Applied Anthropology: Domains of Application

By Warry, Wayne | Anthropologica, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Applied Anthropology: Domains of Application


Warry, Wayne, Anthropologica


Satish Kedia and John van Willigen, eds., Applied Anthropology: Domains of Application, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2005,370 pages.

This is a very good collection and one that is wholly American in substance and content. In nine discreet chapters individual contributors review common fields of applied anthropological work: health and medicine; nutritional anthropology; anthropology applied to the aged; development; displacement and resettlement; agriculture; environmental anthropology; business and industry, and anthropology applied to education. These applied areas are referred to as sub-disciplines of Applied Anthropology or alternatively as Domains of Application, a term first introduced by van Willigen is his earlier Applied Anthropology and revisited here. The book is in essence a collection of applied anthropological area studies which are framed by a clear and cogent introduction and summary written by the editors. Kedia and van Willigen have wisely chosen to have contributors speak to common issues and themes. As a result, individual readings commonly, but not uniformly, address the historical context and development of various styles of anthropology, relevant theory, typical settings and roles associated with application and appropriate methodologies.

The concept of domain is useful, and one I have always found relevant in teaching Applied Anthropology at the undergraduate and graduate levels. As originally conceived by van Willigen, "the domain of application consists of two major components: the methodology of application, which maps the relationship between information, policy, and action; and the context of application, which includes the knowledge relevant to a particular problem area and work setting" (1986: 9). I have always taken the concept to suggest that domains are an expanded "field" of the applied anthropologist; settings where the researcher, advocate or administrator must learn local context and culture, as well as the language, ideologies or policies that must be accounted for in trying to devise appropriate and beneficial interventions. In this more narrow sense, a domain of application might actually be a rural village, an urban hospital, specific industry or urban environment.

Kedia and van Willigen state that domains of application exist "where knowledge, methodologies, and theories relevant to a particular setting for applied work are employed to connect research, policy and action" (p. 2). But as used in this text the term is synonymous with larger sub-disciplinary interests, such as medical or educational anthropology, or with specific methodologies, such as Social Impact Assessment or Evaluation research. The authors themselves note that the concept can be either broad or narrow and their listing of various domains is indeed diverse. At times the reader can become confused about how the domain and sub discipline interconnect and shape each other-we might just as easily speak of domains within domains. Interestingly, given the subtitle, there is no entry for domain listed in the Index, and no coherent argument presented about the concept throughout the book. Having said that, the individual contributions coherently describe the theories and methods applied anthropologists use to address various social and cultural problems. With the exception of Rhoades' description of agricultural anthropology, and McGuire's review of maritime anthropology, the significance of policy in setting the parameters for research, advocacy and action is less fully articulated or analyzed by the authors.

With the exception of Nancy Greenman, a consultant in educational anthropology and ethnographic evaluation, all the contributors are university-based applied anthropologists. As a result, despite references to practicing anthropologists in the introduction and conclusion, the work of practicing anthropologists in non-academic research is rarely addressed in the book. This, as the authors note, is a distinctive quality of applied anthropology-non-academic anthropologists, for a variety of reasons, write less for peer reviewed publication and so their work remains poorly documented (p. …

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