Off to DC for AAA meetings
AD418 Research Methods Final Presentations 2007

Will the NSF be the death of anthropology?

A NSF workshop proposal by Allen Batteau, Kritzman, and myself was rejected. It was rejected for interesting reasons. The reviewers loved the proposal and thought it was timely and important, the panel had placed it in a mid-level fund category, but it was ultimately rejected because it was "applied" based as oppose to "basic science" based.

This decision made by the most prestigious funding body for anthropology raises serious questions about the future of anthropology as a field. At the AAA meetings, a non-binding resolution was passed to censure anthropologists whose research is not publicly available including those in industry, whose work often happens under NDAs. Although non-binding, it points to a denial by both the major funding and institutional bodies of anthropology about where the field is not just heading but where is is now. Anthropology is "applied" based or what I like to say anthropology exists "in practice."

According to the 1995 Survey of Anthropology PhD (which by now is completely dated), the statistics show that 50% of PhD graduates in anthropology find positions outside of academia. Once you include MA students that number increases. Somehow it seems the NSF is missing the boat when it says that "applied" proposals are a lower priority when applied represents the half of the current and more of the future of the entire field. There will be less and less PhDs in academia and mechanisms need to be put in place to  bring back  their applied knowledge into the academy to prepare the next generation of PhDs and MAs.

But if those projects do not get funded, then that work will cease to happen or will only happen with corporate sponsorship. As students want to do more and more anthropology in practice, than traditional notions of scientific anthropology are no longer sustainable. With exotica in the age of Discovery Channel is no longer  the driver that it used to be, the numbers of anthropologists will drop as young people find the field less compelling because it is out of alignment with their values of progressive worldly engagement.

So I am really disappointed in the NSF because it has deprioritized anthropology's present and future for a scientific  idea that is no longer sustainable from both post-modern critiques of scientific objectivity and social responsibility  for engaged research perspectives. Yes, it is the National Science Foundation, but there are no other funding bodies to support this kind of interdisciplinary knowledge creation. So you'd hope that the NSF would support the emerging sub-fields of the discipline.


The comments to this entry are closed.