Commentary – The future of socially engaged anthropology: A student perspective

Commentary – The future of socially engaged anthropology: A student perspective

Robin Lewis Brown



Many anthropologists have begun to shy away from disengaged textual analysis and extreme relativism, which were common in the discipline’s earlier years. Instead, many have turned increasingly to issues of social justice and activism. These anthropologists must walk a fine line, respecting the agency of their interlocutors while remaining an assisting force in their struggles. In this article, I examine what socially engaged anthropology looks like to an undergraduate anthropology student. I comparatively examine the subfields of applied and public anthropology and consider the implications of such socially engaged scholarship for the broader discipline of anthropology. I also consider the relevance of these subfields to the newest generation of engaged anthropologists. In particular, I discuss public anthropology’s power to allow anthropologists to advocate for, while not drowning out the voices of, their interlocutors. In my own work, I have struggled to reconcile not just my own privileged position with the position of my interlocutors, but also my hesitance to impose my own viewpoints on them with my desire to perform effective social activism. I ultimately find that the most effective way to perform useful solidarity work as a student anthropologist is to negotiate solutions by directly confronting any differences of privilege that may exist between researcher and interlocutor.

Download Full Text – Brown 2012


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