Anthropology's Contribution to Public Health Policy Development
I work as an anthropologist with a diverse group of people Public Administration (SPA) at the University of Southern ideas between theory and practice. Public administration is the implementation of government policy and also an academic . Scholar Donald Kettl is among those who view public administration "as a of public policy; executive-legislative relations; public budgetary processes and . anthropology, and sociology, into the study of public administration (Jeong. The central theme of the public administration research is 'New Public Europe - a cooperation between the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of.
A commentary like this cannot help but be vague around the edges. My goal is not to provide the definitive definition of public anthropology, but rather to foster further conversation about it. We need to address the problems that keep anthropologists from engaging broader audiences about broad issues. And we need to operate at both conceptual and practical levels at the same time to address the serious problems that collectively face people around the world regarding human rights, health, violence, governance and justice.
How would I define public anthropology today, some 7. In answering that question, let me address three issues that have gained particular salience in recent years: Here are a few statistics. There are references to publications, departmental programs, websites, Wikipedia, and a recently held conference.
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A Google Blog Search—it searches various blogs—lists 54 links. There are, to my knowledge, currently six formal programs in public anthropology: All in all, not bad for a term that only came into anthropological parlance years ago.
But why the popularity? Public anthropology sounds engaging and dynamic without specifying important details as to who, what, how, or why.
There is no canon of readings for public anthropology, no formally agreed upon definition, no single authority associated with it. There is, in other words, plenty of space for anthropologists with a range of agenda to make of the term what they will. Take the six formal public anthropology programs. While they share certain interests, each department has its own, special sense of what public anthropology entails.
Public anthropology at the University of Oregon is defined as: Public Anthropology involves taking the theoretical, descriptive, and practical insights of anthropology and making them available in forms that are of interest to and accessible to a broad public. In part, this also implies a re-examination of what the priorities of anthropological investigations are, how projects are formulated, and most importantly how information about research results is disseminated.
Through coursework, research projects and internship experiences, students explore the workings of culture, power and history in everyday life and acquire skills in critical inquiry, problem solving and public communication. Public anthropology includes both civic engagement and public scholarship more broadly, in which we address audiences beyond academia.
It is a publicly engaged anthropology at the intersection of theory and practice, of intellectual and ethical concerns, of the global and the local. It draws on archaeology, cultural anthropology, linguistics and biological anthropology for the public interest, to address social issues and to promote change.
Students in the program [are]. These books engaged a wide range of readers beyond the academy in stimulating, important ways. But, as noted in the above May piece, the need to seek audiences beyond the discipline—once central if one was to sell even a few hundred books—changed in the late s with the expansion of student enrollments.
Anthropologists are now able to write for reasonably sized audiences without having to reach beyond their discipline. Today, most anthropology books sell between 2—3, copies. The main purchasers are students required to read them as part of their course assignments.
In a February Anthropology News piece, I commented: On the one hand, anthropology is wildly popular with the wider public. One reads about anthropologists in novels, sees them in movies. Moreover, the public seems to have massively embraced the concept most associated with the discipline—culture. Yet, among anthropologists, all is not well. Nor are the citations of anthropologists in literature and the popular press always positive. Also, for many years now anthropologists have played only a minor, supporting role in the intellectual debates that swirl around the cultural concept.
They seem to lack agency—others frame and reframe the images that swirl around them. One sees this in respect to two recent, award winning books. The book offers a nuanced, deeply anthropological perspective and is used in a number of anthropological courses. But the author is not an anthropologist. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and has remained on the New York Times paperback bestseller list for over weeks—roughly four years.
PBS has produced a documentary on it. He is a professor of geography at UCLA and, formerly, a professor of physiology there.
Public anthropology, I believe, became part of an effort to regain something many anthropologists felt they had lost—a sense of status and respect from the broader public. Public anthropology constitutes an effort to connect with those who, while embracing an anthropological perspective, feel alienated from anthropologists and their writings.
The question we might ask is: Are we succeeding in connecting with the broader public? In my opinion, that remains, at best, an open question. We dedicate ourselves to changing patterns of behavior within the discipline without changing the underlying hegemonic structures that perpetuate these behaviors. While striving to bring change, we seem to be creating a variant of the status quo. No doubt many anthropologists ask interesting questions.
But despite this fact, most readers turn to non-anthropological authors when they select their reading material. Our ethnographies mostly involve anthropologists speaking to anthropologists.
Our ethnographies do not captivate readers beyond the academic pale.
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That is true even with the California Series in Public Anthropology. Only Paul Farmer and, to a lesser degree, a few other authors, have reasonable sales outside the discipline, outside of academia.
The solution to this problem involves more than writing in clear, accessible language for non-anthropologists. There is a larger context that shapes the context of anthropological writing. There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Inthe last year I have data for, the number of books published in the world came out to roughly one every 30 seconds?
If we limit our sample to the United States, it was one every 4. Readers are overwhelmed with reading material. They cannot skim, never mind read, all the books that catch their interest. What is needed to rise above the deluge of publications is to address the problems that most concern readers.
It means moving beyond disciplinary defined problems to the problems of the world—the problems that interest others, rather than the problems that interest us as anthropologists. What would happen if anthropologists were judged not in terms of how many books they added to the academic pile, but in terms of the pragmatic effectiveness of their analyses—to what degree they influenced public debates, addressed and clarified serious social problems that interested the broader public?
Evaluating anthropological works in these terms would attract readers beyond the disciplinary pale. These readers would have a reason to read anthropology just as they now have a reason to read Fadiman and Diamond.
The only way to be taken seriously by the broader public, I am suggesting, is to ask the questions readers beyond the academic pale ask, to answer the questions these readers long to know, to share experiences that add insight and meaning to these readers busy lives. This means forsaking the questions that absorb anthropologists and addressing the questions that absorb others. While many anthropologists talk about reaching out to the boarder public, it is far from clear these anthropologists, in fact, engage these readers on their own terms.
The Tension with Applied Anthropology Initially, the criticisms some applied anthropologists voiced of public anthropology surprised me. They seemed to be making public anthropology into a straw man to criticize.
Where To, What Next? But I thought it unfair not to refer to my May article—published well before his piece—when I clearly addressed the issue he was concerned with. I came to realize there was a deeper dynamic at work. For a number of applied anthropologists, there is almost a visceral dislike of public anthropology—independent of what it means or strives to do.
It grows out of a feeling that academic anthropology has shunted applied anthropology to the status margins. But just when applied anthropology should be arriving at its hard-earned place in the sun, this recognition is being assumed, within the academy, by public anthropology.
This type of oppositional thinking is important in generating new theories and in promoting necessary discourse to effectuate much needed change in public health systems. To this day, one often hears allegations against anthropology for its past as the 'handmaiden' of colonialism.
As a result of having to defend itself from these claims, the discipline has become very critical of hegemonic power structures that are involved in neo-colonial oppression of the afflicted and underprivileged. Biomedicine is a classic example of such a potentially oppressive structure. Several accounts exist that describe how "the doctor has replaced the priest as the custodian of social values" Turner For example, one author writes a detailed account of how the Public Health institution in the Philippines functions as an emissary of the state in subjecting people to foreign practices in order to effectuate control and domination over the public Anderson.
Anthropology's inward looking critical perspective of medicine and public health makes the data that it generates very important to the development of further policy. Scheper-Hughes states that it is "imperative to position ourselves squarely on the side of human suffering" "Three Propositions" Anthropologists have gone from being the handmaidens of colonial power to advocates for the afflicted and suffering. Many of the other sciences that contribute to health policy share biomedicine's mechanistic paradigm.
Criticism is necessary to stimulate improvements in structures or programs that are already firmly entrenched. Critical medical anthropology is able to provide this unique perspective to the field of public health. In order to remain in a good position to criticique biomedicine, it is important that anthropology maintain its distance from the biases and philosophies of western medicine.
Many medical anthropologists remain critical of anthropological research that is funded by interests vested in biomedicine. This type of funding arrangement prohibits a fully critical interpretation and thus "compromises what anthropology has to offer as a discipline" Parker and Harper 2.
This is also unique to anthropology among all of the sciences that inform public health policy. The qualitative methodology of ethnography separates anthropology from all of the natural sciences and many of the social sciences.
Ian Hacking explains why qualitative data is so important in his critique of statistical data: His premise is that quantitative analysis requires extensive categorization. Many of the categories that are used are in essence constructs of the investigators and do not even exist in the worldview of the informant.
This creates a false perception of reality in the minds of policymakers that cannot be avoided through structured, quantitative analysis.
A similar critique was voiced by Parker and Harper, about supposed qualitative research conducted by many traditionally quantitativelyoriented social scientists. Heavy reliance upon pre-designed questions, combined with spending limited periods of time in the field, inevitably structures the 'qualitative' in terms defined by the researcher rather than the researched; and this may well be at the expense of understanding the very people they seek to assist 3. True ethnographic data strives to sidestep these misunderstandings and misrepresentations by coming to an understanding of the worldviews of its participants.
This is in contrast traditional public health research, which imposes a foreign view upon informants, or counts them and in doing so categorizes them into culturally constructed groups that support the researchers' own agenda.
Before appropriate policy can be developed it is crucial to gain a solid understanding of the situation and more importantly, how those affected think and feel about the situation. This understanding can only be gained through ethnographic inquiry. Porter explains the importance of qualitative ethnographic research in policy development through the use of the statistical concept of the outlier.
He states that as an epidemiologist, outliers skew data in ways that don't seem to make sense. Therefore oftentimes epidemiologists will seek for rational, explainable reasons to exclude outliers from datasets. He goes on to explain that it is important to look "for ways of supporting the outlier to speak" He has found that narratives derived through qualitative anthropological research methodologies allow him to discover this voice - the voice of "those who are normally unheard in the current international political climate" As has been described above, this is a crucial component of medical anthropology's contribution to public health.
Despite anthropology's strengths outlined above, a common critique of CMA is that it is overly idealized and not in line with the realities of the world.
However, Peacock states that "pragmatism and searching critique need not be mutually exclusive" They claim that "practice is part of the discipline's destiny and needs to be at the centre of discussions about anthropology's future" They not only stress how important it is for anthropology to take a practical stance, but further elaborate how such is possible: Public health remains at a crossroads.
The choice is between a narrow focus on health service issues and the health problems of individuals on the one hand, or a refocus on the major underlying causes of population health on the other.
Beaglehole and Bonita Anthropology is well-positioned to play a key role in the informing of health policy to address these issues. This article has focused on the changes that have occurred in medical anthropology and the anthropology of public health that allow it to be a modern and significant contributing discipline to public health policy development.
Critical medical anthropology has the potential to be a great force towards informing public health policy that is focused on the macro-level underlying causes of poor health in a population. Anthropology's distinct character as integrated, critical, holistic and qualitative makes it a very potent force in encouraging public health policy in a similarly critical direction. Public Health and the Poetics of Pollution.
Social Science of Medicine. Beaglehole R, Bonita R. Public Health at the Crossroads: Cambridge University Press; Medical Anthropology and International Morality. Chrisman N, Maretzki T. Curnow R, Smith C.
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Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. University of California Press; Oxford Textbook of Public Health: The Scope of Public Health. Social science fields of study usually have several sub-disciplines or branches, and the distinguishing lines between these are often both arbitrary and ambiguous. Anthropology and Outline of anthropology Anthropology is the holistic "science of man", a science of the totality of human existence.
The discipline deals with the integration of different aspects of the social sciences, humanitiesand human biology. In the twentieth century, academic disciplines have often been institutionally divided into three broad domains. The natural sciences seek to derive general laws through reproducible and verifiable experiments. The humanities generally study local traditions, through their history, literature, music, and arts, with an emphasis on understanding particular individuals, events, or eras.
The social sciences have generally attempted to develop scientific methods to understand social phenomena in a generalizable way, though usually with methods distinct from those of the natural sciences.
The anthropological social sciences often develop nuanced descriptions rather than the general laws derived in physics or chemistry, or they may explain individual cases through more general principles, as in many fields of psychology. Anthropology like some fields of history does not easily fit into one of these categories, and different branches of anthropology draw on one or more of these domains.
It is an area that is offered at most undergraduate institutions. Eric Wolf described sociocultural anthropology as "the most scientific of the humanities, and the most humanistic of the sciences. This means that, though anthropologists generally specialize in only one sub-field, they always keep in mind the biological, linguistic, historic and cultural aspects of any problem.
Since anthropology arose as a science in Western societies that were complex and industrial, a major trend within anthropology has been a methodological drive to study peoples in societies with more simple social organization, sometimes called "primitive" in anthropological literature, but without any connotation of "inferior". The quest for holism leads most anthropologists to study a people in detail, using biogenetic, archaeological, and linguistic data alongside direct observation of contemporary customs.
It is possible to view all human cultures as part of one large, evolving global culture. These dynamic relationships, between what can be observed on the ground, as opposed to what can be observed by compiling many local observations remain fundamental in any kind of anthropology, whether cultural, biological, linguistic or archaeological.
Communication studies and History of communication studies Communication studies deals with processes of human communicationcommonly defined as the sharing of symbols to create meaning.
The discipline encompasses a range of topics, from face-to-face conversation to mass media outlets such as television broadcasting. Communication studies also examines how messages are interpreted through the political, cultural, economic, and social dimensions of their contexts.
Communication is institutionalized under many different names at different universities, including "communication", "communication studies", "speech communication", "rhetorical studies", "communication science", " media studies ", "communication arts", " mass communication ", " media ecology ", and "communication and media science".
Communication studies integrates aspects of both social sciences and the humanities. As a social science, the discipline often overlaps with sociology, psychology, anthropology, biology, political science, economics, and public policy, among others. From a humanities perspective, communication is concerned with rhetoric and persuasion traditional graduate programs in communication studies trace their history to the rhetoricians of Ancient Greece.
The field applies to outside disciplines as well, including engineering, architecture, mathematics, and information science.