Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Worst College Major or A Life-style Choice

A recent article on Forbes Magazine's website is entitled "The 10 Worst College Majors". In the article Forbes found that the number 1 worst college major, from a career point of view, is anthropology and archaeology. Forbes reports

Unemployment rate for *recent grads: 10.5%
Median earnings for recent grads: $28,000

Unemployment rate for *experienced grads: 6.2%
Median earnings for experienced grads: $47,000

*Recent college graduates are ages 22 to 26, and experienced workers are ages 30 to 54

The question is often asked, "What can the profession do to demonstrate the relevance of Anthropology in today's marketplace?" This is a persistent question about a chronic problem facing the discipline and profession. Why is that so? Could it be that we are asking the wrong question or maybe starting from the wrong perspective?

The answer seems to me to be that the profession must become more open minded about what its product is and how it can be used. Who and what is an anthropologist? And we need to be realistic about what anthropology can and can not do. And then, we must address the basic question: Who and where are our customers/clients?

We need to start by realizing that anthropology offers a service product and that services require a Push marketing Strategy. That is, the profession must start first by identifying the market rather than focusing solely its product. Part of that process would be to stop asking questions such as "What can we do to demonstrate the relevance of Anthropology in today's marketplace?" and instead ask "What can we do to understand the relevance of Anthropology in today's marketplace?" The underlying reality is "Who needs anthropology or archaeology?"

At one time it was an avocation which evolved into an occupation and a career in the academy and in museums. There was a need to train people to fill those spots. Those days are over.

To begin with we should recognize that today, Anthropology has become a life style choice and not just a career choice. If Anthropology is to continue to be a career choice, we need to know as a profession, and at the anthropology departmental level where the real decisions are being made, the answers to the following questions: 1. How does today's service market work? 2. Where are the opportunities to be found for the skills and special knowledge that anthropology offers? 3. Who is our competition and where does our competition lies? And most of all, 4. What competitive advantage do we offer our students and society at each level in the training of students? That is, Is it only at the PhD level, or does this competitive advantage also exist at the BA/BS and MA/MS levels?

Applied anthropology is a very promising and potential area for graduates with an anthropology major. Yet we have not effectively exploited it.

Within anthropology, we talk only about the ideal research/academic career as the legitimate post graduation career path. Today that path is expensive for the individual. It is expensive both in terms of the financial costs of earning a PhD (required for an academic career) and the tremendous loss of potential opportunity and income deferred to carry out the PhD educational program. Yet the rewards are certainly not worth the effort when measured in the traditional standards that Forbes is employing. They may however be very value on a personal level. That is, a poor career choice but a desirable or acceptable life style choice.

For the profession and its organizations, there is a real need to market anthropology as a realistic option for solving the problems facing potential employers and their clients/customers We need to reach out to the non-academic communities, find out what training students require to fit into real areas of professional service, and adapt our curriculum to meet these needs. Here medical and educational anthropology might serve as models for such efforts. Learning the language of these professions and using it, instead of speaking in "academese" and expecting the others to understand us, would also help.

This may sound like a prescription for vocational training and not for serious liberal arts and scientific preparation. I would argue that this is not the case. It is less about changing the curriculum to dumb down the skills and knowledge and more about changing the questions and perspectives in how those skills and knowledge are to be applied in today's world. Anthropology is the only social science with a holistic perspective focused on the human species, its condition, and it role in the world. No other discipline has this, though many are beginning to realize its importance in today's global community.

After more than a half century as an applied anthropologist, it strikes me as unfathomable why the profession still has not made the corporate decision to become proactive in promoting our science and our students in the "real" world. It certainly is not for lack of effort. Over the years many of us, individuals trained in anthropology, have found and create niches for ourselves outside of the academy. Yet, when we have attempted to share our experience with our academic colleagues, we have not been recognized or accepted as 'real" anthropologists.

Further, there seems to be a cultural bias within anthropology toward the prestige of the PhD academic career, which combines with a prejudice against those anthropology students who have not sought and/or not obtained the PhD degree and employment in the academy. The latter are treated as being somehow incomplete. Maybe it is because the latter lack of traditional ritual of the "vision quest" or field experience which is part of the PhD rite of passage. Maybe it is that such preparation is considered the critical distinction between an Anthropologist and other students who happened to major in anthropology. Maybe this is why they are considered incomplete and therefore unqualified be be called "anthropologist."

It is true, especially in today's higher education economy, that undergraduates contribute significantly to the financing of departmental operations at all levels. Right now 90+% of those who take anthropology courses support the department and thereby enabling the 10 % who want go on for a PhD, to be taught and supported. For most of those undergraduates, anthropology is a life style choice and never a career one.

Unlike the 1960s and early 1970s, today's supply of PhDs far exceeds the demand. Of those who earn their PhD, only an estimated 10% will find a full time position upon completing their degree in the traditional academic or museum departments. Given these odds, is there really any question why Forbes comes up with its conclusion? We face a supple and demand problem.

Unless the profession is prepared to actively create demand and promote the discipline and its product in the wider community, "anthropology," as an academic discipline, will remain more of a live style choice than a career choice for most undergraduate and graduate students it recruits at the university level.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What If They Began the 21st Century and Forget to Invite Anthropology

"Suppose They Began the Twenty-First Century and Forgot to Invite Anthropology"
first published October 13, 2011

In 1973, Thomas Weaver of the University of Arizona organized a symposium in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings to be held in San Francisco in February 1974. The theme/ title, "Anthropology in the 1990's: Conditions, Needs, and Prospects." with the subtitle "Suppose They Began the Twenty-First Century and Forgot to Invite Anthropology!!!" One of the people Weaver called upon was Dr. Edward H. Spicer, a fellow colleague from the University of Arizona and the President of American Anthropological Association, for his observations and thought about the future for cultural anthropology.

As reported by his widow in 1994, (Spicer, Rosamond 1994 Human Organization, Vol. 53. No. 4, pp. 388 - 395), Spicer took the assignment with the same degree of seriousness and dedication that he had displayed through out his professional career. He saw it as an opportunity to share his thoughts and impressions of the profession and in particular, to speculate on where he saw the profession going. On February 28, 1974, he presented his paper entitled, "Anthropology in the society of the 1990s".

Edward H. Spicer was a both a humanist and scientist whose work spans the traditional four field of anthropology, and who played a significant role in the formation and development of the fifth field, Applied Anthropology. Spicer taught those of us fortunate to be his student to appreciate and understand the connection between a people’s past, their present, and how these shaped their future. In his paper on that February day in 1974, he outlined 5 trends in the social and cultural environment that he felt would shape the next 20 years for professional anthropology.

Twenty years later, in 1994, the paper was republished in Human Organization with a forward by his widow, Rosamond Spicer, under the title, "Reassessing Edward Spicer's Views on Anthropology in the Society of the 1990s: How and Why This Paper by Edward H. Spicer Was Written" From her forward, we can gain an insight into Ned's thinking and approach to the future.

In 1974, Spicer envision five major societal trends that would impact the development of the profession leading toward the 1990s were the following:

(1) increasing intercommunication among the peoples of the world;

(2) increasing occupational specialization with accompanying organic differentiation within societies;

(3) increasing failure of technological solutions for the resolution of human problems in acceptable ways;

(4) increasing assertion and self-expression of ethnic groups within nation-states; and

(5) increasing reaction against centralization in political and administrative structures.

He stated "In general, continuation of these trends will, I believe, result in a society more heterogeneous than it was in the 19th or any previous century, more aware of its heterogeneity, with stronger than ever tendencies to compartmentalization, with increased awareness of and interest in non-technological and non-economic factors affecting human life, and with a growing tendency to view the nation-state in a wholly new light, especially with reference to its ethnic components and its political and administrative units." (p. 389)

Now nearly 40 years later, it might be worth considering just how prescient Ned’s predictions were for the 1990s and for the 21st Century.

Was he right? Partially right? Or, Did he miss the mark?

What are your thoughts?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Vicos - Mythical or Pragamatic Theory of Controlled Change

   In a recent article in the Anthropological News  Eric B. Ross presents an interesting analysis of one of the classic cases in applied anthropology. He places the Vicos project into its contemporary context and observes that,
"In time, the Cornell-Peru (Vicos) Project became one of anthropology’s fabled stories of how to induce change in the Third World."
He refers to Vicos as the theory of “Controlled Change” applied, in 1950s, to counterinsurgency Peru.

  The question raised here is about anthropology's involvement in national security policies and implementation. This involvement has been well documented elsewhere  e.g. Social History of Anthropology in the U.S. by Thomas C. Patterson and Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists by David H. Price, among others. Applied anthropology was born in and of conflict -- the conflict of colonialism, and especially WWII. The Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) for example, was born in 1941.

    As a student of the Vicos project, and a Peace Corps Volunteer who trained at Cornell and served in Peru during the early 1960s, I have found that the idea that the Vicos project was some type of Utopian anthropological experiment very idealistic.

    The events and the spirit of the period were fueled by the onset and heightening of the Cold War during the post WWII period, the wars of national liberation and anti-colonialism, the Indochina/Viet Nam War, the Sputnik threat, the Bay of Pigs invasion and subsequent the Cuban Missile Crisis. This makes the idea that an isolated pristine social science experiment could be conducted in isolation a fantasy of the time.

    Vicos represented one theory that a non-military strategy of community development and modernization might be an alternative to strategies of military counterinsurgency or civil war. The idea of winning the hearts and minds does stand in direct conflict with the idea of a military solution. However, this strategy has continued to be applied in Viet Nam and more recently in the Middle East in different forms. It is recognized that after any military action there is still the problem of nation building, political stabilization, and reconciliation. Today there is a debate about the role of anthropologists in Human Terrain Analysis, the latest attempt at developing a theory of controlled change

    The question anthropologists must answer for themselves and as a profession, "Is this something we want to be involved in; and Is there anything that we really have to contribute?"

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Church vs Art : Is this important?

Have you seen "Avatar," the movie?

Here is an essay I wrote sometime ago right after seeing the 3D version of Avatar. Since then the movie has gone to DVD, HBO, Netflick, and other formats, yet, I find now months later, that there is a message in the public response to the movie of anthropological interest. I think it touches a deeper nerve for our time, a message about our underlying beliefs about religion and art as cultural expressions.

I found the 3D version of the movie to be beautiful and impressive. The story line is predictable, as sci-fi goes. It deals with the question of technologically driven civilization verses the "primitive" world of sentient beings living in harmony with their world. On this simplistic level, it is pure entertainment. The battle scenes remind me of the final battle in episode 6 of Star Wars, albeit the CGI is generations more realistic and engaging.

I really enjoyed the nearly 3 hours of escape, as did my fellow audience members. Therefore it surprised me that the Vatican would get all upset by the movie.

Vatican says 'Avatar' is no masterpiece

Yet, this is a good example of super-organic (or institutional) competition. Religion vs Art, Religion vs Science and Art. The Roman Catholic church is one of humanity's great institutions with a life of approximately 1500 years, over a billion human cells world wide, and which has demonstrated an ability to survive many changes in its environment. It has both influence that environment and has reluctantly adapted to it. But it is also a example of one entity in the species of religion.

At one time in Western Europe, the Church was the patron of great art as well as the source of inspiration of great art. Religious art and religious themes have and do serve as a core of much of art today. The themes of art and the themes of religion overlap and complement one another. The nature of humankind, the reasons for suffering, the conflict between Good and Evil, mankind's place in the Universe, love and hate, judgment and forgiveness, death and resurrection, are universal themes which challenge all societies and cultures. They are part of the human condition.

The Church, which has both fostered and repressed scientific inquiry over its life time, is one institution of many that attempt to address these issues. Today it is attempting to act as the censor of the science that is leading to human spiritual progress, even when offered as a entertainment.

Science has added tremendously to our understanding of these issues, especially in the 20th century. Art, especially Sci-Fy, as a superorganic species made up of individuals and their corporate entities translate science into images and metaphors that bring these discoveries and understanding to the masses.

Today, we are in the middle of a great debate about mankind's future and its responsibility for the planet. Global warming and its consequences for humans and the global ecosystem are really important issues. Human technology and human institutions (the superoragnic manifestations of human inventiveness) are the source of much of recent change. Global pandemics, droughts, flooding, weather changes, pollution of all kinds, extinctions, are both the results of human superorganic activity, and the planet's response to that activity.

If Avatar has a spiritual message, it is just this. Technology, once a human tool for survival, has become a sentient super-organic life form in which individual human are but functional cells carrying out the will of the super-organism.

We see the short term greed represented in the "Corporation" and humans who inhabit it such as Colonel Miles Quaritch and Parker Selfridge, representative for the Resources Development Administration. The creature's need to feed off the much-desired natural resource, the mineral Unobtanium. According to Parker it can save Earth from its present energy crisis. This brings the moral conflict between harmony and chaos into focus.

Pandora, an apt name, is a living planet (actually a satellite of the planet of Polyphemus) whose dominant species, Na'vi, live in harmony with the other creatures who make up the organic structure of this super-organic entity.

The Pope apparently fears that this movie would lead to a neo-paganism. One thing is for certain by opposing the movie, he will generate even higher revenues for the film. He might also help to draw attention to the central moral problem of human existence and purpose.

But then his is but one voice and one opinion, for others check out the Wikipedia section on Avatar Critical reception and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why Professional Ethics Count!!

World War II was a watershed for anthropology both here in the US and for anthropology in the European colonial powers. How each reacted, and how individuals from the different traditions reacted to the wartime experience and the post war environment is a fascinating story and chapter in the history of anthropology as an institution and a culture.

While we, as anthropologists, advocate and believe that we can be both "participants" and "observers," the truth is we can never separate the two roles like our physical and biological science colleagues can. We will always be both, even when we attempt to dehumanize our "participant" role to become "more" objective. It is this fact alone which makes "professional" ethics an important and extremely complex issue in my opinion.

For example, the choice to not participate with the military in such areas as human terrain analysis is an individual moral and ethical choice. But is not a collective (professional) excuse nor escape from the consequences of the choice since collective is made up of the range of individual choices.

As a profession, for example, we have no moral right to criticize the actions of others (outsiders) who could have benefited from an anthropological input but were denied that input because some members objected to their colleagues working with the particular group or in a particular situation.

The profession must take a stand on what is ethically acceptable behavior of its members and which is the demarcation between Us (those we speak for i.e. the profession) and Others (those we do not speak for nor represent). The role of the profession is to define and mediate the limits of a member's acceptable behavior as it applies to its unique jurisdictional claim over a member's public behavior as it reflects on the profession and a whole.

A professional organization is by its very structure both a social/economic institution representing a group of specially trained individuals; and is the intermediary between the professional practitioner and the general public. In the role of intermediary, it sets ground rules for the interaction and, in return, receives (formally or informally) the right to administer those rules from the governing public authority. It is authorized to be self-governing as these rules apply to its official members. But it also limits the professional organizations authority over its members. And this is the problem we face in our organization and structure as "professional" anthropologists.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is this anthropology's public image?

Anthropology tends to be viewed as an exotic branch of the social sciences by the public. They tend to define us in terms of paleontology/evolutionary biology (bones) and archaeology/prehistory (stones). Yet, the core of anthropology is ethnography, a subject that is little known or understood outside of academia.

So the questions are: What does an ethnographer do? How does the public get to see what we do?

Today, YouTube contains hundreds of video clips by and about ethnographers and ethnographic topics. To answer the question about what is anthropology and what do we do, may be we need to look at ourselves and how we present our selves and are viewed by others, our subjects, our colleagues, and by the general public. These public videos on YouTube are a place to start. Here is an example of what one can find.

"Director José Padilha brilliantly employs two provocative strategies to raise unsettling questions about the boundaries of cultural encounters. He allows professors accused of heinous activities to defend themselves, and the Yanomami to represent their side of the story."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What happens when there are no more consumers?

 Every human is both a worker and a consumer. We are not like tree or plants that can produce all we need from the air, soil, water and sun light. In a modern post industrial society operating in a global economy we are all dependent upon one another both as worker and consumer. But as business or labor we have been at each other's throat for more than a century. The other day, as I was cleaning my old Playboy Magazines I came across an article entitled, No Help Wanted, by Charlles A. Cerami, in which he predicted
"One day unemployment figures will trigger a realization that the industrialized world has for decades been putting itself out of business. An ancient fear has come true: People are being replaced by machines. They're being replaced at the worst possible time time , when other trends are already pushing upper- and middle-incomers down a slope." Playboy | May 1, 1993 |
Back then we were entering era of prosperity and just coming out of the impact of the end of the Cold War. Yet Cerami, today, seems prescient.

Today with unemployment officially around 8 - 9% and millions of workers are no longer counted because they dropped out of the workforce, taken part-time work, or returned to be students to gain skills that they hope will get them a job, experts estimate the real figure for those who might be available for work at around 16 - 19 % of the working age population. Cerami's warning seems timely. Every unemployed and underemployed worker is also an under-consuming consumer. These leads to inefficient and under-performing consumption regardless of how productive the capital and/or labor assets of business are.

Cerami's prediction reads like an Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times or Wall Street Journal. However his article appeared in the May, 1993 issue of Playboy.

The question is: As consumer anthropologists what are we doing to address this issue? What are we doing to present the holistic perspective of consumer/worker relations to our clients whether corporations, workers, policy makers or the public?

Some people explain this as being a "Lubbite" ( and that is goes back much further to Hegel and Marx and the reaction to industrialization. The point I am making here is that once the status/role of human in society is divided, split, separated into two distinct status/roles, one of worker and the other of consumer then the status/role of human is "dehumanized." Individuals become valued for their status as a worker or as a consumer. For a producer (entrepreneur, investor, owner producer) the value of a human worker is weighed against the value of a technological substitute. Meanwhile, the consumer is still, in the end, a human being.

Innovation over the past two centuries have lead to tremendous "human progress" I will readily admit. However, the rate of innovation has now exceeded the reasonable expectations of a human life time which itself has been extended.

We have, as a species, the ability to extend our productivity and consumption by extending these advances to the third world -- and are doing it with our medical and scientific technology-- at a tremendous ecological cost. As the standard of living and expectations of improved living standards are extended to the third world -- we might expect that we are producing more consumers as well. But in fact, we are pushing the worker and consumer status/roles further apart. We are not only shifting the jobs but also the consumption offshore at a rate that is greater than the normal generational turnover we might expect to mitigate the impact of change on the social and cultural systems. The human being's ability to learn and unlearn skill sets that the emergent global economy calls for in today's world economy is not keeping up with technological clock.

Human labor is becoming obsolete faster, and faster. The years required for training are increasing while the years of productive use of that training are decreasing. The years of life as a consumer are being extended while the years of income generation as a worker are rapidly decreasing.

An annual growth rate of 7% produces a doubling of investment (see the rule 72 ( over ten years, so logically on the other side of the equation, it suggests that an amortization of a workers intellectual investment goes to zero in the same time period.

Have you noticed that experience no longer counts when applying for a job as it did once in many jobs? It is rationale for a business to invest in a machine that can be write off on its taxes in ten years, rather than hire a person with years the work experience but who training over the same ten years can not be.

The status/role of human is diminished when one's status as a worker/consumer is bifurcated and the role of the former is discarded as so much "pink slim" i.e. a filler. And one's only true value is as a "loyal" customer with a credit card that has not maxed out yet.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Where does truth reside?

Advertising is designed to lure people to attend to a message and to persuade them to take an action that the advertiser wants them to take. In the end people will decide whether or not to take the action whether the message is truthful or not.

Truth is found where people look for truth. In the modern secular world, that can be anywhere and everywhere. So is it the "customer" hunting for the truth in advertising? Or is it the advertiser hunting for the customer's truth?

I guess the real question is here is "What is truth?" "Would we know it if we saw it?" And, "Would others believe us, if we did?" 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Where are the Ethics and What is a Code?

The Question is: Where are the Ethics and What is a Code?

Once again the American Anthropological Association is going to vote on an Ethics Code. The link here points to a posting on inviting AAA members to cast their vote in reference to a "new"(?) version of the profession's 'code' of ethics. So much time and thought has been spent over the past half century on the question of what is "ethical" anthropology and still we don't know who or what should be subject to a AAA ethical position.

Anthropologists play many professional roles -- most have nothing to do with being an anthropologist -- and are subject to formal and informal codes, standards, and regulations that impact their performance in those roles. Among these roles are: teacher, employee, researcher, consultant, mentor, writer, counselor, administrator, business person, etc.

As a product of the Viet Nam Era, I have followed and been involved in this search for a unique and common ground where being a professional anthropologist creates a moral or ethic obligation that is not covered by the ethical standards already imposed by one or more these roles.

The Society for Applied Anthropology was the first professional association to be seriously concerned about professional ethics. This was stimulated by concern about the role(s) played by American anthropologists in the World War II effort. Today, the SfAA has replaced the ethics code with a procedure for dealing with Conflicts of Interest on the part of members.

Meanwhile, the AAA presented its first concern about ethics in a 1948 resolution on the Freedom of Publication which ran 5 short one sentence paragraphs. The statement basically reenforced the traditional values of academic freedom and scientific inquiry. The Viet Nam era and Cold War politicized the profession. In 1967, the AAA shifted to a more dogmatic debate over professional ethics. The debate aimed at limiting the anthropologist's professional involvement and conduct, especially as it applied to research. At that point in time to be an anthropologist was to be an academic, a researcher and a member of the AAA. This concentration of roles may have justified attempts to circumscribe professionally accepted behavior at the time. Today this is no longer true.

As the AAA has expanded and been transformed from a professional to a membership organization, its claim to be the moral and ethic center for the discipline has been deluded. Today, there are many conflicting interests collected under the AAA tent. Meanwhile the attempt to "codify" its ethic position has ballooned from 5 simple sentences to the present 9 pages of Do's and Don't's. A visit to the AAA Ethics website will show you the evolution of such thinking within the AAA.

While the intend may be honorable, the biggest problem with these codes and the efforts to regulate behavior is that they are without teeth. And, therefore, as a Code of Behavior, they are without purpose. This position is reinforced in the preamble to the current draft where the document does everything it can to deny that it is a code of ethics. Instead, it is presented as an educational tool.

Elsewhere I have been critical of the AAA and its attempt to be both the ethical guru/spokesman for all anthropologist and a disengaged bystander overseeing the behavior of its members' behavior.

So the questions, I ask are: "Why is the current document titled a 'Code of Ethics'?" And, "Is the AAA the right organization to set the moral and/or ethical rules for what it means to be an anthropologist today?"

Friday, August 3, 2012

Political attitude as an influence on Human Evolution?

Wallace identifies two forces or principles at work in cultural development. The first, here the radical, is the principle of the ORGANIZATION OF DIVERSITY (OD). Human group activity which brings diverse elements in the environment(s) together to successfully solve a survival problem favor the survival of that group. The willingness to experiment and break with or question tradition is a radical position leading to innovation.

The second, here the reactionary, is the principle of REPLICATION OF UNIFORMITY (RU). Individual activity does not guarantee success and individual success does not guarantee group success. What is required to produce both innovation and evolution is the replication of successes across generations and the elimination of failed experiments. The resistance to change, orthodoxy, is critical to the replication of success.

Culture, based on these two principles, provides the tension which enables these principles to operate. Evolutionary success is the centrist or moderate product of these principles operating in a give environment. Change the environment and the system must recalibrate, i.e. the species must adapt and evolve..

So to answer the original question, I must ask another question: What is the environment for making a choice?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kurt Lewin and the Eyes of the Beholder Part 2 - The Mode

About a month ago I posted a discussion topic on the NAPA (National Association for the Practice of Anthropology) forum on LinkedIn in which I asked,"If you are using simple descriptive statistics, which is your favorite?" The question formed the basis for the later post here in the Superorganic " Kurt Lewin and the Eyes of the Beholder"

I received comments from Vicki Ina F. Gloer which lead me to think about the issue further in light of my reflections on Lewin's field theory. Vicki remarked:

 I was reminded of Whorf's 1941 publication of "The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language" (written in 1939) in which he detailed observations he made while working in fire insurance of people's perceptions of risk versus actual risk - explaining (of course!) how the words we use to think about risk tend to determine our perception of risk. Insurance underwriters use both simple and complex statistical formulations to assign relative weights and dollar amounts to risk.

right on target. 
We are so accustomed to the use of the mean or average as the statistic used to compare things that we forget or ignore the other two measures of central tendency -- the median (the mid-point) and the mode (the most numerous) -- for measuring or describing a population. But as anthropologists we should know better. This is what Vicki was saying when she remembered the Whorf hypothesis. As observers, we may want to use the mean as the statistic to compare distribution within a population and/or a change in that population over time. But as participants, the mean is a useless statistic if we want to understand the sub-cultures and their impact on the status/role structure of an institution or society. 
Culture is defined by the process of storing and passing on experience, knowledge and beliefs from generation to generation. It is this generational linkage that distinguishes culture from a fad or fashion. To understand a culture or sub-culture statistically, we must look a population and identify these generational linkages -- that is the modes within the population.
When we discuss CULTURE we tend to think of it a singular phenomena, and on an Etic level I would agree. But in the real world in which we all live, "culture", is an Emic reality. Our "culture" is our universe composed of words and actions which have specific meanings and purpose and which we learn from our elders and our own experience and which we will pass on to the next generation.

Whorf and his teacher Sapir, pointed out that language is relative just as culture is relative. This, of course, was in response to the unilinear idea of linguistic evolution. Thus each language creates a conceptual universe for the speakers of that language. Where a specific language is the modal preferred means of communication, of a population or segment of a population it defines the or a cultural universe for the population. For example, the use of Latin in the Catholic Church at one time for example -- was the modal language of the priesthood and shaped the Roman Catholic church and its cultural version of Christianity despite the fact that the average member of the faith did not speak nor read Latin.

One of the theoretical threads of Culture and Personality, probably best expressed by Ruth Benedict, was the idea of a culture being defined in terms of a Modal Personality. Benedict and Mead expanded this concept during WWII and after with the development of the National Character approach.

The mode, that most forgotten and ignored statistic, is the important statistic for the anthropologist because it defines the cultural universe of a population of actors..

Monday, July 30, 2012

Climate Engineering in the Anthropocene

What is the Anthropocene?  This is an idea that has been coined and proposed for describing the new epoch that the planet Earth has entered as a result of the growing and dominant role Homo sapiens play in the dynamic of the planet. The video presented below features a lecture by Professor of public ethics Clive Hamilton published on Jun 22, 2012 by on the subject the Anthropocene.

Professor Hamilton  explores the far-reaching implications of the intentional, enduring, large-scale manipulation of the Earth's climate system that human technology has and is bring about for the planet and its inhabitants. He explores the contrasting philosophies of mankind's role in this process and the ethic questions these present for our human institutions and our species.

While looking at the problem from an engineering standpoint, this lecture also raises questions that we anthropologist have been and are asking about the impact of human activity and human technology. This a policy area where we should have a lot of practical information and experience to bring to the debate. Only in anthropology with its holistic four field approach do we have a conceptual model of humanity that comes close to the earth model Hamilton alludes to in his opening remarks.

In this 18 minute video questions are raised. Questions that call for policy answers based on the best recommendations that anthropological record of humanity can provide.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Something we should think about - Does our technology destroy our humanity?

In a recent article entitled The Moral Hazard of Drones  in the New York Times John Kaag and Sarah Kreps raise a very critical question about our relationship with our technology. They state, "

Monday, July 9, 2012

Re-branding Anthropology Part 2 -- Heart, Mind, and Pocket Book

The basic guidelines for American anthropology were laid down by Franz Boas and taught to his students and passed down as the American anthropological culture. These traditions are a powerful force within the discipline and its organization and create a set of contradictions that have plagued the profession for three quarters of a century. The conflict can be summarized as in four words: Heart, Mind and Pocket Book.

Anthropology is founded on two basic principles – its subject is the human species; and how the species adapts to the physical and cultural environmental challenges it faces. The question is how do anthropologists apply these principles in their role as a member of the human species, as a scientific and humanistic disciple, and as individuals with basic needs and self interests? That is, where do the anthropologist’s heart, mind, and pocket book interests lie?

Where is the anthropologist’s heart when it comes to his/her subjects and to his/her role in developing the discipline? Where is the anthropologist’s mind when it comes to his/her subjects and to his/her role in developing the discipline? And, where is the anthropologist’s pocket book when it comes to his/her subjects and to his/her role in developing the discipline?  Three simple questions!

These questions, however, are not so easy to answer without admitting the basic contradictions that exist in the profession between the “emic” and “etic” perspective toward the behavior of the practitioners of anthropology whether they are academicians or social engineers.

The Anthropological Heart
In our “hearts”, I think and my experience suggests, most of us are philosophical liberal in our view of humankind. It would be hard not to be when a fundamental axiom of our discipline is based on the “psychic unity of humanity.” If we begin with the belief that we are all of the same species and that collectively we share a common biological heritage, then it is not a difficult step to a second basic axiom, “cultural relativity.”
The axiom of cultural relativity leads us to the conclusion that human behavior is “cultural behavior,” and arises from a common biological and mental base in response to diverse environmental challenges.  This does not discount minor variations between individuals or groups. But it does focus our attention on the behavior as the response to, rather than the motive for, cultural actions. Thus, when it comes to a “judgment” about the actions of others, we have a built-in bias to side with “the other”. This is where our hearts are, to suspend our judgment and seek to understand differences. 

The anthropological heart reveals itself in the causes we advocate for or oppose. It is revealed in the century of debate over professional ethics and our obligations to our subjects, the use of the data we collect, and the long running battle with University IRB and government sponsors over “informed consent,” just to mention a few. It can be summed up as an ethic that favors a role as the protector and interpreter of “our” people, i.e. the subjects of our research. For better or worse, it is the origin of our humanistic impulse.

The Anthropological Mind
In our “minds,” I think and my experience suggests, most of us try to be objective with our subject and subjects regardless of our practice as scholars, researchers, or applied practitioners. We try to operate and conduct ourselves based on another foundational axiom: “the holistic approach”.  To be holistic is to be open to and look for evidence from any quarter that may contribute to our understanding of the collective behavior of the individual within the group, and the group within its environment. The holistic axiom implies that we should adopt a systemic perspective toward the evidence that we collect and use to reach our conclusions.

The holistic axiom leads to another basic axiom: Human behavior is bimodal. That is, all human behavior consists of a balance between the individual’s emotional and/or physical (emic) response to an event or context and what we observe to be the group’s interpretation and meaning (etic) attached to the event or context.  This “emic”/”etic” perspective leads directly to our unique methodological response -- participant/observer. 

This methodological bias toward both an experiencing of the affect of the phenomena we study and the detached observation of its effect on the subject is most pronounced in the central organizational structure in our discipline – cultural anthropology.  Participant - observation is extended to the other sub-disciplines of anthropology through the role we give to culture as the “contextualizing” element in interpreting in recording events and structuring their context. This is where our professional mind is, understanding human behavior in context. It is the origin of our scientific impulse, for better or worse.

A corollary to “emic”/”etic” on an individual level is the “status”/”role” at supra-organic or societal level. This implies a structural-function approach to human behavior in a social context where status limits the legitimate range of individual behavior within the group and the role describes the individual’s performance in that status as it relates to the group.
As anthropologists, we are first human beings. We live our lives as individual human beings. Much of our life is oriented around the practical problems of living, i.e. pocket book issues. While the early founders of modern anthropology were amateurs, that is, individuals who pursued their anthropological interests as an avocation, most anthropologists today pursue their anthropological interests as a vocation. They make their living doing something called, “anthropology.” 

In 1879, John Wesley Powell, in his address as the first President of the Washington Society of Anthropology and as Director of the Bureau of American Ethnology, called for a more scientific and professional approach to anthropological research. When Boas was hired to teach and head a new department of anthropology, in 1889, at Clark University, he brought with him an idea of how the professional anthropologist were to make his/her living. Boas set the standard for dealing with the pocket book issues when he proposed that the professional anthropologist pursue a tradition of employment in a research setting associated with a museum or university. Powell’s focus was on the government as the employer of anthropological researchers; Boas focused on the private university and museum as the vocational home for the research anthropologist.

Early on, the objective of a career as a professional anthropologist has been defined as basic research with an emphasis on non-literate, small scale socio-cultural systems as the subject of study. Teaching, lecturing and writing would be part of the job description following the tradition of other sciences and scholarly careers. While this career model was supposed to protect the scientist/scholar from outside influence by providing an environment that is based on the sacred principles of “academic freedom” and “freedom of scientific inquiry,” it has produced a mind-set filled with cognitive dissonance that echos through the profession and discipline today.

Anthropologists, as employees of the academy, government, non-profit sector, corporation, are staff personnel. They are hired to perform a specific set of tasks for the organization that has hired them. We are essentially bureaucrats. Despite were our heart and mind are, we consciously and unconsciously, are conservative and risk avoidant in the way we build our careers. In an earlier day, when going into the field to do our field work leading to our PhD, we might have been seen as risk takers, and even considered ourselves to be risk takers. But this has always been a risk based on the belief that some benefactor, sponsor, or employer would be there to pay the bills. 

Foundation and government grants have, as Patterson has pointed out, had as much influence on the development of anthropology in general, and in the USA in particular, as the professional development of the discipline. While today we still rebel against certain claims of control over anthropological research made by the granting sources, and we protest the use of anthropologists in such activities as human terrain analysis, basically we are bureaucrats and happy to collect our paychecks from our employers.

The overproduction of graduates at all levels is critical to ongoing sustainability of anthropology departments in museums and universities. But employing these graduates is a real problem facing the profession organizationally and philosophically. Applied anthropology, defined as the application of anthropological and other social science principles to the solution of practical problems faced by human institutions, is the solution to the employment issue in one sense and a threat to it in another. 

Re-branding Anthropology
Re-branding anthropology means identifying anthropology as a practical discipline, instead of the egghead eccentric hunter of rock and bones, the comic Indiana Jones, or the overly rationale and emotionally distant  forensic anthropologist. Anthropology, as a practical discipline, can lead students to become more critical in their thinking and their approach solving everyday problems. It can help them to adapt these critical thinking skills to whatever career they chose. To re-brand anthropology we must recognize the three dimensions in the life of an anthropologist – heart, mind and pocket book.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Where is the theory in applied anthropology?

People ask “How does academic anthropological theory, and  training in ethnography have so little use to the applied anthropologist?" The question this raises is, “Where is the theory in applied anthropology?" This is an old question and one that I have dealt with for the past 40 years. Here is what I have learned.

First, the simple answer. It not the job of academic anthropologist to do so. Academic anthropology is based on the university’s paradigm of professionalism and not that of the external world of the applied anthropologist.

This paradigm (using Kuhn’s definition) is part of the larger institutional culture of free and open dialogue and sharing of information directed toward finding “Truth.” The research subsystems of scholarship and science promote the search for truth by limiting the questions to be addressed to those arising from the dominate paradigm(s) of the discipline at the time — regardless of the policy questions facing society or its members.

The applied anthropologist's world is very different. The applied anthropologist's role is that of a technician who works in the real world outside of the academic department. He/she is hired by a client to provide answers (not to ask academic questions) that will help the client to make a “practical” decision that serves the client’s self interest.

The applied anthropologist must understand the client and the purpose they have in mind when they hire the anthropologist as a consultant or adviser. He or she is asked to play the role of an expert who applies ethnographic knowledge to get practical answers, not as the collector of academic data and to prepare a pragmatic report.

The client is expecting the “bullet points” in the executive summary. They will judge the value of the information based on its applicability to their problem and its solution. Even if the anthropologist writes a detailed report, the client will not read it, her staff might. The details only serve later to justify the consultant's conclusions after the fact, especially in the event that the decision is questioned.

Another question often asked, is, “How can academics create theories that speaks to the applied fields and industry?” This is the wrong question. The theory already exists in the broad sweep of behavioral and social sciences.

The real question is “How do you package the proven theory into a user friendly mode that will be meaningful to the client?” The academic community should not be asking, "What theoretical training do we our students need to pursue an applied career?" Rather, they should be asking, "What skills does take to prepare an anthropological trained student to compete in the real world of solving social problems?"

One of the most important skill areas is communications. The academic writes for other academics. The applied anthropologist is a culture broker who write for a non academic audience. They bridge the academic and real world cultures of their particular “people" by learning their language and using it. To bridge this gap and, before they are hired, to teach and prepare students for an applied career, the academic applied anthropologist should have had a real applied experience as an anthropologists.

Finally, when I've been asked the question, I often draw an analogy to the legal profession. There are law school professors who research, write and teach about jurisprudence. There are others who have had experience in private practice and teach students how to practice their craft in the real world. These law professors train their students to apply their legal training to help clients avoid problems; or as trial lawyers to help their clients defend or advocate their interests.

 Applied anthropology lives in this real world. The student applied anthropologist needs the training and support from his/her profession in the proven theory and skills to apply that theory to real problems that enable her to survive and prosper there. This will be good for the student and a real contribution to the discipline.

Kurt Lewin and the Eyes of the Beholder - an Auto-ethnography

In a recent posting entitled “Mirror Mirror on the Wall” in the Hunting Dynasty Blog, Oliver Payne reminds us of the insights of Kurt Lewin and his field theory. Further, he draws our attention to the implication of Lewin’s theory has had on advertising and marketing. He specifically refers to the perception of US drinking-drivers reported by Charles K Atkin in ‘Mass Communication Effects on Drinking and Driving’ as an example of how Lewin’s theory has become a common principle in today’s advertising and marketing. We don’t hear too much about field theory now-a-days in anthropology.

Payne, however, reminded me of how important Lewin’s theory was for me in understanding the real issues in one of my first research projects as an applied anthropologist. Some years ago I was asked to complete a study of the impact of a proposed change to decriminalize the public inebriation laws in Arizona. I inherited the data from the study, so had no control over the original design but was asked to analyze the data. I had to "create" a design for analyzing totally different data sets. 

The question was, “Would it be more effective (humane) if public drunks were taken to a local alcoholism reception center (LARC) for evaluation and detoxification then to have them arrested and sent to the county jail?”  The original research designed called for the police to record all cases of public drunkenness that they had contact with, the location and the disposition of the case over the trial period. These were only contacts with no personal identification. Meanwhile, the client records at the LARC for cases recorded during the same period were sampled in terms of number of encounters, source of referral, and disposition.

Based on the police data, most referrals made to the LARC came from an area within a two to three mile radius of the center in a city of 90 square miles. And many of these appeared to be repeat offenders. The police saw the experiment as a waste of time and resources. This hypothesis was reflected in the fact that the further away from the LARC, the fewer number of contacts and referrals. Since public drunkenness was no longer to be treated as a crime, enforcement dropped off as a function of the time it took to transport the drunk to the LARC and thereby taking the car out of its patrol zone..

From the LARC data it appeared that referrals came from several sources with the police being only one. Others included friends and family, health and mental health agencies, self referral, and others.

A brief description of the LARC program is in order here. The program consisted of a 3-day residential detoxification, which allowed the "client" to sober up and for the staff to evaluate the clients 'physical and mental condition. At the end of three days, the client was legally allowed to leave. Based on the evaluation results, the staff would provide counseling and referral into the health care system if advisable or desired by the client. The LARC officials felt confident that the program was having an impact. However, they couldn't prove it to the police.

To accommodate the fact that I was looking at apples and orange I decided to use a very basic statistical tool, a frequency distribution table. Taking the number of individuals in the sample, and the number of contacts in the sample, I constructed a simple table classifying individuals into a groups based on their number of contacts with the LARC. And, I constructed a second table classifying the contacts by the number of individuals making up the group. The idea was that the former table represented the modal LARC perspective, the latter the modal police perspective. We found that the data plotted two different Pareto charts. Both the police and the LARC were correct in their initial conclusions about the problem.

The police saw the LARC as a revolving door, every three or more days  they were picking up the same people, along with others. From the LARC perspective, 57% of all 209 clients, recorded for the period, did not return after their first encounter and accounted for only 19% of all the 644 contacts recorded during the period. Meanwhile, 4 individuals or 2% of the clients accounted for 158 or 23% of all the contact.

While the facts demonstrated that the program was having an effect. The perceptions based on experience were quite different. The police saw only the worse cases and saw them repeatedly, while the LARC staff saw the full range of referrals and the successes of decriminalization as a means for the early intervention in most cases.

Several years later, I found myself discovering a similar situation while studying the drinking behavior of the rural elderly in Arizona. We found through a household survey that 6% of the elderly reported a drinking problem in the household, while the average state-wide for the general population was approximately 12%. Meanwhile, the emergency rooms were reporting a 20% rate for elderly admitted for alcohol related problems during the same period.

Lewin’s field theory helps to explain a lot about the partisanship that exists in society and why advertising can be especially powerful in distorting or clarifying the public’s perception of a partisan reality.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Does a common language matter?

   At one time, anthropology was faced with the prospect of becoming a scientific discipline. But science calls for a common disciplined standardized technical language that enabled researchers to communicate and share their findings. This is critical both for the validation process and for building meaningful hypotheses upon past discoveries to test new ideas. The success of the human relations movement within anthropology arose out of the Western Electric studies at the Hawthorne Plant. This landmark study pointed to the possible emergence of such an era for anthropology. Based on the finding that "communications" can improve industrial management and administrative, one might have thought that this hypothese would have sparked anthropological research into the role of "communication" in human relations based on scientific experiments applying the concept in different contexts and circumstances.

   Writing more than 60 years ago the editor of Human Organization observed the disconnect between the way the physical sciences go about addressing a problem and the way that the social sciences and industry address a problem.

Editorial Human Organization
Winter, 1949 Vol. 8 No 1 page 4

In the February issue of Fortune, two articles run side by side whose juxtaposition, deliberate or otherwise, seems to the editors to point a convenient moral. The first of these articles, "The Management of Men" is an analysis and summary of such familiar developments in the field of human relations in industry as the work at the Western Electric Company; the second, "Hunters of the Cosmos," is an account of the evolution of that branch of atomic physics having to do with cosmic rays.

Although Fortune does not itself make the point, the contrast between the two ways of tackling a problem is a striking one. Granted the differences in the tools available in the two fields at the outset, both begin with the empirical observation that certain kinds of happenings occur whose incidence seems to be of interest to the inquisitive investigator. In the early study of cosmic rays, little was known except that they occurred everywhere, and most of the research was concerned with trying to track these occurrences down and make some sense of them. This period was called the "earthplumbing, mountain climbing era," and physicists literally spent their time trying to measure the rays in the depths of the catacombs in Paris and on mountain peaks. Eventually, it was demonstrated that the higher you went the greater the ionization, and hence these rays could not be earth-originated. Millikan then made a series of measurements and formulated a hypothesis to reconcile their occurrence with the wave theory of light. Compton and others disagreed with this theory and proceeded to map the occurrence of cosmic ray intensities on a world-wide basis.

From these measurements, they were able to show that the intensities varied as a function of geomagnetic latitude. If this were the case, it followed that the rays should take a consistent direction with regard to the north-south meridian. To test the hypothesis, an ingenious combination of Geiger tubes was set up to measure the direction, and the results of applying this system of measurement demonstrated that the hypothesis was in accord with the facts.

At each stage of development thereafter a series of measurements were made, a hypothesis was formulated to explain ( describe) the measurements and proved experimentally by devising a means of checking the hypothesis through the ingenious construction of an instrument by which new measurements could be obtained bearing directly upon the point
at issue.

In its discussion of industrial relations, Fortune dates the beginning of the present approach from the discovery that better management-labor relations could be achieved by increasing what it calls communication between the worker and his boss. Without concerning ourselves with a more sophisticated definition of communication, what then happens? Instead of a multitude of workers in company after company trying to record systematically the occurrence of "communication," only casual references to it appear in the literature. Most of these are concerned with pointing out on the basis of the Hawthorne studies that' communication is a good thing; for years no one even considered the possibility of making systematic observations of the occurrence of "communication" at each level of supervision, in a manner analogous to that of the physicist. Granted the absence of a system of measurement, still our common experience tells us that we begin to achieve such a system by asking: how often, how much, how long, when, where and with whom. So we, face the first major difference between the fields so neatly brought out by the two articles: the lack of a comparative study of the occurrence of particular phenomena, on the basis of which generalizations can be made leading towards greater refinements of observations; and the formulation of hypotheses which can then be tested.

After formulating a hypothesis about the importance of increasing communication, decisions are made as to ways in which communication is to be "increased." Western Electric develops its counseling  program; IBM cuts down its levels of supervision; General Electric constructs a nine-point job package to be "sold" to its employees. Each company is presumably convinced that its way is the "best." No company has subjected its program to the further test of recording the ensuing packets of communication, their frequency and location, to determine whether they have increased, and if not, what factors are operating to interfere, to be explained in some new hypothesis.

It is unfair to belabor the industrial companies, since this failing characterizes the whole field of human relations. Nevertheless, one wonders why, with industry's experience in engineering and scientific research, very expensive programs are not based on something more than mere assumption. And one can wonder where we might be today if 15 years ago we had followed systematically the procedures which have so far worked successfully in the other sciences.
 Today, in 2012, Has anything changed? 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Culture: Is it of any scientific value or just a hollowed out concept?

I have posted a link on several anthropology groups on LinkedIn which lead people to this blog and my posting,  "Anthropology needs a common professional vocabulary”.  I have received some interesting responses. One, in particular, states
"As life is dynamic, sop [sic] is the evolution of terminology [sic] to handle the changes involved. to abandon the meaning of established terminology is to abandom [sic] the research done using those terms, ..."
leads me to the following response.

This is a great observation but it doesn't go far enough. There are unintended consequences as well. As the terminology changes it also sucks out the underlying insight that promoted its use in the first place. The terms either become "hollow" or "rarefied" to the point that they are meaningless.

Take "culture" as used today by the profession. "Culture" has had a very important role in the evolution of anthropology and our interpretation of humanity as more than a species of animal in biology's taxonomy of life. When Tylor defined the term, it meant all of those traits that seemed to distinguish "humans" from other animal species. Today, culture is used as an excuse or justification for differences in behavior especially for minorities (that is ANY sub-group within a larger group).

Kroeber, borrowing from Spencer, defined "culture" in terms of its locus in human experience as something that is "Superorganic". That is, culture is something which exists outside the organic individual human animal. This insight builds on two terms -- Culture is the term that Tylor applied to non-literate and pre-literate peoples for "civilization" and the Superorganic placed the emphasis on Tylor's concept of "shared values".

Malinowski and his contemporary, Talcott Parsons, expanded the definition further by linking the organic (biological and psychology needs) to the Superorganic as the mechanism for "sharing" and "capturing and preserving" experience. For Malinowski it is the "institution" and "institutional complex" where this takes place. The "institution" builds on Tylor and Kroeber by laying the foundation for structuring the elements in Tylor's "culture" into a researchable and analytical object defined in terms of its output/function/purpose in supporting the individual and the group. Culture is to be found in the institutional Chart.

Parsons and his colleagues took a slightly different approach. They focused on the behavior that leads to the satisfaction of organic needs and how these are institutionalized in society to form an action system -- a flow of energy and function that serves to maintain a social system. And Culture is found in the those elements that make up the Pattern Maintenance function.

All of this is built on the Tylor definition of "Culture". If we were to take the present day term "culture" we might and do come to the same conclusion that differences in "culture" produce differences in behavior at the organic and societal (supra-organic) level. But today's definitions will not explain "why?".

Why is this? I would hypothesize that it is because structural/functionalism fell out of favor in the 1960s and on. It lost its favor because the stress or focus was on stability. The question was "Why do cultures persist despite strong environmental pressures from other cultures to force change?" This is the heart of the work of Edward H. Spicer's "persistent culture" concept.

In the mid 1960s, in light of the Viet Nam war, civil rights movement etc. structural/functionalism became associated with a philosophical position which favored the status quo. Culture is conservative. The world and its problems of inequality, in the view of many, called for a radical solution - a solution that would break the gravitational pull of tradition and culture. The question changed from a "Why?" question to a "How? question. The question thus became a solution. “How can we
propel mankind into a more equitable and "just" orbit?” (The space age was just emerging at this time).

Marxism and other theories that focused on power relationships took over the social sciences. "Power" replaced "culture" as the ideological style of the social sciences and has found a strong home within academic anthropology and its institutions. Rather than scientific, these theories are divisive. They are loaded with ideological content. 

Anthropology has become fragmented into philosophical camps and concepts, such as "culture", "structure" and "function," have become just so many hollowed out or rarefied words.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Anthropology needs a common professional vocabulary

Earlier this year, while surfing through the American Anthropological Association group on LinkedIn, I came across the following question by Patricia Ensworth in reference to standardization in Ethnographic Methods:

 Based upon my work as a business anthropologist and my role as a faculty member of the American Management Association, I believe it might be useful to explore the possibility of creating an Ethnographic Body of Knowledge similar to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge, etc. The organizations that administer training and certification in these fields help establish professional standards and practices outside academia and explain the disciplines to the general public. What do members of this community think of the idea?

In the real world, the replication of uniformity (See AFC Wallace or WardGoodenough) is what distinguishes Order from Chaos. Standardization is a goal that society and culture strive for since it provides the base from which the next step of evolution or progress begins. If you are always looking back because you can't trust the past, then you can never make any real progress to a future.

Standardization provides a reference point. It is not an end all. It is a beginning. Anthropology has benefited by the "standardization" that John Wesley Powell called for in the training of field anthropologist back in the 1870's and which Boas introduced in his training program at Columbia that created the first generation of professional anthropologist.

In recent years, it seem that we have drifted away from a set of professional standards and into the realm of the "eclectic, fashionable, stylish." This is a trend that seems to parallel the over-production of PhD graduates and the shrinking and transformation of the academic market place -- especially for anthropologists which began in the 1980 and continued. It has severed the tentative academic/applied connection where the former generated theory that the latter might test in practice. It also served to drive some of us out of academia into the real world.

Standardization and the process of helping to create (discover) best practices is a rich area for applied anthropology and applied anthropologists. Program evaluation, which is applied research, was, for me, a very profitable career path during the early stage of my own career development as a consultant and coach.

The public does not want "new" as much as it wants to know "what works." What is valid and reliable, not novel. Standardization makes answering the latter question a lot easier.

It might be that the suggestion made by Patricia, above, is one direction to go, if there is a major input from the practitioner branch of the discipline and representative of the many contexts in which one finds ethnographic work. There is a similar dimension for the other sub disciplines such as archeology.