Friday, May 4, 2012

Where does anthropology fit in this Brave New World

Anthropology has long had a holistic and historical focus on its subject matter. Culture is historical in the sense of the generational transmission of societal experience and values. When we enter periods such as today and forget or ignore the lessons of the past.and as we anthropologists enter the real world of marketing and seek to build our careers in it, what are we bringing with us in terms of anthropological values and ethics. And what are we giving up to make a buck? 

Recently Bill Moyers addressed this question indirectly in an interview with Marty Kaplan, director of USC’s Norman Lear Center and an entertainment industry veteran. The title of the show is Full Show: Big Money, Big Media, Big Trouble

 I found the questions Moyers is asking here to be a real challenge to the science of anthropology and to our professional ethics as we move into the world of consumer behavior both academically and as practitioners. As Moyers points out in his talk with Kaplan, "... taking news out of the journalism box and placing it in the entertainment box is hurting democracy and allowing special interest groups to manipulate the system."

This is a bigger question than just TV journalism. Journalism has been, at its best, the public record and the first cut at history of a community and a society. For the historian and anthropologist journalistic reports have been and are a starting for digging into the great and the mundane issues and facts that we rely upon to build a history of the events and context of our studies. The facts reported also help those of us who are practitioners  to understand and interpret the context of our practice and enable us to respond accordingly.

Moyers and Kaplan raise important questions, I feel, for modern anthropology as a profession and a discipline

What are we doing to study this phenomena? 
How is it shading and influencing the way we understand the events and context of the times?
How are we preparing students, especially those who are training for careers in marketing and media, to deal with the ethical issues they will be facing?
And, most of all what does this tell us about the social and cultural forces that are shaping the world's impression of what the world is?

I am interested in your responses.

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