Part 1- Population dynamics and Market Realities
I recently received an email from the AAA/NAPA’s Anthrocurrents with the following challenge.
A case for applied anthropology PhDs. The struggle is real. Are you one of these PhDs? Do you have a master’s a decided not to get a doctorate? We’d love to hear your stories.
My response to the question is, “This is the problem that anthropology has been facing since the mid-1970s.”
I remember in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the demand for anthropologist with any graduate work was high. The supply of PhDs fell well below demand to staff the many new departments of anthropology that were being created. Maybe if I had been smarter, I might have rushed through the dissertation and grabbed one of those jobs or even stopped at the MA.
The demand for faculty arose from the combination of two factors. The Viet Nam War drove many to enroll in graduate school in order to get a draft deferment extension. Second was the demographic curve that came with the WWII baby boom coming of age.
Many graduate students from that period were recruited as ABDs (All But Dissertation) to fill these vacancies. At the same time, arising from the Civil Rights Movements of the 60s, came the push for Affirmative action for women and minority hiring in the 1970s. Women and minorities were encouraged to apply to graduate school and for the open jobs. When affirmative action favored the minority applicants for faculty openings and the demographic curve started to wane, the traditional Anglo male, white anthropology graduate were deemed a less desirable hires. This forced some of us to seek alternative career paths. The Lamphere Case at Brown University had a particularly significant impact on the anthropology department at Brown but even more so on the profession and academic institutions in general that persists today.
Once the demographic wave passed through the academic system, many ABDs, male and female, Anglo and minority, found that they would lose their jobs if they failed complete their dissertations and earn their PhD degree. Many were forced into contingent teaching roles or careers. Others sought employment elsewhere. And for some it meant dropping out of anthropology all together. For those who did get tenure, their positions were essentially locked up for 25 to 30 years by tenured employment practices then standard in the teaching professions. This cut further into the decline in the academic job market.
For some of us, the handwriting was already on the wall in 1975-76. That is when the Society of Professional Anthropologist was formed in Tucson Arizona. SOPA was formed around the cadre of anthropologist (all levels - BA to PhD) who were either associated with the University or, more to the point, many who were already feeling the closing of the academic market. They found employment as program trainers, evaluators, ethnic art and crafts shop keepers, government workers, substance abuse counselors, etc. in the greater Tucson market. Margaret Knight, a graduate student at the U of A at the time, had been to the AAA meetings 1973. She found that there was an undercurrent of concern among department heads about an impending demographic shift. We met after her return and discuss her findings. We decided to call a meeting of those might be interested to share her observations.
A surprising number of people came to the brown bag lunch to hear Maggie’s presentation. She reported that the department heads were begining to discuss, among themselves, the implications of the demographic shift and how it was going to impact their departments and the AAA. In the discussion that followed, we were surprised by the very strong and negative feelings the group members had toward the professional establishment and anthropology departments. Yet, they voiced a profound commitment to anthropology as a subject and credited the anthropological perspective with their personal successes in their current lines of work. As a result of the meeting, those present decided to continue meeting. They felt they would benefit from sharing issues and common concerns, especially in the context of the local Tucson and Pima County community. So we formed a group, the Society of Professional Anthropologist or SOPA.[i]
Over the next year, SOPA met several times and its membership grew. The group attracted the attention of Dr. Edward H. Spicer (Professor of Anthropology at the U of A and then President of the AAA). He spoke about the local effort with Mr. Edward Lehman, Executive Director of the AAA. This lead to SOPA meeting at the home of Dr. Spicer with Mr. Lehman to hear about our idea of forming local grassroots organizations. At the end of the meeting we (SOPA) were invited to conduct a workshop at the 1974 and again at the 1975, AAA Annual meetings. With the support and encouragement of Spicer and Lehman, we prepared and delivered a program of how to form a local professional anthropological organization. We also held one with Society for Applied Anthropology.
We were both surprised and pleased by the turn out and acceptance of the idea. More than that, we were surprised by the commonality of concerns expressed by graduates and junior faculty who felt abandoned by the AAA organization. Out of this was born the idea of a national movement of local grassroots professional anthropological organizations.
Participants in these workshops went home and in some cases attempted to form their own local organizations. From these efforts emerged of other local organizations, e.g. WAPA, SCOPA, High- Plains Association, etc. Some of these groups took off while others died on the vine. But the efforts pointed to a need and desire many graduates from anthropology programs, whether at the BA, MA, or PhD level, for local anthropologically trained individuals to share their interests and support one another professionally and socially in the local community. In some cases, it involves the presents of a local academic department to help sponsor such activity. In other case it may require a more neutral venue that does not have the “academic” vs. “applied” stigma.
WAPA, with its central location and the relative multitude of jobs that called for social science preparation has become a central model for many groups. Washington has served as the center of American anthropology organizational development for more than a century. Meanwhile as the political climate changed and funding dried up for many of the social programs of the 1970s, SOPA was forced to dissolve in the early 1980s.
See Part II The Reorganization of the AAA
[i] This was not to be confused with SOPA, the Society of Practicing Archeologist that was attempting at the time to organize contract archaeologist and establish some standards for cultural resource management.