embrace and institutionalize it, and endow it with a high degree of internal complexity and differentiation (e.g., see van Willigen 2002).

Ironically, one might conclude from all of this that the integration of theory and practice in A/E is most likely to occur when academic anthropology is not yet fully developed or when it is relatively weak, and that in turn might suggest that such integration could only happen at very specific points in time. Indeed, within the recent past, the post-modern critique of anthropology may have so weakened the discipline’s theoretical structures that theory and practice have again begun to merge, but this time via the escape of ethnography from anthropology (as evidenced in EPIC).


In the global sample of nations, the institutional use of the name ‘applied anthropology’, and the two-tier knowledge production model, were not found for the ‘Second or Third World’ cases. It is postulated that in the former Second World (prior to 1990), the two-tier structure of knowledge production was not necessary and/or not permitted, due to the entanglement of anthropology with ‘scientific socialism’, and the need for anthropology to serve socialist purposes (Baba and Hill forthcoming). We suggest that there was no ‘pure’ anthropology per se, for such could be interpreted as a bourgeois conception. Under this hypothetical scenario, only the ‘correct’ form of A/E would be permitted by the socialist state, and all comrades should adhere to this form, which changed as the party line changed. In Russia, after the 1990s, resource scarcity appears to have militated against the further specialization of roles into pure and applied forms. Many A/Es in universities and research institutes have been forced to take on project work to supplement their incomes (Yamskov forthcoming), and this has led to a further blurring of lines between theoretical and applied roles. No one calls herself ‘applied’, but many A/Es do at least some ‘applied’ work.

In the so-called Third World, a two-tiered knowledge structure also is not in evidence, based on data contained in the sample of nations. Visitors from the West generally play the theoretical role, or theory is imported from the West, and ‘native anthropologists’ are prepared to engage in ‘applied’ roles often related to nation-building, even if they hold academic posts (Freidenberg 2001). Just about all Third World A/Es do some ‘applied anthropology’, but few calls themselves ‘applied’ per se, neither are there formal institutional structures named in this way (at least in the sample). Some Latin American colleagues have called such structures ‘apartheid’, and they are glad not to have it (Hill, personal communication, 2005).

When I first heard the term ‘apartheid’ used in this context I was stunned, for it seemed a shocking and alien way of conceptualizing the American structure of ‘applied anthropology’. Yet, if apartheid is a policy of segregation and discrimination based upon ‘inherent’ characteristics, then perhaps the American approach of creating separate tracks for ‘applied’ anthropology is a form of ‘apartheid’. If that is so, we should question ourselves more seriously about the reasons why we need to keep theoretical anthropology segregated from the production and reproduction of practice.


Globalization theory predicts that the world is in the process of de-centering, with the global center of power now shifting Eastward7, toward China, India and the other nations of the Pacific Rim and Asia (e.g., see Friedman 2003). If such theories are valid, the United States may be slowly losing its hegemonic status, as a new economic platform rises in the East to compete with those in North America and Europe. This shift could represent the latest stage in a centuries (or millennia) long cycle through which global de-centering enables new areas of the world to become centers of capital accumulation. With this shift, resources may be reallocated within and between centers, and new opportunities may emerge for people in places that previously were impoverished. The possible rise of a new economic and technological platform in the East has been theorized as a moment of convergence in structures, meaning that social institutions across regions of the globe may become more similar (e.g., educational institutions’ standards of competency). We could be experiencing such a worldwide convergence in anthropology and ethnography.

Fischer (2003) has argued that new methodologies and conceptual tools are necessitated by the fact that cultures of every kind are becoming more complex and differentiated at the same time that globalization is bringing them into exponentially increased interaction. He states that anthropology now operates in a series of ‘third spaces’ beyond the 19th and 20th century dualisms of us/them, primitive/civilized, East/West, North/South, or applied/academic. The opening of a ‘third space’ gives rise to a peculiar sense of ‘oneness’ or a blurring of boundaries that anthropology has not evidenced since the dawn of the discipline. The current survey of A/E practice across sixteen nations reveals four dimensions of convergence in A/E practice, including: 1) interdisciplinary research teams; 2) participatory and collaborative methodologies; 3) stronger profiles in policy-making and political influence; and 4) multiple occupational roles (Baba and Hill forthcoming). These common practices are emerging across academic and non-academic settings, and globally across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Each of these convergent features are linked to globalization processes.

In the highly turbulent, uncertain and complex world of the 21st century, intellectual attention shifts to urgent, contemporary challenges and opportunities that are transnational in scope. These issues cannot be interrogated with traditional ‘pure’ disciplinary concepts and methods. While traditional A/E practices (solo, single discipline, abstract, ‘exotic esoterica’) are marginalized, the epistemological heart of A/E has been transformed and is embedded in post-critical approaches to methodology and theory-building (Schweizer 1998). The potential synergy of problem-focused, yet fundamental research is recognized across the natural and social sciences (Stokes 1997), and is producing gains in cutting-edge areas such as environmental science, economic and ‘institutional’ anthropology, and complexity (e.g., Moran and Ojima 2005, Jian and Young 2002, Agar 2004). Lines between theory and practice are blurred in such contexts because emergent problems are poorly understood and not well theorized. Those with access to the field may gain information that is crucial to new understanding. Staying cloistered risks failure to comprehend the evolving reality, while old theory is obsolete. Gaining access to the field, however, often requires an exchange of value (i.e., a problem-orientation, a deliverable). A/Es must be able to transform knowledge gained in more pragmatic contexts into theoretical intelligence and not become disillusioned that such knowledge is automatically ‘impure’ or represents a ‘sell out’. Partnerships between academics and practitioners, and across disciplines and professions (i.e., hybrids), can empower such theory-practice transformations. All modern disciplines (e.g., economics, psychology, political science) and professions (e.g., medicine, law) make this transformation and gain knowledge and power from it. Relatively strong links between theory and practice in these fields empower professionals with clout in policy-making and practice, compared with the weaker policy influence of anthropology and ethnography, fields that have negligible links between theory and practice. Academic anthropology has been hung-up on the theory-practice interface, continuing to express a dysfunction, as if our discipline had experienced a childhood trauma that wounded us deeply. It is time for us to join our British colleagues in the process of confronting the past, coming to terms with it, and moving beyond its limitations.

Just as the ethnographic tradition once belonged to many professions and was no captive of the academy, so today that same tradition has burst out of the academy and now is in the hands of many ‘Others’. Its economic value has been recognized, and with that acknowledgement comes its transformation from the world of ‘pure’ to the ‘real world’. I am not certain that the academy recognizes what has happened, but that doesn’t matter. The transformation points to a contextual shift – the emergence of a change in the theory-practice boundary. Time has moved on, and the boundary is blurring once again, driven by the rising economic value of knowledge and innovation. The frontier has opened, and it beckons to us to push the horizon of knowledge beyond the narrow confines of the questions we ask today and toward the larger frames of meaning that can help us see more clearly tomorrow.

History has been harsh with our forebears, and with their intellectual descendants. We have lived through the post-modern, post-colonial critique that may have been in atonement for what our British counterparts did and did not do long ago, and for what critics in developing nations say that the United States is and is not doing now. As we have recognized at EPIC 2005, a profession cannot be competitive in the 21st century with theory-practice ‘apartheid’. We need the power that derives from their integration, joined with that of our imagination. And, as a community, we also must remain aware of our historical and political situation, recognize our responsibility within it, be prepared to speak and act in accordance with our moral sense, while remaining engaged in the context, no matter how difficult or painful that might be. Anything less may seem like a ‘fair day’s work’, but it will not yield what we truly seek – an intelligent, responsible, and lasting contribution to the people of our world and to ourselves – a contribution that tomorrow’s anthropologists and ethnographers will be justly proud to claim as our legacy to them.

Acknowledgments – The author expresses appreciation to contributors to the two volumes on global practice cited in this paper, to her co-editor and co-author on both volumes, Carole E. Hill, and to Keri Brondo who provided valuable commentary on earlier drafts and technical assistance on the manuscript.

Marietta Baba is a Professor of Anthropology and Dean of the College of Social Science at Michigan State University, with an interest in processes of technological innovation within organizational contexts.


1Theory, in Aristotle’s terms, is defined as epistemic or scientific knowledge, that which is invariable over time and space, and which is achieved through analytic rationality. Practice (techne, craft or art) is defined as an activity that is concrete, variable and context-dependent. Practice is concerned with the application of technical knowledge and skill toward the achievement of a goal (see Flyvbjerg 2001). It is recognized that these poles of knowledge are not opposed to one another, but complementary, and that the distinction between them is itself context dependent and shifting over time and space.

2I must acknowledge two volumes of collected papers by ‘native’ ethnographers and anthropologists in sixteen countries around the globe, one published in 1997 (Baba and Hill, The Global Practice of Anthropology, William and Mary Press), and one forthcoming (Hill and Baba, The Globalization of Anthropology, American Anthropological Association). The volumes include papers from Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica and Central America, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Great Britain, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal, Russia, and the United States. The purpose of these collections was to enhance sharing of knowledge among practicing A/Es across the so-called First, Second and Third Worlds, and to facilitate development of a global community of practice.

3There are no other organizational forms like the Society for Applied Anthropology or the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology, no other degree programs with ‘applied’ or ‘practicing’ titles, no local practitioner organizations, and so on. In the 1980s and 90s, three other countries launched experimental efforts to create new institutions named ‘applied’ or ‘practicing’, but these failed to thrive. The three experiments include: 1) Canada – Society for Applied Anthropology of Canada and its journal Proactive; 2) British Association for Anthropology in Policy and Practice; and 3) an applied anthropology track in the Behavioral Science Department of Ben-Gurion University. None of these structures or names exist today (see Baba and Hill forthcoming). It should be noted, however, that ‘Anthropology in Action’ still exists in Great Britain as an e-mail discussion group, and that since 2003 the ASA has initiated ‘Apply’, which is an applied anthropology network that is active in promoting applied events and has its own website.

4This is in distinction to the Royal Anthropological Institute, which was more inclusive, and existed previously.

5The reformists wanted to develop the regional institutes as part of the colonial development strategy, and training doctoral students within the context of these institutes was integral to their growth and vitality as institutions. The anti-colonialists, however, wanted the doctoral students to return to England during their training for a prolonged ‘write-up’ period, as they believed the intellectual stimulation would be greater on an English campus than at a colonial institute (Mills 2002).

6The colonial reform agenda called for strengthening the regional research institutes, and creating a base for student training there, closely linked to the students’ fieldwork. The A/Es at the LSE supported this latter position (Mills 2002).

7Or Westward, if one is on the West Coast of the United States.


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