Friday, March 4, 2011

Is Applied Anthropology a Profession?

My question is based on my dissertation and subsequent career path as well as monitoring of the anthropological profession for the past 30 years. My dissertation began as a study of voluntary associations as particular type of socio-cultural adaptation to the pressure for change in a complex society - sort of a "superorganic" adaptation. The final product entitled, Anthropology and the Social Engineer: A Case Study of the Professionalization and Elaboration of the Social Scientist's Role, drew upon the research done by sociologist and anthropologists who studied modern professions such as medicine, accounting, engineering for a theoretical framework. They define a profession as a subset of an occupation. My own field work in the areas of social program design and evaluation and research into the organizational development of American anthropology confirmed the idea that a professional organization is a special case of the voluntary association form of social organization.

One of the major findings of this research is that a professional tends to express the very sense of "calling" and "commitment" to the ideology of the discipline they pursue that people report in their religious experience. These professions call upon members to subordination of their individual bias to a set of the collective standards established by discipline (faith) and to maintain a special relationship to the lay public being served. This is similar to what one finds in the clergy.

Just as the Church's greatest weapon against the apostate is "excommunication," so too the greatest weapon against a professional is the threat of ostracism, e.g. a lawyer being disbarred or a doctor having his/her medical license pulled. This is usually caused by an extreme breach of professional ethics or standards.

My question is to ascertain how others think and feel about the following situation.

If the AAA, SfAA, or NAPA have codes of ethics but no authority to enforce them and no formal requirements for membership other than paying dues, then are they a profession or simply a voluntary association?

My observation over the past 30 years is that the profession seems to rest solely and exclusively in the academy. Specifically it rests in the university department which can "license" practitioners with tenure and expel members by rescinding tenure. But where else is there a similar professional control over the practice of anthropology?

A truly professional "applied anthropology" or "practicing anthropology" would model itself after the other service professions such as medical, law,social work,engineering, etc. These professions are organized to insure a form of self government to protect members from government interference in their practice, and protect the public they serve from quacks and unethical practitioners by controlling membership.

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