Methodologies in practicing anthropology

Methodologies in practicing anthropology

The methodologies of practicing anthropologists map the relationships between information, policy, and action, and the context of application which includes the knowledge relevant to a particular problem area and work setting. Therefore it includes the practices associated with producing and communicating information to solve practical problems. It can also involve various skills associated with being an interventionist, policy researcher or a change agent. In sum, the application methodology consists of the intellectual operations by which practicing anthropologists produce their products and have their effects.

General Methodology

The general methodology of practicing anthropology can be understood in three activities. These are obtaining information, formulating policies or plans, and action. These three activities are interrelated. Information is obtained through research. This information is used to formulate policy, and finally the policy guides action. Of course, nothing is ever that neatly rational; everything is subject to state of the problem. The relationship also operates in the opposite direction.

The needs of action and policy often result in information being collected through research. Typically, in fact, there is a cycling back and forth through research, policy making, and action. We can call this situation the domain of application.

i) Obtaining Information

Information is seen as the foundation of the other two activities and can exist in a number of forms. Obtaining information is the diagnostic step of practicing research where the situation is defined or problem is identified through hypotheses and information is gathered using interview and focus group. The information which we deal with can range from raw data to general theory. Mostly, practicing anthropologists deal with information
between these two poles. Through these methods of research we are able to move from observation, through various levels of abstraction, to more general theoretical statements. While the goal of practicing work is not the production of theory, the patterns of research logic are similar to those used in theoretical pursuits.

ii) Formulating Policy/Plan

The second activity of practicing anthropologists is formulating/shaping effective policy/plan on the basis of information obtained. Formulating plan is the goal setting and analysis step which formulates a guide for action.

Therefore by policy here we mean the guides for consistent action which can be developed in reference to a wide variety of situations. Usually the practitioners as researchers provide information to policy makers, or as an analyst evaluates research data for policy makers and help make/shape effective policy. However they can also be directly involved in policy making.

iii) Action

The third activity is action. The action tool is used in decision/plan implementing step where action is directed at some practical goal. This includes various interventions carried out by practicing anthropologists to bring change. The information obtained and the plan/policy formulated consists of a set of related ideas about role, procedures, and values. This is finally used to guide action.

The methods described above are applicable to all branches of practicing anthropology which use the knowledge gained from anthropological research to solve real life problems.

Traditional Methods

The methodology of application in the early stage of practicing anthropology was not well defined. Also the documentation during this period was poor. Therefore it was difficult to develop a sense of the nature of the approaches used by the early practitioners. In the early cases, the cross-culturally informed administrators used their knowledge to facilitate better “culture contact.” Social reformers, ministers, and administrators made use of the cultural knowledge to accomplish their tasks. The practicing anthropologists of this stage worked as training or research specialists in support of government or private foundation
supported administrative programs. It was mostly observed that the dealings of the applied anthropologists assisted and encouraged the domination of the state over indigenous populations under colonial conditions

Participatory Approaches

As time passed the aspects of a particular applied problem with which the practitioners dealt increased. The anthropologists became more occupied with application and intermediation taking increasing responsibility for problem solution. This necessitated that the roles for practicing anthropologists expanded beyond the researcher-instructor-consultant core. With role expansion the practicing anthropology methodology took an important shape. As a first product the role extension brought an increased intensity of participation. In this role anthropologists were no longer merely monitors and predictors of change but came to actually work as participatory agents of change with the help of the
community with which they were working.

This new role involved participation and action. In this action involved roles the anthropologists were directly engaged in change-producing behaviour with the help of the community they were involved. This change did not result in a single new approach, but a multiplicity of new approaches for applying anthropological knowledge. These include action research and participatory action research, collaborative research and cultural action. In this mode the anthropologist works with the community to understand the conditions that produce the problems the people face.

i) Action Research and Participatory Action Research

Action research is practice oriented, problem solving method carried out by practitioners where action is undertaken to understand and evaluate problem and bring change. It is therefore a reflective process of problem solving where action is taken to initiate change. Also when individuals of an area extend their hand to help a practicing anthropologist with a view to inquire about and create changes in their own community, we call it, participatory action research (PAR). Action research can be conducted in a village, education centre (like school or college), an organisation, a neighborhood,etc. All these places possess the characteristics of a community. While talking about action research and participatory action research, it can be noted that sometimes many scholars make a sharp distinction between the two whereas for some the two expressions are identical. However the term action research came first and participatory action research historically emerged from the former. PAR methods involve the detection of problem, collection of data, preparation of collective plan, and finally action. These are the characteristic methods which most often transpire concurrently.

a) Identify Problems and Constraint

The PAR process begins when members of a community recognise some problems they want to solve by bringing change. The themes for evaluation can be identified by the practitioner himself/herself working with key informants within the community by constructing basic questions about community needs, regarding health, agriculture, environment, economy, education, etc. Once the problem has been identified, the practicing anthropologist begins communication with community members.

At this preliminary stage, the practitioner works to gain thorough knowledge of the community in question by doing literature review and answering a few basic questions about the context of the community and its capacity. Anthropological research methods (such as ethnography, participant observation, interviews, field notes, archival analysis, and case studies) often form the basis of this initial exploration. The practitioner can conduct formal, in-depth interviews with community members for important information. Focus group discussions can be also carried out to help gauge the level of interest, resources, and constraints for various problems.

b) Obtaining Information, Formulating Policies/Plans, and Action

Data collection is an important way of obtaining information which begins with the first conversation about the PAR. During data collection, participants become researchers as they continue to dialogue with other community members and begin to gain a deeper awareness of the problem. Planning/policies emerge from the solutions proposed by participants. Plans for action also include discussions of how much participation is needed, how to obtain necessary resources, and plans for continuous evaluation. Action occurs when local participants and other collaborators begin to put the plan into action such that the social situation improves.

To sum up, action research and participatory action research methodologies represent a useful array of practices that address problems in a constructive, capacity-building way. The action research links research and action and shows the community-orientation of practicing anthropologists.

ii) Collaboration Approach/Collaborative Research Approach

In the collaborative approach, the researchers, programme developers, and community members are networked to do research for “joint problem solving and positive social change”.

Collaboration here means using one’s research skills to support the attainment of community goals. Therefore, this is a research activity where the practitioner is involved in change producing action. The practicing anthropologist here is not a direct change agent but an auxiliary to community leaders. However, it is important for the success of the process that the relationship between the community and the collaborating practitioner must be direct. Hence in collaborative research approach practitioners are well adapted to working in direct relationship with the community organisation as opposed to working through an intervening agency. The role of the collaborative practitioner is focused on the expressed needs of the community, usually expressed through its leadership. Collaboration does not usually call for a practicing anthropologist to be directly involved in change-producing decision making.

a) The Components of Successful Collaboration

For collaborations to be fruitful, many finite rules are to be adhered. The community control of research operations makes the collaboration successful. Here the informed and involved community should determine if a specific research project (and its related methods), is appropriate to community needs. The research results should be reviewed by community activists. Thus, real collaboration is only possible where there is substantial ideological sharing and agreement between the practitioner and the activist. The quality of collaboration is evaluated through analysis of its positive impact on the community.

Research based on collaborative objectives should be worked out in such a way that is beneficial to community requirements. Hence the techniques used in such research should take time into consideration. Both time effectiveness and the fundamental idea of collaboration are coherently associated with the involvement of the community to the research process. The most significant aspect of this process is the way instruction is provided to the community members to make them proficient investigators.

b) Steps in collaborative approach

The collaborative methodology is conceived as having a series of steps as mentioned by Schensul (1973). They are:

1) Development of Rapport and Credibility of Applied Research
2) The Identification of Significant, Indigenous Action Programs
3) The Negotiation of Relationships (Cooperative and Reciprocal) between the Applied Researchers and the Action People
4) Initial Participation in Specific Action Programs
5) The Identification of Specific Informational Needs of the Action People
6) Meeting the Needs of Long-Range Research Plans
7) Formalised Research and Data Collection Operations
8) Analysis of Data
9) Data Dissemination, Evaluation, and Interpretation.

To sum up, collaborative method implies the continued involvement of the practicing anthropologist in problem solving where achievements are measured with reference to the community’s achievement of its goals.

iii) Cultural Action

Cultural action is a method directed at changing the relationships between poor people and power elite. In this method, a community, through reflection and study, can understand those factors which cause their predicament. It is highly participatory and focused on increasing self-determination in the context of cultural dominance and oppression. While it was developed in the context of poor communities, the ideas have been applied to several

The basis of this technique is to have an exchange of ideas and communication between the community members which is created with the assistance of a mediator. The objective of this discussion is to comprehend the issues at hand. This feat helps them understand their problem better and in turn find better solutions.