Academic journal article Human Organization

The Role of Anthropologists as Short-Term Consultants

Academic journal article Human Organization

The Role of Anthropologists as Short-Term Consultants

Article excerpt

Since the 1970s, the opportunities for anthropologists to work as short-term consultants for governmental and nongovernmental agencies have expanded rapidly. This paper compares the short-term consultancy to traditional anthropologic fieldwork and examines how applied anthropologists have responded to these expanding opportunities in the area of international health. Discussed are the use and application of anthropological theory, traditional anthropological approaches to fieldwork, and power relations between short-term consultants and in-country counterparts.

Key words: applied anthropology, international health, short-term consultants; Lesotho

The opportunities for anthropologists to work on applied contracts related to short-term, health related applied contracts are well documented in the literature by Paul (1955) and Foster (1969). For medical anthropologists, the opportunities to perform contractual work as short-term consultants for governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have expanded rapidly since the 1970s (Hoben 1982). Although these opportunities existed previously, changes have occurred both in the role of the short-term consultant and the scope of work conducted by medical anthropologists. In 1969, Foster described the short term consultancy as a one- to two-day assignment during which the academic is called away from the university. He writes: "No research is done; the anthropologist, reasoning from past experience and similar instances, simply advances his ideas as to the factors pertinent to the situation and, depending on the situation, makes recommendations for follow-up work" (Foster 1969:164-165).

Since that time, anthropological input as short-term consultants has broadened. The perspective represented here derives from the author's experience conducting and managing short-term consultancies in child survival projects in subSaharan Africa on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 While at the CDC, I performed shortterm consultancies at the request of governments and nongovernmental agencies and developed scopes of work for consultants. I also selected and contracted anthropologists to respond to requests for consultancies from ministries of health participating in the USAID-funded African Child Survival Initiative-Combating Communicable Childhood Diseases (CCCD) Project. Agencies like the CDC that contract anthropologists as short-term consultants are primarily interested in hiring a professional who can serve multiple functions. One must "get the job done" and work efficiently and amicably in a manner acceptable to and respectful of colleagues from other countries. In fact, being able to work as a collaborator with professionals and staff in developing countries, with the staff of donor agencies, and with government officials seems to be as important as a command of anthropological and technical skills. Consultancies are increasingly performed by professionals from developing countries, but in this article I will address issues that shape the parameters within which all applied anthropologists work in developed countries. The direction of knowledge transfer is generally perceived as going from professionals working in developed countries to those in developing countries. This article examines how some anthropologists have responded to these opportunities, in the process transforming how we work in the field setting.

Although the terms "short-term" and anthropological field work may seem antithetical, I argue that technology and applied anthropology (as a subfield) have advanced, to the extent that meaningful ethnographic research no longer requires lengthy field periods. Medical anthropologists engaging in short-term consultancies have had the opportunity to rethink and address I) the role of theory in applied research, 2) traditional anthropological approaches to fieldwork, and 3) the power relations between external consultants and host country counterparts. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.