Academic journal article Human Organization

Malinowski Award Lecture, 2005: Learn from the Past, Be Involved in the Future

Academic journal article Human Organization

Malinowski Award Lecture, 2005: Learn from the Past, Be Involved in the Future

Article excerpt

No, a thousand times no; there does not exist a category of science to which one can give the name applied science. There are science and the applications of science, bound together as the fruit to the tree which bears it.

Louis Pasteur, 1871


At the core of their disciplinary identity, anthropologists pride themselves on their grasp of the sociocultural context of human life and its analysis from holistic perspectives. If there is anything that Malinowski taught us it is that the complexities of human life are dynamically bound together in deep and fundamental ways stemming from innate requirements and through those socially produced conventions which we characterize by the shorthand references to "culture and society." Today, the world's peoples are increasingly and more directly laced together in networks of relationships that challenge our abilities to comprehend them, much less deal with them.

Malinowski's vision of human affairs rests upon understanding the interaction among all elements of our activity and the institutions that evolve to provide continuity and sustainability to our social existence. His schema is demanding of scholars who attempt to explain how our lives unfold and societies are perpetuated. Today we must be prepared to range back and forth between the local and the global and back again. In this context, understanding and coping with globalization means being able to apply a holistic perspective at various levels of analysis while being able to develop policy and programs based upon the strength of knowledge drawn from intimate case research. For the applied anthropologist-the one who would utilize research-derived knowledge to promote human well-being-the task is manifold, as demanding of individuals as institutions.1 That challenge has never been greater, and our field is not alone in having the capability to offer far more than we have done or do.2 Why not?

Upon reviewing what my predecessors in this award have said (see Weaver, 2002), these remarks start off in the context of Thayer Scudder's words on the eve of the new millennium (Scudder 1999). He innovatively surveyed a sample of applied anthropologists as to their views about the significant issues. Their responses signaled environmental crises, poverty, marginalization, and globalization problems closely followed by matters such as population growth, community disintegration, and fundamentalism: surely enough to keep us busy. Secondly, he suggests we improve our capacity to deal with such big issues: to become more adept at identifying those concerns to which we can make significant contributions; to integrate our curriculum with applied and development subjects more effectively; to be more active in getting our material utilized in policy and action; and to rethink our research agendas accordingly.

The 'Crude Realism' of the Modern World

In global perspective the complex realities of our world are dangerous if not viscerally disturbing. Indeed they are what Peruvian popular newspapers used to headline as "crude realism" in reference to life's grisly conditions, and today, there is an overabundance of it. At the start of the 21st century about 30% of everyone alive is living in an endemic state of poverty (World Bank 2002, 2005) and although it was said that millions had been "saved" from poverty by various development stratagems, the fact remains that today there are as many impoverished persons alive as populated the entire world in 1950! People in some 50 countries survive somehow on average per capita incomes of about $.72 a day. But that hardly tells the story: in real and relative terms the gaps between the rich and poor increase steadily. The global population today is three times that of 1950. Although people and nations seem to be largely "in denial" of that fact and its many consequences, it is the foundation upon which rest most of our global problems.

In general my fellow Americans seem neither to grasp those facts, nor understand that contrary to their idealized self-image as citizens of the "richest, most generous and most powerful super-power" nation, the reality is something different. …

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