Saturday, July 14, 2018

Applied Anthropology and Standardization

 In the real world, the replication of uniformity (See AFC Wallace or Ward Goodenough) 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 wants to know, "What is valid and reliable,?" not novel. "What is predictable," not innovative. 
The majority do not want "new" as much as it wants to know "what works." Standardization makes answering the latter question a lot easier. The "New", and untested, is basic research, while "evaluation" and "standardization" are respectively -- engineering and auditing. The latter are the realm of the applied anthropologist.

In accounting and legal professions -- both applied practices serving a public need -- there are basic internal standards, e.g. "general accounting standards" and "code of professional ethics" It might be suggested that anthropology become more standardized in its methods and terminology when employed by or marketing to a non-anthropologically literate clientele. But this will require major input from the practitioner branch of the discipline and acceptance by the academic branch. 

Such standardization must apply across of the many contexts in which one finds ethnographic work being applied to solve practical problems. There is a similar dimension for the other sub disciplines such as archeology. If you are always looking back because you can't trust what you did in the past, then how can you convince the public that your advice help the client to make any real choices and progress affecting their future?

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