Anthropology and the Engaged University: New Vision for the Discipline

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2013


Linda A. Bennett (U Memphis) and Linda Whiteford (USF)


“Anthropology and the Engaged University: New Vision for the Discipline” was the third in a series on this topic organized by Linda Bennett and Linda Whiteford for SfAA meetings, under the sponsorship of COPAA. Two of the three were podcasted. The presentations from the three sessions provided the basis for a manuscript submitted to the Annals of Anthropological Practice in April 2013. The session was very well attended and the presentations were well received and generated intriguing and useful discussions. Great interest was expressed for seeing these papers and the others that preceded it in earlier sessions in printed form. In particular, members of the audience were impressed with the variation in experience from university to university with regard to their focus on engagement in their particular communities. A challenge was posed for the audience to address this question: how can anthropology–a discipline that has been very active in community engagement for decades–gain greater visibility in the broader arena of university engagement across the United States. Participants agreed that a publication on this topic should be broadly marketed within and beyond anthropology. Additionally, it is critical that anthropologists participate in interdisciplinary conferences and other discussions on engaged higher education in America.

Session Abstract

As universities struggle to reinvent themselves, to increase their relevancy and currency in the intellectual marketplace, one of the strategies they have employed is strengthening their partnerships with community groups as a means for addressing critical societal needs. Typically such efforts are framed as “engaged scholarship,” signifying an ongoing interplay between community groups and university faculty and students. Anthropologists have actively contributed to higher education-community engagement initiatives. Depending on location, history, and cultural mission, departments across the country have highly variable approaches to engagement. In this session faculty members from four departments will present their particular approach.

Paper Abstracts

FELDMAN, Kerry D. (UAA) Engaged Anthropology on “The Last Frontier”: Alaska. The distinction between applied/engaged anthropology and traditional/ abstract anthropology has not been rigid in Alaska since the early 1970s. Why? Moreover, how has this engagement been demonstrated for four decades at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA)? This paper describes the sociopolitical realities of Alaska that encourage engaged scholarship and how faculty and students have responded in their research, teaching/learning and service. Cultural anthropologists, archaeologists and Cultural Resource Management specialists at UAA have linked their work in a holistic manner with a variety of communities, primarily Alaska Native organizations and villages, and often involving federal, state and local agencies employing anthropologists.

HENRY, Lisa, JORDAN, Ann, NUÑEZ-JANES, Mariela, and RE CRUZ,
Alicia (UNT) Synonyms of Engagement: Forging a Path for Anthropology in North Texas.
This article examines the path towards engagement at the university, college, and departmental levels at the University of North Texas. We explore the history of concepts such as public service, applied research, service learning, outreach, and community engagement at UNT by examining the university’s strategic goals and the expansion of new programs. We highlight the tensions that emerge from inconsistencies in strategic goals at varying levels within the university. We feature the anthropology department’s place within those developments and highlight our unique position within our college and university through examples of engaged scholarship from faculty and students in our department.

VÁSQUEZ, Miguel (NAU) A Latino Anthropologist in Arizona: Obligations and Opportunities. Arizona these days is a frustrating but fascinating laboratory for many contemporary social and cultural issues and one with plenty of challenges for engaged anthropology. “Sustainability” in this context of unbridled libertarianism, nativism, scarce water, and rapid urban growth, is increasingly tenuous, but nature has “not put all of her eggs in one basket.” The long presence of diverse indigenous cultures in this unforgiving environment, despite centuries of sustained suppression, and the controversial arrival of immigrant newcomers still hopeful for the “American Dream,” may have lessons for the rest of us, in terms of sustainability and an engaged anthropology.

BRILLER, Sherylyn (Wayne State U) Learning Anthropology in Detroit: Community Engagement Inside and Outside of the Classroom. Detroit is a rich context for considering community engagement, social issues and urban renewal. Increasingly attention focuses on Detroit as a post-industrial urban exemplar where political economy, social justice and change can meet up. In the heart of Detroit, Wayne State University (WSU) has this educational backdrop. I will trace WSU Anthropology’s approach to community engagement and history of partnerships. Whether students go on to have scholarly, policy and/ or community roles, we aim to expose them to a tradition of engagement during their education. Our approach links anthropological theory, methods and analysis with community engagement inside and outside the classroom.