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Applied Antropology

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I n my earlier lectures I tried to give you a general idea of what social anthropology is in terms of university teaching, of its development as a special department of knowledge, and of the manner and problems of its research. In this final lecture I shall discuss the question most anthropologists must have been asked from time to time. What is the purpose of studying social anthropology?

This question can be variously interpreted and answered. It might be interpreted as an inquiry about the motives that make a man take up social anthropology as a profession. Each anthropologist would probably here give different answers from those of his colleagues. For many of us, including myself, the answer would be either 'I don't quite know' or, in the words of an American colleague, 'I guess I just like going places.'

However, the question generally has the different sense of: What is the use of knowledge about primitive societies? An answer to the question in this form has to be divided into a discussion about its use for the primitive peoples themselves and for those who are responsible for their welfare, and a discussion about its value to the men who study it -- to ourselves.
Since social anthropologists mostly study primitive societies, the information they collect and the conclusions they come to obviously have some bearing on problems of the administration and education of primitive peoples. It will at once be acknowledged that if it is the policy of a colonial government to administer a people through their chiefs it is useful to know who are the chiefs and what are their functions and authority and privileges and obligations. Also, if it is intended to administer a people according to their own laws and customs one has first to discover what these are. It is evident also that if it is intended to change a people's economy, for example to alter their system of land tenure, to encourage them to grow export crops, or to institute markets and a money economy, it is of some advantage to be able to estimate, at any rate roughly, what social effects these changes are likely to bring about. If, for example, the system of land tenure is changed there may be repercussions on the people's family and kinship life and on their religion, because family and kinship ties and religious beliefs and cults may be closely bound up with their traditional system of tenure. It is evident also that if a missionary wishes to convert a native people to Christianity some knowledge of their own religious beliefs and practices is required. Otherwise apostolic teaching is impossible, because it has to be through the native language, that is, through the religious concepts of the natives.

The value of social anthropology to administration has been generally recognized from the beginning of the century and both the Colonial Office and colonial governments have shown an increasing interest in anthropological teaching and research. For a good number of years past colonial cadets, before taking up their appointments, have received, among other courses of instruction, instruction in social anthropology at Oxford and Cambridge, and more recently in London. Since the last war colonial officials have been brought home for refresher courses at these three universities and some of them choose social anthropology for special study as an optional subject. In addition, administrative officers have often taken the Anthropological Tripos at Cambridge and occasionally the Diploma or a postgraduate degree in Anthropology at Oxford, and a great many have kept in touch with anthropological developments through membership of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Colonial governments recognized that while a general and elementary knowledge of anthropology is of value to their officers it is not in itself sufficient to enable them to carry out research, even if they had, as they have not, time and opportunity to conduct it; but the governments have occasionally seconded officers in their service, who have received some further training in anthropology and have shown an aptitude for research, to make studies of peoples in their territories. Some important studies have been made in this way, the most remarkable being the research embodied in the series of volumes by Rattray on the Ashanti of the Gold Coast. Valuable work of the same kind was also done by Dr. Meek in Nigeria and by F. E. Williams and E. W. Pearson Chinnery in New Guinea. It must be said, however, that even at their best the writings of these administrator-anthropologists seldom satisfy the professional scholar. It may perhaps be assumed that they are also not entirely satisfactory from the administrative point of view, because, except in Tanganyika Territory, this mode of conducting research has, I believe, been abandoned by colonial governments.

The government of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan has always preferred, I think wisely, to finance expeditions by professional anthropologists to carry out special pieces of research or to employ them on short-term contracts for the same purpose, and with intervals research has been going on in that country, successively by Professor and Mrs. Seligman, myself, Dr. Nadel, and Mr. Lienhardt from 1909 to the present time. This method has the advantage that while the anthropologist is gaining experience which will later enable him to take a university post the government is getting its inquiries made by a fully trained man acquainted with the most recent developments in the subject.

Since the last war the Colonial Office has shown greater interest in social anthropology. It has organized and financed anthropological research in a good number of the colonial territories. This means of getting research done has not been, in my assessment of the results, entirely successful. I strongly support the opinion of those who hold that research is best carried out through university departments, which are then made responsible for the selection and training of the student, for supervision of his research, and for the writing-up and publication of its results. The present policy of the Colonial Office is to organize research through local research institutes. One of these, the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute in Northern Rhodesia, has been operating since 1938, and three new institutes for social research have recently been founded, one at Makerere in Uganda, a second at Ibadan in Nigeria, and a third at Kingston in Jamaica. I think myself that this will not prove to be a substitute for the organization of research through university departments, though local institutes can have a useful function as local centres from which research by students of the universities can be carried out -- a role like that of the British Institutes at Rome, Athens, and Ankara.

This has been appreciated elsewhere. An extremely important development for anthropologists has been the creation of Treasury Studentships for research into the languages and cultures of the Far East, the Near East, Eastern Europe, and Africa. Experience during the last war showed that there was a lamentable ignorance about these parts of the world, and a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of the Earl of Scarbrough concluded that this state of affairs could only finally be changed by the building up of a tradition of scholarship in the languages and cultures with which it was concerned.

The admirable plan they proposed included the strengthening of university departments and the creation of new university departments, the provision of studentships for research from the universities by men who would eventually take up teaching posts in them, and the foundation of institutes as local research centres in the parts of the world where these researches would be carried out. In this way it is ensured not only that research is conducted but also that a tradition of scholarship is built up and maintained.

These Treasury Studentships have enabled social anthropologists to carry out in various regions research which might otherwise have been beyond their means; for anthropological research in distant parts is very expensive, and the various endowments which generously help us -- such as the Emslie Horniman Anthropological Scholarship Fund, the Goldsmiths Company's Postgraduate Travelling Scholarships, the Leverhulme Grants Committee, and the Viking Fund -- cannot cover more than a very small portion of the research urgently required.

Missionary bodies in this country have not shown that they consider some acquaintance with anthropology a useful adjunct to the training of those who are to serve in the missions among primitive peoples. This is partly due to the poverty of the missions, which cannot afford to send their volunteers to the universities where anthropology is taught. It is also partly due, I think, to the suspicion with which anthropology has been regarded in missionary circles. The suspicion has not perhaps been unfounded, for anthropology has always been mixed up with free-thought and has been considered, not unjustly, as anti-religious in tone, and even in aim. Also, missionaries feel, naturally enough, that, as Gabriel Sagard says in his introduction to his book on the Hurons ( 1632), 'The perfection of men does not consist in seeing much, nor in knowing much, but in carrying out the will and good pleasure of God.' Nevertheless, many individual missionaries have taken a deep interest in anthropology and have realized its value for their own work. Their attitude is well expressed by Pasteur Junod of the Swiss Romande Mission, the author of one of the finest anthropological monographs yet written. He tells us that his aim in collecting the information embodied in this book was partly scientific and partly to help administrative officers and missionaries and to enlighten South African opinion about the natives: 'To work for Science is noble; but to help our fellow men is nobler still.' 1 Another missionary, Dr. Edwin Smith, part-author of an excellent account of the Ba-ila people of Northern Rhodesia, has recently been President of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

In the past it has been chiefly administrators and missionaries who have found that some knowledge of anthropology has helped them to carry out their duties more agreeably and effectively. In the changed situation of today technical experts have become increasingly important in our colonial empire -- the doctor, the agricultural officer, the forestry officer, the veterinary officer, the engineer, and so on, and also the trader and representatives of mining and other business interests. At present most of them are expected to carry out their various jobs among peoples about whose way of life and ideas they often know next to nothing.

You will ask how a knowledge of anthropology helps Europeans in their dealings with native peoples. Many anthropologists have for a long time spoken about applied anthropology much as one speaks about applied medicine or engineering. Those who have spoken thus have regarded social anthropology as a natural science which aims at the establishment of laws of social life; and once theoretical generalizations can be established an applied science becomes feasible. We have seen that this normative element in anthropology is, like the concepts of natural law and progress from which it derives, part of its philosophical heritage. As I have earlier said, the eighteenth-century moral philosophers, the nineteenth-century ethnologists, and the majority of the social anthropologists of today have, implicitly or explicitly, taken the natural sciences for their model and assumed that the purpose of anthropology is by prediction and planning to control social change. This assumption is summed up in the phrase 'social engineering'.

It is not surprising therefore that from its earliest years theoretical social anthropology has often been strongly tinged with socialism, especially in France, where both Saint Simon and Comte tried to start positivist religions. It is, I think, clearly the driving impulse behind the work of Durkheim and his colleagues. Their general point of view is well expressed by one of them, Lévy-Bruhl, in an excellent short exposition, La Morale et la Science des Moeurs ( 1903). According to him ethical systems have no effect on conduct whatsoever. They cannot have, because they are merely rationalizations of custom, what is done being right. If a people, for example, kill all twins at birth the practice is moral for that people. Morals are simply rules which actually determine conduct in any society and they therefore vary with variations in the social structure. The moral is what is normal to a given social type at a given phase of development. The task of reason is therefore to mould behaviour by a practical art of ethics derived from a scientific study of social life. This is much the standpoint of almost all writers about social institutions at that period. It was only to have been expected that it should have been shared by many social anthropologists.

Such anthropologists have constantly stressed the application of their findings to affairs, the emphasis in England being on colonial problems, and in America on political and industrial problems. Its more cautious advocates have, it is true, held that there can only be applied social anthropology when the science of man is much more advanced than it is today; but we find even so cautious and eminent an authority as Professor Radcliffe-Brown writing: 'With the more rapid advance of the pure science itself, and with the co-operation of colonial administrations, we might even look forward to a time when the government and education of native peoples in various parts of the world would make some approach to being an art based on the application of discovered laws of anthropological science.'

1 Less cautious and more popular writers on anthropology, especially in America, have made far-reaching claims for the immediate application of anthropological knowledge in social planning.

Social Anthropology and other essays – Pgs 110-116
Evans-Pritchard
THE FREE PRESS, New York

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