October 21, 2009

Beatriz Manz on anthropology, relevance, and advocacy

"Are all bystanders equal? US academics occupy a privileged position and should be willing to expose human rights abuses, injustice, degrading poverty, and exploitation. If we want to be relevant, anthropologists should shape the public debate, reframe the issues and perceptions, and provide new insights. In a globalized world, our subjects and our audience are not discounted, as Clifford Geertz (1988) noted. Our audience should not just be informed, he asserted, they need to be implicated...In the 'hard' sciences, researchers share findings about a problem and present research results as to causes of the problem and, even better, if they find solutions for it. In our discipline, those steps have the maligned name of 'activism', and their practitioners become denigrated and shunned. Have we ever heard of a 'cancer cure activist'? Why do we tend to be so timid about finding solutions for those who suffer and live in human-made scarcity and injustic? What specific results are we providing? Why are we not advocates?"

-from "The Continuum of Violence in Post-War Guatemala" (2008: 158).