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.

1 comment:

Paul Dunkirk said...

Sorry. I can't read in this format: white writing on black background. It gives me a headache in about 15 seconds. I wish I could read it because I am interested. Very interested. Sorry. Please change to a template that is easier on the eyes.