Cover page

Table of Contents


Title page

Copyright page

Notes on Contributors

Preface and Acknowledgments

Chapter 1 Introduction

The Development of Practice in Anthropology

Why Is Practice Different?

A History of Missed Opportunities

How This Book Is Structured

Part I: The Practitioner Career Arc

Chapter 2 Professional Training and Preparation


Foundational Issues

Concluding Your Graduate School Experience

Making the Transition to the Workplace

Building a Career Path to Suit Your Interests

Chapter 3 Making the Transition from the Academy to Practice

My Experience

Becoming a Practitioner


Lessons Learned

Some Concrete Tips

Chapter 4 Job Hunting in the Twenty-First Century


Step 1: Determine the Job You Want and How You Are Qualified for It

Step 2: Write Your Résumé

Step 3: Apply for Jobs

Step 4: Network and Build Your Connections

Step 5: Interview and Land the Job

Chapter 5 Job Success 101


The Formal and the Informal

Minding Your Ps and Qs

Teams and Tasks

Computers and Other Electronics

How to Advance in Your Career in the Organization

How to Leave the Organization Like a Professional

Creating and Nurturing Professional Networks

Final Thoughts

Chapter 6 Careers in Practice


Some History

Practice Isn’t Like the Academy

Learning on the Job

The Career Arc of a Practitioner

Lessons Learned

Chapter 7 Stress and Failure in Practice Work

Career Arcs in the World of Practice

Stress and Burnout

Responding to Stress and Burnout

Leaving Your Job


Why People Fail

Recovering from Failure

Conclusion: Managing Your Work, Your Life, and Your Thinking

Part II: Practitioner Bases

Chapter 8 Doing Anthropology – Full Tilt, Full-Time


How Did I Get Here?

What Do You Need to Know to Do This Work?

What Skills, Experience, and Other Qualifications are Relevant?

What Do You Need to Learn beyond Your Anthropological Training?

What Are the Most Interesting and Exciting Things Anthropologists Do?

What Additional Resources Are Available?

Where Am I Going from Here?

Chapter 9 An Independent Consultant in a Business of One

Running Your Own Business and Being Independent

How to Break into the Business

Navigating the Financial Territory

Is Being an Independent Consultant Right for You?

Tax Status and Registering Your Business

Liability Insurance

Determine Your Core Set of Services

How to Build a Client Base

Other Strategies for Deriving an Income

How to Market Your Business

Diversifying Your Service Offerings

Keeping Fresh: Professional Development

The Opportunity

Next Steps on the Path

Chapter 10 How to Be a Self-Supporting Anthropologist

You Will Learn to Live with Ad Hocery

You Will Learn to Work in Shanghai

You Will Learn to Ride Uneven Circus Ponies

You Will Learn to Live Simply and Wear a Rolex

You Will Get Used to Being the Apostate

You Will Pursue a Curiosity Shaped Less and Less by the Professional Consensus

You Will Learn to Supply Your Own Soap

You Will Learn to Manage an Embarrassment of Riches

You Will Learn to Speak Plainly

You Will Learn to Talk about Culture

You Will Learn that It’s Not about You

You Will Discover How Little You Know

You Will Learn to Maximize Your Strengths and Make Up Your Deficits

Chapter 11 Becoming a Practicing Disaster Anthropologist

An Unexpected Turn

Why This Field?

What It’s Like: The Ups and Downs of the Flight

Chapter 12 An Anthropologically Based Consulting Firm


Who We Are

Founding a Consulting Firm

Launching a Firm

Refugee and Community-Focused Projects


Monitoring and Evaluation

On Being Professional Anthropologists

Chapter 13 Nongovernmental Organizations

Characteristics of the Sector

Breaking into NGO Work

Some NGO Characteristics

Why Anthropologists Fit NGOs

Going beyond Anthropological Training

NGO Career Patterns

NGOs Are Exciting, Fun, and Rewarding

Some Recent Changes

Chapter 14 Multilateral Governmental Organizations

Structure and Function

Entering the World Bank

Critic and Gadfly

Staff Member

Opportunities Discovered

New Challenges

Final Reflections

Chapter 15 Tools for Gauging Success in the Corporate Sector


Forces Exerted on the Organization and You

Culture Change and the Corporate Organization

The Art of Practice

The Nagging Question that Remains

How to Gauge Success as a Practitioner


Chapter 16 Working for the Federal Government


Do Federal Agencies Hire Anthropologists?

What’s a Typical Career Path?

A Day in the Life: What It’s Like to Do What I Do

Relevant Skills, Experience, and Qualifications

Beyond Anthropological Training

Ethics, Research Transparency, and Confidentiality

Here’s What I’d Tell You

Chapter 17 Anthropologists Working in Higher Education


Practical Anthropology Perspectives and Skills

Applying Anthropology Perspectives and Skills

University Employment Careers and Job Functions

Access to Positions in Higher Education



Policy Development

Management Culture

Information Dissemination

Career Development and Transitions

Benefits, Drawbacks, and Awkwardness


Part III: Domains of Practice

Chapter 18 Methods and Approaches

Thinking Anthropologically: The Role of Anthropological Theory

Doing the Work: Methodological Approaches to Practice

Partners Can Help Us Do It Better

Problem Areas


Chapter 19 Practitioners Working in Health

Suzanne Heurtin-Roberts’s Personal Story

Martha Hare’s Personal Story

On Practice

Framing Anthropological Practice in the Medical Health Domain

What Does the Medical Anthropologist Bring to Potential Employers?

Potential Problems


Chapter 20 International Development

Development Anthropology Past and Present

Development Anthropology’s Domain Structure

Development Sectors

Regional Structures

Roles for Anthropologists in International Development

Entry Points for Anthropologists in International Development

Opportunities in the Near and More Distant Future

Chapter 21 Military and Security


Setting Goals, Shaping Conditions

Travelers’ Advice


Chapter 22 Anthropologists at Work in Advertising and Marketing

Vast Changes in the Marketplace

The Anthropologist’s Advantage

Everyday Work in Advertising Is Different from Academia

How to Start a Career in Advertising or Marketing

Future Directions


Chapter 23 Anthropology in Design and Product Development

Chapter 24 Environment and Resources

Defining the Field


Summing Up


Chapter 25 Practitioners in Humanitarian Assistance

A Few of the Key Issues and “Grand Challenges” Aid Workers Face

Some Constraints for Anthropologists Entering Humanitarian Work

Who Is on the Team?

Leveraging Our Anthropological Training and Perspective

What We Still Need to Learn

Getting Started and Breaking In

Aid Paradigms Are Always Evolving

Aid Work for Me . . . So Far

A Multitude of Ethical Issues and Challenges

Parting Advice

Part IV: Key Issues

Chapter 26 Ethics and Practicing Anthropology – Pragmatic, Practical, and Principled


The RICE Guide


Chapter 27 The Academic–Practitioner Relationship


Reflections on Academy and Practice Perspectives

Five Departments Report on the Academic–Practitioner Relationship

Discussion and Conclusions

Chapter 28 Professional Communication


Oral Presentations


Written Presentations

Final Thoughts

Chapter 29 Working on Cross-Disciplinary Teams

Anthropological Building Blocks for Cross-Disciplinary Teamwork

Adding Cross-Disciplinary Communication Skills

Practicing Anthropology on Cross-Disciplinary Teams

Chapter 30 Professional Networking for Practitioners

Chapter 31 Drug Resistance and Biosocial Analysis in Practice


The Challenge of Biosocial Research

Cruel and Unusual: Resurgent Tuberculosis in Russia’s Prisons

Livelihoods and Drug Resistance in South Africa


Chapter 32 High-Performing Applied Programs

The Emergence of Applied Programs

Continuity with the Past

Growth and Development

Applied Program Commonalities

Applied Program Differences

Student Reactions to Applied Training

Choosing an Applied Program

Part V: Conclusion

Chapter 33 The Future of Practice

Today’s World

Anthropology’s Response So Far

Where We Go from Here

Further Readings


Title page

Notes on Contributors

Linda A. Bennett is a medical sociocultural anthropologist who has worked in academic anthropology positions (Wright State University, 1966–9; University of Memphis, 1986 to date) and in a research faculty position in a medical school environment (George Washington University Medical Center Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for Family Research 1974–86). She has served as president of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology and the Society for Applied Anthropology.

Lenora Bohren is director of the National Center for Vehicle Emissions Control and Safety and Director of Research for the Institute of the Built Environment at Colorado State University. For over 20 years, she has worked on environmental issues with organizations such as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). She has also conducted air quality studies throughout the United States and Mexico and helped organize national and international clean air conferences.

Elizabeth K. Briody is a cultural anthropologist and founder of Cultural Keys LLC, which specializes in improving organizational effectiveness and understanding and reaching customers. Her recent publications include The Cultural Dimension of Global Business (with Gary Ferraro, 2012) and Transforming Culture (with Robert T. Trotter, II and Tracy L. Meerwarth, 2010).

Gordon Bronitsky is the founder and president of Bronitsky and Associates, an organization which works with indigenous artists and performers around the world, both traditional and contemporary. They also work with indigenous communities in festival development. Bronitsky and Associates has an e-newsletter, From All Directions, which goes out every other month to nearly 7,000 people around the world.

Mary Odell Butler has worked for 35 years in research design, management, and supervision of evaluations for public health projects. She has been employed by Battelle and Westat and holds adjunct appointments at the University of Maryland and the University of North Texas. She has delivered numerous courses and workshops in evaluation for anthropologists and public health professionals. She is co-editor of Evaluation Anthropology: Creating an Emerging Sub-field (2005) and of Practicing Anthropology in the Global Village (2011).

Paula Chambers founded the first ever online community for humanities PhD students interested in non-academic careers while she was earning her PhD at Ohio State University. After graduating in 2000, she continued to manage the community while pursuing her own successful non-academic career as a grant writer. In 2010 she founded The Versatile PhD, an online service that helps universities provide graduate students with non-academic career information.

Mari H. Clarke is a senior gender consultant for the World Bank. Over the past 40 years, she has also played various roles in the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), NGOs, and consulting firms, addressing gender issues in a wide range of sectors and countries. Her PhD in anthropology is from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cathleen Crain, one of the two founding partners in LTG Associates, designs and manages project work and leads development for the firm. As a professional social scientist, Crain has worked for 35 years with ethnic, vulnerable, and hard-to-reach populations domestically and internationally, focusing on the development of evaluation and research methods that reach communities and engage them in expressing their concerns and their agency to focus and refine programs serving them.

Timothy de Waal Malefyt is visiting associate professor at Fordham Business School, Center for Positive Marketing, in New York City. Previously he was vice president, director of cultural discoveries for BBDO advertising in New York City, and D’Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles advertising in Detroit. Malefyt holds a PhD in anthropology from Brown, is co-editor of Advertising Cultures (2003) and co-author of Advertising and Anthropology (2012).

Paul E. Farmer, a medical anthropologist and physician, is a founding director of Partners in Health, an international nonprofit organization that provides direct healthcare services and has undertaken research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty. He holds appointments at Harvard Medical School and Brigham Women’s Hospital, and is UN deputy special envoy for Haiti. He has written extensively on health, human rights, and the consequences of social inequality.

Shirley J. Fiske is an environmental and policy anthropologist with over 20 years’ experience working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a research manager and program director; and subsequently in the Senate on energy, natural resources, public lands, climate change, and ocean and fisheries policy. She is currently a research professor with the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland, College Park. She has been president of NAPA and WAPA, and on the AAA executive board.

Kerry B. Fosher is the director of the Translational Research Group at the Marine Corps’ culture training and education center, which integrates social science perspectives across a broad range of Marine Corps initiatives. She was a member of AAA’s commission on engagement with military and intelligence organizations from 2006 through 2010.

Martha Hare is a program director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Cancer Institute (NCI). At NIH she has administered research studies concerned with health disparities, HIV/AIDS, and palliation. After receiving her PhD in anthropology (New School for Social Research), Hare conducted public health evaluation research. She earned a BA in anthropology from Binghamton University and a BS in nursing from the Cornell University–New York Hospital School of Nursing.

Suzanne Heurtin-Roberts is a health scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Cancer Institute (NCI). She has worked for several federal offices and agencies in research and program management on issues including health equity, culture and service delivery, policy, and behavioral and community health. She has a PhD in medical anthropology, and an MSW, and has published in the areas of culture and chronic illness, adherence, health equity, and mental health services.

Susanna M. Hoffman is a disaster anthropologist, author, co-author, and editor of ten books, including Catastrophe and Culture (2002) and The Angry Earth (1999), both with Anthony Oliver-Smith. She has written numerous articles, and has made two ethnographic films. She was the first recipient of the Fulbright Foundation’s Aegean Initiative, shared between Greece and Turkey after their earthquakes, and helped write the United Nations Statement on “Women and Natural Disaster.” She is frequently a national and international speaker on disaster issues.

Adam Koons has worked in development and relief for 31 years, including 17 years overseas. He has worked for the Peace Corps, USAID, international NGOs, the UN, and consulting companies. Koons specializes in food security, economic development and income generation, and disaster relief. He has served as training coordinator, evaluation director, food aid adviser, program manager, relief director, department director, and country director. He holds a PhD in economic and applied anthropology.

Grant McCracken is the author of a number of widely read books; his latest is Culturematic (2012), from Harvard Business Review Press. He has been the director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, and a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge. He is now a research affiliate at C3 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He consults widely, and serves on numerous marketing boards.

Crysta Metcalf is the manager of experiences research within Motorola Mobility’s Applied Research Center, and leads a cross-disciplinary team of social scientists, computer scientists, and designers. She has worked in applied research in Motorola since 2000, on a variety of projects utilizing team-based, transdisciplinary methods for technology innovation. Her work has been primarily focused on emerging interactive media applications, and consumers in both the home and mobile spaces.

Riall W. Nolan is professor of anthropology at Purdue University, where he was associate provost and dean of international programs until 2009. He worked overseas for nearly 20 years as a practicing anthropologist, in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, mainly in international development. In addition to teaching, he writes and consults frequently on issues of international development, international education, cross-cultural adaptation, and applied anthropology.

William L. Partridge recently retired from Vanderbilt University where he was professor of anthropology and professor of human and organizational development. From 1986 to 2001 he worked for the World Bank in Washington, DC and Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a specialist in social analysis and resettlement, and is the author of numerous publications on these and other aspects of international development. He is the joint editor (with Elizabeth Eddy) of Applied Anthropology in America (1987).

Tracy Meerwarth Pester is a corporate officer at Consolidated Bearings Co. in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey. She worked at General Motors Research and Development from 2001 through 2008, prior to which she received an MA in applied anthropology from Northern Arizona University. She is interested in cultural modeling, cognitive anthropology, and symbolic anthropology. She is a published author, a competitive golfer, and a yogi.

Amy S. Porter is a candidate in the MD/PhD program in clinical medicine and social and medical anthropology at Harvard University. She has been working with communities affected by HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in South Africa since 2005. Her prior work focused on postpartum illness in the United States and Fiji.

Terry Redding is senior editor and research associate with LTG Associates in Takoma Park, Maryland, currently working on projects for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Duke Endowment. He also coordinated the 2009 CoPAPIA MA career survey. Redding holds an MA in applied anthropology from the University of South Florida (1998) and BA dual majors in journalism and sociology.

Susan Squires, from the Anthropology Department of the University of North Texas, is an anthropologist working with businesses to find innovative solutions to their challenges. She is a recognized expert on customer insights research and her edited book, Creating Breakthrough Ideas (2002), chronicles the application of her research theory and methodology as used by anthropologists in business and design.

Nathaniel Tashima is one of the two founding partners in LTG Associates, Inc. He has overall administrative responsibility for the firm, and oversees contract management, project design and implementation. He maintains a strong interest in the ethics of social and health research and the role of affected people and communities in the policy discussion. Throughout his career, Tashima has focused on developing opportunities for consumers to participate in policy discussions through program evaluation and community organizing.

Frank J. Tortorello, Jr. is a sociocultural anthropologist employed by Professional Solutions, LLC as a researcher for the USMC Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning. He studies issues arising from the Corps’ need to be capable of accomplishing missions ranging from humanitarian relief to combat in any culture around the world.

Judy Tso currently works for a large strategy and technology consulting firm. She is a certified coach and certified master facilitator and applies her anthropological skills to help organizations navigate change. She has a bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School and a master’s in applied anthropology from the University of Maryland.

Linda Whiteford is a professor of anthropology and was vice provost for academic program development and review, associate vice president for global strategies, associate vice president for strategic initiatives and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida. Her most recent book, Global Health in Times of Violence (2009), is co-edited with Paul Farmer and Barbara Rylko-Bauer.

Dennis Wiedman holds a PhD (1979) from the University of Oklahoma. From 1990 to 2000 he was assistant to the provost at Florida International University. He has served as treasurer for the Society for Applied Anthropology; executive board member, practicing/professional seat for the American Anthropological Association; and president of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology. Currently, he is associate professor of anthropology in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University.

Robert Winthrop is a cultural anthropologist and leads the socioeconomics program at the US Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management in Washington, DC. His publications include “Defining a Right to Culture, and Some Alternatives,” Cultural Dynamics (2002) and Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology (1991).

Preface and Acknowledgments

There has never been a better time to be a practicing anthropologist, as across the globe, people work together to confront and address our societal and environmental challenges at a variety of levels and in a variety of ways. Anthropology has much to contribute to these efforts, but until a few decades ago, I think it’s fair to say that our discipline sometimes took a somewhat off-hand and haphazard approach to issues of application.

Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Anthropology outside the university is now the fastest-growing – and arguably most exciting – facet of our discipline, bringing theory and practice together in new and exciting ways. More and more of our graduates now choose practice, and more and more of our academic programs are gearing up to help develop these practitioners. Essential to this undertaking is the inclusion of practitioner voices in our disciplinary conversations about what anthropology is and what it is becoming. This book is a modest contribution to that effort.

My intention here was not to provide a survey of the literature and theory relating to practice, but instead to bring together insider accounts from experienced professionals, accounts of what it’s like to be them. I wanted them to tell us, from their perspective, what they do and how they do it; what they see as major issues and opportunities in their work, and how they address these. Consider this, if you like, an attempt to provide an emic perspective on practice, and one which connects our discipline and its concerns to wider structures, interests, and issues.

No book of this size and scope can be created without the efforts of many different people. My thanks and appreciation go out to my original small group of “sages,” with whom I consulted at the outset and who helped me with ideas, encouragement, warnings, and advice. Later, I received helpful suggestions from many other practitioners as the project proceeded, regarding possible authors, topics, and approaches. And throughout, I was encouraged and supported by the editors at Wiley-Blackwell, in particular Rosalie Robertson, Julia Kirk, and Jennifer Bray.

But most of all, my thanks go to our authors, most of whom are engaged in full-time practice, and who gave generously of their precious time and energy to make this book possible. They did not write their chapters for the purposes of promotion or tenure. Nor did they do it for the money. They did it, as I learned, because they are passionate about their work, because they understand how integral anthropology is to what they do, and because they want to tell that story to others.

I am proud to claim them as friends and colleagues. I am impressed with the skill and dedication with which they approach their work, and I am equally impressed with their accomplishments. I think you will be too.

Riall Nolan
Lafayette, IN
September 2012

Chapter 1


Riall W. Nolan

What is “practicing” anthropology, and how does it differ from academically based anthropology? What is the nature of the relationship between these two sides of the discipline? What has been their history together? These are the main questions addressed in this chapter by Riall Nolan, as a way of introducing the rest of this book, its rationale, and structure.

The Development of Practice in Anthropology

This is a book about what anthropologist practitioners do and how they do it. “Practice,” as we use the term here, has a very specific meaning: it is anthropology done largely outside the university, by non-academic anthropologists.

“Applied,” “action,” or “engaged” anthropology – terms often used synonymously – can refer to virtually any extramural work done by university-based anthropologists. The “practitioner” distinction, however, is important because their work isn’t an optional or part-time activity; they work as insiders, full-time. And the contexts in which they work, varied as they are, are all significantly different from university environments, particularly with respect to issues of security, support, and role definition.

Engagement and application have always been an integral part of anthropology, of course, and have had a large hand in shaping what the discipline has become (Rylko-Bauer et al. 2006: 179). The history of practice, moreover, is by now well known (see, e.g., Chambers 1985, 1987; van Willigen 1986, 2002; Gwynne 2002; Nolan 2003; Ervin 2004; Kedia and van Willigen 2005). Up through World War II, much anthropology was both “engaged” and “applied.” Following World War II, for a variety of reasons, academically based anthropologists rose to dominance, effectively redefining the limits and possibilities of the discipline. The application of anthropology became, for many, somewhat suspect.

At the same time, however, increasing numbers of anthropology graduates began to choose non-academic careers, and by the 1980s, this trend was clearly established. At that time, John van Willigen remarked:

It appears unlikely that the large numbers of anthropologists entering the job market as practicing anthropologists now will take academic jobs in the future. They will not return because there will not be jobs for them, their salary expectations can not be met, and they just do not want to. (1986: 34)

As the trend continued, concern began to surface about the relationship between the growing body of independent practitioners and the academy.

Today, although we lack precise figures, there are probably more anthropologists working outside the academy than within it. The demand for the kinds of skills anthropologists possess is strong, and growing, and “practice” – as we have come to call it – is no longer a secondary or alternative career choice. Anthropology’s constituency now includes a majority of people with little or no academic experience, and few ties to academia. Many of these people, furthermore, now consider the MA rather than the PhD to be their professional qualification.

Practitioners work across a wide variety of sectors, doing an enormous number of different things. They are planners, managers, policy-makers, project and program directors, advocates, and designers. To an increasing extent, they are also influential decision-makers within their organizations. Their work – and how they do their work – differ significantly from that of their university-based colleagues.

Why Is Practice Different?

Some in the traditional anthropological mainstream have had difficulty grasping the nature and extent of these differences. Some academicians, who work or consult regularly outside the university, see their applied work as little different from that done by practitioners. Overall, there has been a tendency to minimize – or even deny – differences in this respect. Others insist that all anthropology is really applied in one sense or another. Mullins, for example, says that “virtually all anthropology can claim some measure of practicing engagement somewhere along a continuum of political possibilities.” Practice, for Mullins, “is research that consciously positions itself within public dialogue” (2011: 236, 235).

New names for the use of anthropology have appeared. And so we now have “public” anthropology, “engaged” anthropology, and even “activist” anthropology, together with exhortations for more collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and connection. One result of this has been to downplay or minimize practice. Naming, as several writers have pointed out, is a way of creating distance (Rylko-Bauer et al. 2006: 182). “New approaches,” say these authors, “tend to be presented in opposition to existing ones.” Merrill Singer, among others, has lamented this tendency on the part of the academy to invent new labels for what are essentially long-established practitioner activities, in the process “usurp[ing] the role of public work long played by an existing sector of our discipline” (2000: 7).

Other debates center on ethical concerns. Ethics in anthropology is a broad field, but ethical concerns with respect to practice have focused on issues such as informed consent, the ownership and use of information, and the appropriateness of work for large and powerful institutions (see Baba 1998: B5). Within the academy, discussion of the ethics of practice tends to be hampered by the relative lack of understand­ing of and experience with what practitioners actually do on a daily basis. Given that many if not most of the jobs done by practitioners don’t actually have the word “anthropology” in the title, academics are prone to ask, “But it this really anthropology?” John van Willigen provides a clear and straightforward answer when he reminds us that there are really no such things as anthropological problems. There are client problems, and our job is to figure out how to use anthropology to address these (van Willigen 2002: xi–xii, 233).

Discussion within the disciplinary mainstream been preoccupied with such stuff in recent years, while one of the most fundamental aspects of anthropological application – its relation to a client base – has largely been neglected. And here, I think, we need to acknowledge a set of essential differences between anthropologists working within the academy and those working outside it. These differences are significant, both constraining and enabling how anthropology is done, how it is used, and to what effect.

We can begin with a fairly basic difference: where problems come from and how they’re dealt with. Problems, for academic anthropologists, tend to be self-selected, generated and defined from within the discipline itself. In anthropological practice, however, problems usually come from the needs of external clients. These clients not only define problems, but they may also specify the criteria that solutions must satisfy.

Academic anthropologists often see themselves as providing “critical perspective” on issues or problems, whereas practitioners are expected to provide solutions. And the solutions often have the effect of changing lives, as well as minds. As one practitioner said, “we don’t just stand outside and critique, but work inside to change, guide, and innovate” (Kitner 2011: 35). For practitioners, action and outcomes are assumed to be the top priority. What they work on is defined and prioritized within the overall social and political context, and not simply in terms of what the academy might think important. And whereas anthropologists – academics and practitioners alike – are very good at providing “thick description” of specific contexts and situations, practitioners must often simplify and prioritize these descriptions to turn them into policy.

Other differences between academia and practice are also important. These include aspects of structure, patterns of reward and constraint, and work style.


An anthropologist will have either a base in the university or a base in the world of practice, and where that base is located will determine important things about how they are seen, what they do, and how their work is judged. University-based anthropologists, however “exotic” they might appear to their academic colleagues, generally have little if any difficulty in defining and presenting themselves to others in the university. Practitioners, whose job title rarely includes the word “anthropologist,” must make repeated decisions about how to represent themselves and what they do.

Structurally, academia is remarkably homogeneous. Although each of our many institutions of higher education can be said to be a distinctive culture unto itself, they are organized in very similar ways. There are a relatively small number of rungs on the academic ladder, and a fairly well-established set of rules and procedures for climbing up them. And there is fairly clear agreement across institutions as to what rights, roles, and responsibilities accompany these different ranks.

Outside the university, organizations are considerably more diverse in structure, mission, and mandate. Anthropologist practitioners occupy a very wide range of roles here, at a variety of different levels, and with a bewildering array of titles. Moreover, these organizations are themselves often changing, sometimes fairly quickly, in response to outside forces.

Rewards and Constraints

In like manner, the pattern of rewards and constraints which shape jobs and careers, while relatively uniform within the academy, is again highly diverse and variable outside it. Academics, by and large, are rewarded (i.e., hired, tenured, and promoted) for a very limited number of things, principally teaching, research, publication, and service, and while each of these activities is highly complex and requires a great deal of skill, the path to success is clear. Judgments about how well or badly these things are done, moreover, are typically made by one’s academic peers.

In contrast, practitioners generally work on a succession of projects or assignments, each requiring a somewhat different set of skills, approaches, and activities. Only some of these activities involve research. These assignments, moreover, are not usually chosen or created by practitioners themselves, but by the needs and requirements of the wider organization and its clients. And as a result, outcomes are judged by those clients, and not by peers. The consequences of these judgments are, of course, significant for future practitioner assignments and opportunities.

Work Styles

Work styles also differ significantly between academics and practitioners. Academic anthropologists tend to do their work as individuals, beginning in graduate school, and extending through fieldwork, tenure, and beyond. Work assignments and deadlines are usually self-imposed, limited mainly by the academic calendar, funding deadlines for grants, and tenure and promotion reviews.

Practitioners, on the other hand, often work in multidisciplinary teams. Their work tends to be collaborative and highly result-oriented. Often, these results may not be individually attributed. Although their work is not devoid of theory, practitioners tend to be judged on the basis of what they can do, not simply on what they know. Time pressures, of course, can sometimes be intense.

A History of Missed Opportunities

Years ago, in a gloomy moment, one of my academic mentors remarked to me that “the history of higher education in the US is, to a large extent, a history of missed opportunities.” This is nowhere more true for anthropology than in the history of the relationship between practitioners and their academic cousins. The details of this troubled and inconstant relationship are by now well known. What is striking about it is how unnecessary, for the most part, it has been.

This has been a tremendous missed opportunity. Today’s practitioners are skilled, influential, and well networked. In their work, they test anthropology’s theories, concepts, methods, and perspectives against the demands of society. They work collaboratively with other disciplines to do this, and they do much more than research: they are decision-makers and implementers. Slowly but surely, they are bringing anthropology into the workplace, and securing its position there.

To a large extent, most of this has been studiously ignored by the academy. Practitioner work is all but invisible to the discipline, its products lying for the most part outside the mainstream of academic literature. We do not even know with any degree of precision how many practitioners there are or what they do, for the simple reason that no one is counting. And as we all know, what gets counted counts.

As a result, the discipline is largely cut off from any nuanced understanding of how, why, and with what effect anthropology is actually being used outside the classroom. What’s been lost includes an enormous amount of information and understanding about how significant issues and problems are constructed by different groups in society at large; and how and why solutions to these problems succeed or fail. Additionally, we have lost opportunities to both test and build theory by looking closely at instances of practice. And finally, of course, we have missed significant opportunities to build awareness about anthropology among the general public and, with awareness, influence.

There are clear signs that some of this, at least, is changing. In some respects, there isn’t a moment to lose. Outside the academy, awareness is growing of the magni­tude and importance of what are termed “grand challenges,” and within the academy, disciplines like engineering and agriculture are beginning to reorganize themselves – often to the extent of major curriculum reform – to respond to these.

But in this global effort to bring creative thought and action to bear on some of our most pressing problems, anthropology as a discipline seems curiously absent. Individual anthropologists, of course are not at all absent, and some – like Merrill Singer and Paul Farmer – have had a substantial impact on public thinking and awareness. But there is little programmatic discussion within the discipline regarding how we might direct our efforts more intentionally. We have what amounts to a knowledge management problem here, as well as a problem with getting what we are learning into the curriculum for our students.

Until quite recently, the discipline appears to have suffered from a form of “naive realism”: the belief that the way one’s own culture sees the world is the way the world really is. From this perspective, practitioners can appear as failed academics, ethically challenged rogues who peddle “anthropology lite.”

Expecting practitioners to behave like academics seems oddly ethnocentric. One of the most frequently repeated criticisms of practice, for example, is that it is atheoretical. The evidence for this claim is generally taken to be the relative dearth of writing by practitioners in refereed journals. But expecting practitioners to generate peer-reviewed research as a way to legitimate what they do is to ignore the essential realities of their work. It calls to mind the classic Doonesbury strip where Jane Fonda urges her cleaning lady to do more exercise. If I can fit exercise into my busy schedule, Jane reasons, then surely the cleaning lady can. To which the woman replies, “Ms Fonda, you’re as busy as you wanna be. I’m as busy as I gotta be.”

Students today are more interested in practice careers than at any other time in my own 40-year experience within the discipline. But most of our institutions are still preparing them only for university careers. If anthropology is so useful in the world at large – as practitioners demonstrate on a daily basis – then why are most of us still not training our students to actually do this?

Fortunately, there are clear signs today that all of this is changing. We have seen, for example, the first comprehensive surveys of who practitioners are and what they do (Fiske et al. 2010). We now have a growing number of excellent applied Master’s programs in the country, as well as several full PhD programs. More are undoubtedly on the way. The American Anthropologist has begun regular features involving practitioners and practice-based themes. And discussion has been ongoing for some time regarding the reform of tenure and promotion guidelines at universities, to support practice activities.

How This Book Is Structured

Any attempts to improve graduate training in anthropology and to prepare people for careers in practice must perforce include a better understanding of what practitioners actually do and how their professional lives are constructed (see Rylko-Bauer et al. 2006: 187). One of the most difficult things to do, however, is to bring practice – and practitioners – directly into the classroom. Structural incompatibilities alone make it difficult to involve practitioners in more than marginal ways in academic programs. But it is possible to bring the experience of practice to students through the stories of practitioners themselves.

Hence this book, which is an attempt to describe – to some extent at least – the world in which practitioners live. Not all of the contributions here are from practitioners, of course, but the majority of them are. Several chapters are collaborations between a practitioner and an academically based anthropologist. My request to potential contributors was very simple: tell us what your professional situation looks like from your personal perspective, and through your own eyes.

Some contributors provided what are essentially autobiographical accounts; others attempted a more comprehensive description of their job or sector, often drawing on other literature and other professionals. Others gave us a case study. In each case, however, contributors were at pains to provide personal perspectives, as practitioners, of a particular aspect of practice.

The principal readership for this volume includes three groups of people. One of these, of course, is anthropology students interested in practice. The second group includes those faculty members teaching applied and practice-oriented courses, some of whom may also be interested in the possibility of becoming a practitioner at some stage. The third group comprises, of course, practitioners themselves, particularly those relatively new in their career.

The book is divided into four parts. The first, “The Practitioner Career Arc,” includes chapters on practitioner training, what it’s like to move out of academia, job-hunting and job success, career management, and coping with stress and failure. Part II, “Practitioner Bases,” provides a series of accounts from practitioners about what it is like to work in various sectors. Included are four chapters from independent practitioners, as well as chapters on work in small and medium enterprises, NGOs, multilateral organizations, the corporate sector, the federal government, and the university sector. Part III, “Domains of Practice,” looks at a series of important areas of practice. There are chapters on methods and approaches, health, international development, the military, marketing and advertising, design, the environment, and disaster and humanitarian work. Part IV, “Issues,” takes up a number of key concerns for practitioners. Included here are chapters dealing with relations with the academy, professional communication, networking, and working with others. Also included are three detailed case studies, one dealing with ethics, one on the integration of medical and social data, and one on practitioner training.

In 1997 James Peacock wrote a provocative essay on the future of anthropology. The discipline, he said, would either flourish, stagnate, or disappear, depending on the choices that we made from now on. To avoid either stagnation or extinction, Peacock recommended that anthropology do three things: initiate projects which reach beyond the concerns of the academy; do more than merely provide critical analysis; and think and communicate beyond both the discipline and the academy (1997: 14).

Ironically – but very fortunately – practitioners have been doing these things for years. This book describes how some of them are doing that.


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