I am so grateful for this chance to confess to you active social scientists about my applied anthropology career crisis, and explore with you potential ways to weather and even prevent such a crisis for me, perhaps for you someday, and maybe even for the discipline.
Many people study anthropology and we embrace it as part of our identity. In fact, per the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Educational Sciences, an estimated 400,000 people in the United States have anthropology degrees, including about 20,000 PhDs and 50,000 masters, presumably many in applied anthropology. Further, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) boasts over 10,000 members and the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) about 2,500.
Of AAA members, 75% are employed in higher education or students of anthropology, and it’s safe to assume that these folks practice anthropology daily. What about those who aren’t in academia? What do they do? Just about anything and nearly everything, with more or less success at incorporating our anthropology learnings in a sustained way. Those of us not in academia work for governments, development agencies, NGOs, tribal and ethnic associations, advocacy groups, social-service, health, and educational agencies, and businesses. These organizations often have a different set of values, methods, and priorities that compete with our applied anthropology tenets. And this culture clash sets us dyed-in-the-wool anthropologists up for conflict.
Take, for example… me! I was an applied medical anthropologist before I even heard of the term. I came of age on the Navajo Reservation, hearing stories from my step-mom, an Indian Health Service doctor. As a high school student, I pondered ways to prevent kids from being bounced out of pick-up truck beds. I envisioned policy to enable my friends preparing for military deployment to both take peyote in their protection ceremony and pass their pre-deployment drug test. I devised a group prescription system that would allow my high school girlfriends to obtain and take birth control pills together as a community, a way that would prevent more pregnancy than each of us playing roulette by taking turns popping out pills from a single, shared pill pack. Continue reading