The Activist Anthropologist's Toolkit

(compiled by students at SUNY at Plattsburgh in Ant 451, Activist Anthropology)





The knowledge to recognize and manipulate public symbols. A well-rounded perspective on the workings of human societies that include the economic, political, social, cultural, and ideological basis of beliefs and behaviors. The training to utilize objective observation and proven "scientific" techniques to gather information regarding a specific issue. The experiences to make people aware of the level of commitment necessary to effect positive change.
The knowledge to separate cultural limitations from "natural" limitations; anthropologists are particularly well-equipped to counter claims that one sort of behavior or belief or another is "in the nature of things." An appreciation of the views of different groups; a perspective that permits empathy with different points of view and the ability to see "all sides" in a dispute. The training that allows the anthropologist to work well in different cultural settings and with people of diverse cultural backgrounds. The experiences that allow anthropologists to work in different situations with different people; the experiences that make it possible to work well across social and cultural boundaries.
The knowledge to identify and "unmask" ideologies that inhibit positive change. A perspective that permits the anthropologist to be the perfect intermediary in disputes and conflicts. The training to do an historical and cultural analysis of a situation, and identify the historical and cultural dynamics that led to its development. The experiences that make anthropologists open to unique and new ideas and experiences.
The knowledge to raise awareness of people of the past successes (and failures) of activist mobilization. A perspecitve that permits the anthropologists to identify issues in a dispute that might not be apparent to others. Training in social dynamics that should allow anthropologists to be excellent organizers and planners.  
Knowledge of one's own cultural biases. A cross-cultural perspective that reduces the tendency toward ethnocentrism.    
The knoweldge of the limitations of solutions to specific problems (e.g. condoms as a solution to AIDS in cultures in which men refuse to use them). A perspective built of cultural relativism that encourages an examination of the cultural biases of the activists themselves.    
The knowledge of the function of a cultural practices (e.g. witchcraft as an explanation for illness). A perspective that allows the activist to appreciate indigenous solutions and strategies, and to work with them.    
The knowledge of the extent to which protest in given cultures is permitted and an appreciation of the risks involved.      
The knowledge to separate the "emic" from the "etic" features of a situation.