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What is a “practicing” anthropologist?

18 December, 2007

I just got an e-mail from COSWA, the Committee on the Status of Women in Anthropology, which is part of the American Anthropology Association. The e-mail invites “practicing anthropologists” to take a work climate survey. I didn’t read very carefully beyond that but went straight to click on the survey link, wanting to do my part. When I got there, I read this:

If you are a practicing anthropologist, we would greatly appreciate your completing this survey!

Hmm, I thought, that’s me. I teach anthropology, I do research (when I can), yep, I’m a practicing anthropologist. But then I read on:

If your main occupation is a full-time faculty member at an academic institution, please exit now.

Whoops. *That’s* me.

This often nags at me: between “applied” and “practicing” and “academic” and whatever other modifier for anthropologist you can think of, we don’t really have a suitable lexicon for distinguishing between anthropologists who teach at “an academic institution” and those who work for other institutions. I apply anthropology to most everything I do, and I expect that anthropologists who don’t teach at academic institutions but have PhDs from them are about as academic as I am.

Can anybody out there suggest literature that troubles the difference between “academic” and “applied” or “practicing” anthropologists?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 December, 2007 1:52 pm

    I’m pretty sure I’m a practising anthropolgist. I know I’m not yet perfect — though I am, apparently, a perfectionist.

  2. 19 December, 2007 2:05 pm

    I actually find this debate/dilemma/conversation to be an interesting one. From the literature and ‘practicing anthropologist’ is one that works in the private sector as an applied anthropologist and has little, if any, ties with academia. An ‘applied anthropologist’ works within the academy as an applied anthropologist. An anthropologist would refer to the more traditional non-applied academic-types. My advisor helped to form that COSWA survey and I’ve read some stuff about the whole ‘practicing/applied/anthropologist’ debate. Here are the articles I recommend: “Baba 1994 The Fifth Subdiscipline Anthropology Practice & the Future of Anthropology (Read before the Goldschmidt article first” “Goldschmidt 2001 Notes Toward a Theory of Applied Anthro”

    I can recommend a few more if you’re interested. I’ve wrote a post inspired by these two articles a few months ago: ttp://

    As for the necessity of such labels – I’m torn. I can see the benefit but I also see how that may serve to widen the gap between academia and the private sector. After reading Singer’s “Why I’m not a public anthropologist” article, I started to re-think my position on the names because his article is very applicable.

    You can email me for the articles if you want.

  3. 20 December, 2007 8:45 am

    Anthropology is the only profession I have come across that uses this term. Pshychologists, physicians, lawyers etc etc etc do not use this term – rather there might be use of “lecturing” anthropologist, consulting anthropologist, industrial anthropologist, to give more apt examples

    isn’t any anthropology applied if you are addressing an issue whether from within a university or within a private consulting business- why don’t we have “applied scientists”.?
    I dont understand the value of ther term “applied anthropology” and see it as detrimental to promoting the value of anthropology to the world we live in

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