American Anthropologist June 1970 Vol. 72 No. 3, p 618-620
Applied Anthropology. George M. Foster. The Little, Brown Series in Anthropology. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969. 238 pp., charts, works cited, index.
Reviewed by Henry F. Dobyns
University of Kentucky
George Foster once more makes a signal contribution to anthropology with this tightly written summary of a major prefessional activity. He spots through his text a wide range of interesting anecdotes about planned change programs that came to grief over unforseen cultural differences between planners and population, succinctly illustrating his points. By skipping tellingly back and forth between serious generalization and interesting illustrations, Foster makes this book easy to read. It should, therefore, prove useful in numerous pedagogical settings. Supplemented with other readings, Applied Anthropology can serve as a text for a course on this subject. It should also become an assigned reading in courses or seminars about anthropology in the modern world, cultural change, and the history of anthropology. In the latter case, instructors should not that Fosters historical summary emphasizes Great Britain and the U.S., neglects other major colonial powers (Frnace Belgium and the Netherlands), sligths Latin America, compresses the Philippines into one sentence and India and Italy into two sentences apiece. Bfrief as it is, Fosters historical summary is the best available and higlights the need for a set of articles on the development of applied anthropology in many nations.
Among Fosters serious messages, perhaps the most important is that "applied anthropology is a role rather than an occupation." The applied anthrpologist receives the same kind of preparation and training as the "pure" anthropologist and is indeed one and -the same person playing two roles at different times. As Foster (p. 45) emphasizes, the difference between the two types of research often boils down to nothing more than the anthropologist choosing his own research problem or working with a practical problem-solvin- oroanization that poses one to him. Foster (pp. 41-42) attributes the misleading model that assumed the applied practitioner utilized principles established by -pure" anthropologists to certain prominent Britishers. Perhaps socially insecure insular anthropologists enjoyed the prospect that colonial administrators would become applicators 'of their "principles," but Foster points out that practice simply does not accord with the Radcliffe-Brown/ Mair/ EvansPritchard model (shared by Herskovits and others on this side of the Atlantic).
Having discarded their definition of applied anthropology, Foster (p. 54) suggests another. He sees "applied" anthropology as a label used to refer to professional activities "in programs that have as primary goals changes in human behavior believed to ameliorate contemporary social, economic, and technological problems, rather than the development of social and culture theory." Foster's attempt at redefinition creates other difficulties. The latter part of his proposed characterization runs counter to insistence by major applied anthropologists that social anthropologists science theory can best be tested by attempting to apply it to practical situations.
Foster (p. 46) also attempts to differentiate between the "pure" and "applied" roles on the basis of different sources of financing. He sets up a model in which "pure" research is subsidized by organizations that are not dependent upon the findings, make no claim to research results, nor limit the researcher's use of data. This model has "applied" research supported by a client expecting to utilize "at least some of the research results" to further its own mission and to exercise some claim on data, including limiting the anthropologist 's use of them. Foster anthropologist's
himself (p. 54) recognized one class of exception to this model in research not financed by a mission-oriented client that 11 would be extremely useful" for certain clients. Holmberg's Cornell Peru Project research and development program at Vicos was financed by the Carnegie Corporation
of New York, a foundation, so it did not fit the model. Yet Foster (p. 34) ranks this project "as a milestone in the development of applied social science."
Working out from his model, Foster summarizes anthropological research methodology and its assumptions. He discusses the "target groups" of planned change programs and the "innovating organizations," and he recognizes the central role of "the interaction setting." Returning to the question of professional role, Foster deprecates the lack of scientific respectability accorded applied anthropology by many anthropologists. He wisely points out (pp. 132-133) that a society can provide "widespread support of theoretical research" only if it has the ability "to utilize scientific knowledge constructively." Foster suggests that applied anthropology has been relegated to relatively low status because the value of cultural relativity conditions anthropologists against efforts to change people, because applied work often subjects the anthropologist to unaccustomed supervision, because of anthropologists' compensation for an inferiority complex relative to laboratory sciences, and because of the lasting iII effects of the erroneous "pureapplied" dichotomy. Foster lines up behind Leighton's use of the clinical model in The Governing of Men (1946) to describe what applied anthropologists actually do Foster (p. 144) points out that "workin- in an applied setting offers opportunities for research experience not readily achieved in more traditional settings," and brings such other scientific benefits as "penetrating questions from professionals in other fields," which force improvement in anthropological research methods. He (p. 177) considers the ethics of applied anthropology an important problem "always present, but by no means insuperable," citing Holmberg's "informal" code of conduct and the "formal code of the Society for Applied Anthropology. He summarizes the problems anthropologists encounter in achieving "satisfactory' working relationships with mission-oriented organizations.
This invaluable new Foster contribution is, unfortunately, marred by some printing defects. For example, "Vicosino" appears as "Viscosino." A few bibliographic citations somehow disappeared between manuscript and book, including A. R. Holmberg's "The research and development approach to the study of change" (Human Organization 17, 1958).
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