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Anthropology and the Public Interest. Fieldwork and Theory by Peggy Reeves Sanday

By Peggy Reeves Sanday

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Here, then, is the crux of the ethical problem in applied anthropology. Here, too, is a source of great frustration for those who go into applied anthropology, who all too often see their recommendations, which favor the interests of those they study, ignored by policymakers who give low priority to those interests. In this regard, anthropologists and bicultural native members of minority groups stand in much the same kind of relationship to policymakers. Policymakers, however, perceiving anthropologists as members of their own social group, have difficulty understanding why they should be less than entirely cooperative.

This is an essential step, but it is only the first of two essential steps. The second is effective implementation of that policy. This can only be accomplished by a profession that demonstrates to those agencies responsible for carrying out the policy that it can be implemented and that it is in the agency's best interest to do so because this is in the best interest of the public. This, in turn, can only be accomplished if there is indeed effective public support for the policy, and insuring this is also the responsibility of the profession.

They are the experts. All an anthropologist does is to try to learn what they already know and describe it to others, but, in the end, he knows no more than they do. The difference is that he objectifies far more what he knows, both to himself and to others, and can, therefore, communicate that knowledge more accurately and directly. The point remains, however, that there is no way an anthropologist, starting cold, can go out and do a quick survey to learn the emic categories of another culture.

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