Monday, December 30, 2013

Where does GENDER fit in anthropology?

Anthropologically gender is an important variable because of its biological origin, that is as a technical term, gender denotes one's sexual function as a member of the species. From the evolutionary perspective it is significant in terms of the biological mechanism that produces adaptations over time, and today in terms of the medical consequences for the individual person as a biological organism.

Socially, these distinctions are and have been critical to the formation of human reproductive unit (the family) and the process of raising of an immature offspring to a sexually mature member of the group. It also is important in the way society, the group, responds to individuals born physically "different" from the local gender norm, or the behaviors that differ from those norm. How a society adapts to these situations are certainly anthropological questions.

Culturally, as many point out, gender is simply assumed by the members of a culture. They simple conform to the norms symbolism of dress, styles, occupations, etc. The anthropological questions that relate to these gender differences arise from the comparison between cultures and sub-cultures. Also the anthropologist is interested in the definitions and responses to deviance from these expected differences.

While cultures and societies may address the gender issues differently, the biological significance of gender to the species has, until the end of the last century, been a critical element in the definition of the human animal. Today, with fertility and transgender medical technology, the biological imperative for gender is coming under question and the human, social, and cultural responses are definitely a subject for anthropological study.

Finally, the role of technology and gender raises another set of questions where technology cancels out the physical advantages that once were associated with the biological advantages one gender held over the other. Again, these are anthropological questions about the biological nature of gender worthy of study.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Professional Ethics or Gamesmanship?

What are some of the beat examples of ethical codes? I think of the Ten Commandments in the Bible or Jesus' "Love the Lord God Almighty with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself" These are short, simple, statements which serve as personal guidelines for one's actions.

 For anthropology the initial concern about professional ethics was two fold. First was to insure that the field ethnographer would have access to their subjects by requiring him/her to behave in a manner that would not prejudice the situation for the next field worker. The second concern was to uphold the scientific integrity of the research product produced from the field work, i.e. be honest and objective in your analysis and share it with colleagues. Two very simple principles.

Religions and philosophies take these statements and then build complex fishnets out of them. So full of  knots to trap you and so many loop holes to allow you to wiggle through, the ethical code becomes a game instead of guide. It becomes a legalistic pastime for those with nothing better to do but to write more specific interpretation of the principle to trap and more subtle distinctions to escape the intent. Anthropological codes put forward over the past 50 years have tended to follow the same course.

As I have seen it, the profession has fail to come to grips with three major problems anthropology faces to achieve these simple goals by writing a code of ethics.

First is a failure to understand the difference between the sub-disciplines and what this means in terms of the ethical challenges one faces. Academic cultural anthropologist assume that cultural academic anthropology is Anthropology and demand an ethical code that represents that point of view. Its rules become too complex and specific for themselves and irrelevant for others such as the applied, administrative, policy or clinical roles or for those who work primarily with material culture, linguistic, or biological subjects or materials.

Second is the failure to distinguish the individual's position in life as a whole person and his/her "professional" role as an "anthropologist." As anthropologist, the individual is representing the tribe of anthropologists. As an individual, he/she is representing themself. As a result of this lack of distinction, codes have been proposed seeking to control the whole range of personal activity under the umbrella of anthropological ethics. Anthropology is a "profession" not a religion.

Third, a professional code and a personal code are very different. A professional code is a door or gate through which the profession (tribe) admits and judges members. It requires an individual to accept the tenets as a condition of acceptance into and by the profession. AND once admitted, it requires the members to adhere to the principles under penalty of ostracism and loss of professional privilege and status if the ethics are breached. Neither major anthropological association, AAA or SfAA, requires acceptance nor imposes punishment of what is called their principles, thus they have unenforceable codes. Such unenforceable codes actually defeat the original purpose for such codes.

In the past fifty years that I have participated, thought about, and written about ethics in anthropology I have yet to see a draft, much less an approved version, of the AAA Code or the SfAA code that addresses the issues outline above in a way that one could actually point to as an ANTHROPOLOGICAL ETHICS CODE.

In the age of Twitter, an ethical principle < 140 characters + (Specific = to define + general = to be understood by all ) might be the best example of what an code of ethics for anthropologist should be.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Anthropological Entrepreneurship," A Career Strategy

Many anthropologists, academic and applied, have become addicted to the federal government to fund their research or jobs. For those considering as career in program evaluation and/or the non-profit sector, federal funding has become a crutch.

It is time to realize that the world is bigger than that. In addition to federally funded programs there  are the private, state and local government supported programs. There are also opportunities in the private sector, but that is a different story.

In today's funding climate, the federal government is not the most secure source and the successful non-profits are forced to compete by improving their performance and finding alternative funding sources. Program evaluations are needed to justify continued funding, to sell grant applications to new or other sources, and internally, to develop new and more efficient management systems as well as new funding and business models in order to survive..

A recurring complaint or question that I hear from anthropologists who want to transition into the real world, is: "They won't consider me because I don't have the experience;" or, "How do I get the experience I need?"

I  recommend a strategy that I call "Anthropological Entrepreneurship". What you can do is create a job for yourself. And in the process, you are creating your professional personality and a self identity as a product that you can sell. That is, you take control of your career by becoming your own product.

The first step is to think like an entrepreneur, not like a day laborer or corporate drone or academic bureaucrat. To think like an entrepreneur, you have to take control of your life. This begins by defining your product as a solution to someone else's problem and your market as the someone else who has the problem you can solve.

Next, you have to be willing to take a risk and trust in yourself by investing your own resources (time, money and talent) to get started.

Third and most important, you have to be willing to fail and learn from your failures but not surrender to them. If you can do these then you are ready to venture out into the real world and get some practical experience.

 A good place to start looking is locally and at the small non-profits that have limited professional staff. These agencies are always in need of a skilled social science or business planner to help them develop their evaluation plan and/or to do their evaluation work. They are also generally unable to buy or pay for such services. The advantage here is that you can test yourself as a product. Failure here is not a bad as failing in a bigger and better know job/assignment. At the same time, the agency gains from your free service and whatever benefits or value your efforts contribute to organization. Remember your failure is not necessarily theirs nor is their failure necessarily yours.

Non-profits depend heavily on volunteers and generally have "working" boards of directors rather than "policy" boards. They are therefore often hard put to find board members to replace or fill vacancies that occur when volunteers are burned out. Boards are made up of local leaders and activists. This is great place for you to start building a profession network outside of academic anthropology and to prove yourself to potential clients. In some cases, this can lead to a paying job or a project contract.

Finally, the difference between an applied anthropologist and a career anthropologist is that the applied anthropologist expects clients to come to him/her, while a career anthropologist goes out and shows potential clients why they need his or her services and why they should pay for them.