Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A rant on anthropology in Design

So its been over a month since I have last had the opportunity to put in an entry. Life has been hectic with finishing up my senior design project (a bionic ankle), taking other courses, and looking for a full-time job. Anyway, I am not writing this post to lament my lack of free time, but to give a few thoughts on a report I am writing. The subject of the report is Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research by Patricia L. Sutherland and Rita M. Denny. As the title suggests, it is about the ins and outs of how anthropology contributes to consumer research. I am beginning this report with no preconceived notions about what I want to write (trying to minimize the confirmation bias). I have read 30 or so pages so far, and there are a few thoughts that I want to get down on paper, so here they are.

  • It seems every anthropologist, anthropology student, or book on anthropology I read refers (directly or indirectly) to the stigma that is attached to applied anthropology. As Patricia Sutherland puts it, "the label 'applied' was stigmatic". As an engineer, this irks me. I define engineering as applied science. The physicists, materials scientists, biologists, chemists, etc. do the research that gives the engineers the tools to develop solutions. Correspondingly, those anthropologists who have a distaste for the field of applied anthropology are discouraging the use of the anthropological tools that could affect great change in the world.
  • I had a debate in my ethnography class the other day. It was regarding whether or not "social sciences" such as anthropology are "real" in the sense that natural sciences such as biology, chemistry, etc. are. We debated this for a bit and then it dawned on me, "What a stupid conversation this is". Fighting over a naming convention for a field? It is ridiculous! Who cares if some people call your field a science or an art? Let the results of the work done in your field speak for itself.
  • Lastly, Patricia Sutherland points out that in 1971, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) drafted the Principles of Professional Responsibility that prohibited anthropologists from undertaking research that could not be openly published (read: "Any commercial endeavor"). Imagine if the reigning professional association for any other profession gave a similar dictum, nothing would get done ever.
In summary, the gist of the information I have gathered for my report so far is "Get over yourselves anthropologists, if you don't apply what you know, the world doesn't benefit. There are so many people out there that would benefit from the kind of empathetic view only an anthropologist can provide, and as long as the world runs on money, the best way to affect change will be to operate within the commercial realm.

Thats all I got, hopefully I will write again before the month is out.

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