Preparation for Public Policy Research and Work: Current Practice and Future Directions in Applied Anthropology Education

Panel Sponsored by the Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs (COPAA)

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2008


Kerry Feldman (U Alaska-Anchorage) and Lisa Henry (University of North Texas)


Applied anthropology is a critical component in the development of public policy in human society. Public policy is also a rich arena for the employment of practicing anthropologists. In this session, we explore ways in which applied anthropology education is or could be addressing student preparation in the policy arena, as recommended also by the Public Policy Committee of the Society for Applied Anthropology. Presenters will address how through course work, mentoring, internships, or research their programs are or could be engaging students to understand, interrogate, develop or change public policy at the international, federal, state, or local levels.


Ray Barnhardt (U Alaska-Fairbanks) Preparing Alaska Native PhD’s for Leadership Roles in Public Policy Research. Native peoples in Alaska have usually been the subjects of public policy research rather than the ones responsible for conducting it.  However, the roles of Alaska Natives in policy research is changing due to a concerted effort on the part of the University of Alaska to develop new programs aimed at recruiting and preparing Native scholars in all academic fields who can take on leadership roles and bring an Indigenous perspective to the public policy arenas at the local, state, national and international levels.  This presentation will describe the activities underway, their rationale, and the implications for educating applied anthropologists.

María-Amelia Viteri and Aaron Tobler (American U) Students Educating Students in Understanding and Addressing Surveillance and Policing Policy: Insights from an International, Interdisciplinary Conference at American University. This paper focuses on how we engaged other students and activists who participated in a conference we organized regarding “Interrogating Diversity: Understanding Issues of Contemporary Surveillance and Policing” in March 2007. This International, Interdisciplinary conference sought to expand scholarship on surveillance and policing in an egalitarian forum.  We will discuss how students can engage their departments and faculty to build the students’ knowledge of both anthropological theories and methodology through shared scholarship and how students can “apply” anthropology to audiences that will in turn influence policy decision-making.  Knowledge-sharing can be transformed into tools that shape broader political and social dialogue.

Kevin Avruch (George Mason U) Conflict Resolution Education on the Cusp between Applied Anthropology and Public Policy. In a faculty of 19 at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR), four are anthropologists.  ICAR, an autonomous University unit, awards BA/BS, MS, and PhD degrees.  Most of our MS graduates, and many PhDs, go to work in government or NGOs specializing in development, human rights, or conflict resolution; most are not prior trained in anthropology.  Much student research is ethnographic or regionally focused.  Anthropologists on the faculty play a large role in directing this work, as well as developing research, theory, and practice in conflict resolution. This paper describes how anthropology plays a role in educating and training these students.


Susan Wright (U Aarhus, Denmark)
Tom Greaves (Bucknell U)

Summary of Discussion

Session papers were well presented and appreciatively received by members of the audience and the session discussants.  Session discussants, Tom Greaves and Sue Wright, were particularly interested in the institutional hierarchical structures of higher education that limit students’ abilities to shape their education through policy change.  The process of graduate education is revolutionizing and students want to take a leadership in their education especially in the establishment of their curriculum.  However, they often, encounter barriers, constraints, and challenges from the hierarchy in education that controls the system.  The paper by graduate students from American University impressed the discussants because they described how their initial efforts to organize an international conference received only limited institutional support, but later received support from their college dean for future conferences about surveillance and policing.

Further Dissemination

One of our discussants, Sue Wright, is the co-editor of an international journal titled, Learning and Teaching:  The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences (LATISS).  She requested that we prepare a proposal to publish these papers in LATISS. Each paper will be revised to unify the focus around the theme “Transformation of Graduate Education,” with the topic of policy education used as an example of the process of transforming graduate education.  Each paper will put more emphasis on the student dimensions of the particular issues covered in the paper.  For example, papers might focus on how students may have put pressure on departments, faculty or educational units in order to transform their educational process or experiences.  Or they might focus on how local level political negotiations may have occurred that resulted in changing graduate education to include policy analysis from an anthropological analysis.