Curiosity and Commitment: Cultural/Social Sciences and the Transformation of European Universities, Graz, Austria, 18 - 19 October 2018, pp.5
Applied anthropology has a long controversial history, usually traced back to the colonialist and imperialist structures of power and domination (Asad 1973, Gough 1968, Hymes 1974). Over the past two decades, however, there has been increased interest in community-engaged research in academia, as evidenced in the emergence of such sub-disciplines as public archaeology, indigenous geography, or activist sociology. This recent trend marks a new moment of self-reflexivity in the history of social sciences and humanities, which can be taken as an occasion to consider the potentials and limitations of applied anthropology in the neoliberal age. In this paper, I would like to dwell on what I call ‘anthropological debt’: the obligation of ‘giving back’ to the communities we intrude into for research purposes. My primary concern is whether we can carry out anthropology as a discipline with transformative, if not revolutionary, potential. How is it possible to reconcile research with advocacy and action, without reproducing (and creating new forms of) asymmetries between the researcher and the researched? With this question in mind, I will discuss the legitimacy and effectiveness of applied anthropology in engaging with the current social reality, by accentuating the ethico-political issues involved in this sub-discipline and reflecting on probable solutions.