Studies in Applied Anthropology

Studies in Applied Anthropology

Studies in Applied Anthropology

Studies in Applied Anthropology

Excerpt

Social anthropology is the study of the systems of co-operation, based on the general recognition of rights and obligations and of the role that each individual is expected to play in the various situations likely to confront him, by which men succeed in living together in some sort of order and harmony. It pursues its inquiries by observation of small groups of people in direct 'face-to-face' relations. Its first field was that of the societies which have variously been called 'primitive', 'simple', 'small-scale', 'peasant', 'pre-literate' and 'pre-industrial'. It may be argued that there are no such societies left; industry with its mass organisation and literacy with its mass media of communication have penetrated everywhere. If this is so, to what and how can our knowledge be applicable?

The answer to the first question is that some of us have directed our attention particularly to the way in which peasant societies have reacted to the impact of 'western' mechanical, scientific civilisation. We see there in an exaggerated form the conflict between the forces making for adherence to tradition and the invitation to depart from it presented by new situations that is characteristic of any society.

At the present time there is a very wide-spread interest in the future of the non-European peoples. The adjective most commonly applied to them is 'under-developed', with its implication that they have to make up lee-way. Where they have recently attained independence, or expect soon to attain it, their leaders are determined to make them into modern states, utilising their resources to the full to provide standards of living and social services comparable with those of older nations. They have the moral backing of many men of good will, and a certain amount of financial backing and expert assistance from the United Nations and groups of states like those that sponsored the Colombo Plan. They do not ask anthropologists to tell them how to achieve their end, and not many of us would offer to do so.

We do claim, however, a certain insight into the processes involved that derives directly from our observations and the theories based on them. This is of practical significance where plans for the betterment of the more 'backward' elements meet with difficulties. The layman is tempted to explain these in psychological terms--'peasant conservatism' and the like. The anthropologist looks to the situation in which the object of the betterment scheme finds himself. What is the strength of the social pressures working on him to conform to tradition? What advantages, social or material, in his accustomed way of life is he being asked to forgo? What does he expect of life, anyway? Can the new schemes be shown to offer him something he values? Sometimes the anthropologist can do a simple job of interpretation to people who . . .

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