What insights can be gained from an anthropology of policy or expert knowledge?
Table of Contents
3 1.0 Introduction
4 1.1Anthropology of Experts
7 1.2 Challenges faced by the study of anthropology
8 1.3 Anthropology of Policy
10 1.4 Anthropology Contribution to ‘third sector’
13 1.5 Insights gained from the study of Anthropology of experts and anthropology of policy
15 1.6 Conclusion
Over the past few years, anthropologists have taken a keen interest in policy studies and issues related to policies. A motivating factor for this interest has been the inspiration by research directions within anthropology. The opening of ethnographic analysis of government bureaucracies, the apparatus of the modern state, international organisations, national elites, global commodity supply chains and multi disciplinary fields have also contributed to this interest by anthropologists.
This paper will look into the effects of policies on people and the population which includes the way people react over policy regimes and the new kinds of technology assemblages created by policies. It is a well documented fact that policy has is a prominent feature in studying various fields such as international relations, public administration, political science and management studies. Policy has however been treated as unproblematic. But the question that begs is; what is a policy. Where can a person find policies. Can they be found in the speech of a politician for instance or can it be found in a party manifesto. Furthermore, is the policy found in a country’s legislation, legislator’s guidelines or court rulings. Or can it be found in clients and bureaucrats street level interactions.
Approaching policy from an anthropological point of view gradually moves from identifying a problem and formulating policies to implementing policies and evaluation of the policies. As has been mentioned earlier, there have been increased studies in anthropological science and technology over the last few years. The anthropology of experts has been a promising venture in social-cultural anthropology.
1.1 Anthropology of experts
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, ‘the expert’ began to appear in a social context within ethnography particularly in discussions of ‘religious experts’ and ‘ritual experts’ (Howell, 1953). However, this interest on ‘the expert’ confined itself to religion and rituals but did not touch expertise that much. ‘The expert’ remained a social designation and never bothered to further the theorization of anthropology. This development has progressed even as studies which focused on experts and expertise have grown to be among the thriving endeavors of social-cultural anthropology at the moment (Dominic, 2008). The rebirth of the anthropology of experts and expertise has been the concentration in the region of anthropological science and technology studies (Fischer, 2003).
Ethnography of experts has got permeable membranes and broad ambitions. It has been a residence to an extensive assortment of diverse methods and problems. It is distinguishable in the way it concerns itself with experts their practice, knowledge and institutions as the ethnographic hub of anthropological apprehension. Theorization of who counts as an expert has been underdeveloped even as the ethnography of modernity continues to grow (Shore & Wright, 1997). It has failed to reach the apex of degree of technical interest the characteristics of other social-scientific fields’ i.e. cognitive psychology (Smith & Ericsson, 1997).
I would define an expert as a person who has developed his skills in semiotic-epistemic competence (Dominic, 2008), and has concerned themselves with practical activities. For instance, a car mechanic and gymnasts are experts in their crafts. This is so even if the social dimension of their expertise and the qualitative value of their expertise differ and are valued diversely from the more technocratic or widely familiar experts like lawyers, doctors, engineers or even scientists. If one is to link expertise to skills, attention, competence and practice, it becomes transparent that every human being can be viewed as an expert of some sort. It furthers the notion that every human being is an expert even if society does not authenticate them as such. When the action of knowing a skill is preferred over the actual doing of a skill, then the term ‘intellectual’ should be applied or used instead of expert (Boyer, 2005). This has been the core of recent anthropological interest. The scrutiny of intellectuals or knowledge specialists who work in professional capacities or in organizations and institutional frameworks has been the base of modern anthropology.
It has always been questioned how an anthropologist can meaningfully connect to the familiarity of another society. A contradiction in both fields could arise. However, it has been argued that even if a clash between anthropology and other disciplines may clash, anthropology is considered productive in understanding how they work. Doug Holmes and George Marcus explain it in the following words:
“In our experience, ethnographers trained in the tradition of anthropology do not approach the study of formal institutions such as banks, bureaucracies, corporations, and state agencies with much confidence. These are realms in which the traditional informants of ethnography must be rethought as counterparts rather than ‘others’—as both subjects and intellectual partners in inquiry.” (Holmes & Marcus, 236-237).
In analyzing the anthropology of experts, one may most of the time find it repulsed or enthralled by the expertise of its focus. This is not however because anthropologists do not feel comfortable analyzing other areas. Anthropology of experts seeks to encroach on other domains of knowledge not innocently but because the intellectual professionalism usually and generally have got a predatory tendency towards each other. When a person is involved in a certain profession, they tend to imagine that knowledge definitely has to revolve around the ideologies of that particular profession. With such tendencies therefore, exploration of other professions and their jurisdictions becomes ‘fundamental’. The incorporation and consumption of the external analysis is important for supporting the ideologies of a profession against the invasion of other fields of specialization and the rivalries that exists within their specific jurisdictions. This encroachment of professional bodies has lead borrowing of ideas learned from the different fields and has led to re-functioning of the ideas for better and new purposes. Such has been the case of the expert who has waited for such an opportunity to be studied by the anthropologist.
Studying the ethnography of experts particularly in regards to institutions, tends to take interview forms –short formal interviews- and under very limited observation of prevalent situations. It has been argued that this para-ethnography is a good chance for anthropological necessity of the entente cordiale.
1.2 Challenges facing the study of ethnography of experts
Ethnographic studies are affected by the red tape that surrounds most culture of expertise. These cultures have always had protective privileges and they can restrict ethnographic access. Monitoring the acquisition and circulation of expert knowhow becomes a major obstacle. These aspects not withstanding, obstacles that restrict intellectual property rights, existence of non-disclosure agreements that have to be perused by ethnographers and the red tape in office corporate communication are hindrance too. The high offices in the institutions always do not welcome even the well prepared ethnographers.
1.3 Anthropology of policy
The world today is being driven by a huge web of policies and rationales. Making sense of all this policies and rationales has become the work of socio-cultural anthropology. Countable instances in today’s social life has remained untouched by policies, or that have no been influenced by policies. These policies have encroached the lives of every individual knowingly or unknowingly, and they have a great effect on the daily life of an individual. These policies have shaped the concepts, processes of people’s life and subjectivities. In fact the way people react to these policies is a good example of how people have been affected by the policies whether knowingly or unknowingly. Policies have become the number one organizing theory of modernity as we know it. However, in as much as policies have managed to have such a profound effect on the lives of the modern society, they have been least understood by the general public. The implication that policy has had on society and the culture of human beings everywhere in the world, especially how the policies intermingle with issues revolving agencies, governance and identity has to be brought to light. I will try to look at how policies have affected the ‘third sector’ –loose groupings of organizations- and how engaging with the sector could bring much benefit to anthropology.
The ‘third sector’ has recently been used to refer to voluntary or non-governmental organizations or the non-profit groups. Their recent growth in numbers has been described as a global associational revolution (Salamon, 1994). The third world countries as well as the developed countries have seen their existence in their societies something that has lead to increased focus amongst researchers and policy makers. These sectors have helped in playing a broad role in the mobilization of a community in issues that revolve around welfare work, self-help, and service delivery amongst other issues (Anheier & Salamon, 1997). These organizations operate on issues that revolve around political spheres, religious spheres, in workplaces, international developments and institutions.
Research on the ‘third sectors’ began in North America and Europe and it focused itself on the origins of the groups and the relationship they have with policies and it looked also into the organizational challenges that they faced. The researchers conducted suggested that scientists, economists, sociologists, and political scientists have contributed a lot in the development and growth of the third sectors (Burton, 1977). In third world countries, a political science approach has been adopted to study the ‘third sector’ (Fischer, 1994).
In the 1950s anthropologists started to focus on organizational studies of industrialized societies. They also did also incorporate in their studies the concept of studying the organizations like communities. Recent anthropological studies have however focused themselves not with studying the community from the context of a family, but with the relationship that exists between the organizations and the policies that surround health, education certain bureaucracies and the institutions of development that exist internationally (Wright, 1994).
To achieve this understanding, anthropologists have distinguished themselves from sociologists by adopting a research methodology that makes them interact with the interview subjects on a one on one basis. They have employed a qualitative participant observation research method to affect their studies. The important focus by the anthropologists has been organizational ethnography. Ethnography research has formed the foundation of anthropological research and they have helped in providing methods and ways of thinking which have assisted in writing on how organizations work interrelated with the community (Bate, 1997).
Anthropology, has helped not just in formulation of research methods, the contribution it has had to social science has been considered a theoretical one. The anthropologists have been encouraged to look beyond appearance and the assumptions that exist in society. This has been argued will advance the pursuit of the thorough analysis of ideas and the way power relates to all societies regardless of the geographical location and the geopolitical map (Gledhill, 1994).
1.4 Anthropology contributions to ‘third sector’
Anthropology has contributed to the ‘third sector’ in three major ways. Firstly, it has assisted in the revelation of the ‘third sector’ more. There many groups in the ‘third sector’ and the anthropological studies carried out have focused on larger and international organizations. The smaller groups have not been covered. These are those groups that deal with self-help activities. Clearly a bias can be seen. Most of the groups studied are those in Western countries. A neglect of non western countries needs to be done to eliminate this bias (Rochester, 1998).
Furthermore, the analysis of this `third sectors’ can be carried out on gender basis. This is true given that most of the ‘third sectors’ are started by women which act as emancipation avenues from male chauvinism (Moore, 1988). There should be a contrast between the ethnographic studies carried out in such organization from the 80s for instance and the modernization theories. Such will help in the better understanding and will reveal much about the ‘third sector’.
Secondly it has helped to widen the scope of the third sector research. As mentioned earlier, most of the research conducted has been focused on Western communities. The emphasis that has been there is that of the non-profit existence of this groups. However, these researches have been conducted in the Western society where there has been a culture of charitable organization and the non-profit mentality. Attention towards the third sectors that exist outside the confines of the Western culture has not been extensively done. Especially amongst those third sectors that exist to help refugees, minorities, and economical migrants. Furthermore, ‘pyramid schemes’ which help in offering credit to peasant societies has not been carried out effectively. This has raised couple questions key amongst them whether the third sectors are of more importance to a particular society (western) and inconsequential in other societies (non-western). It has brought a serious thought on the idea of voluntarism in both societies. Furthermore, why these organizations are regarded as non-governmental in specific governments and not others. Understanding the ideas behind voluntarism is seen as key in understanding the scope of the third sectors (Mauss, 1958).
The work of anthropology in the third sector is also important within bureaucracies just as it is important to the small scale sector. Understanding bureaucracies has been seen as key in understanding the problems that larger third sectors encounter (Billis, 1993).
Thirdly anthropology has helped in deepening analysis made and in offering significant point of views. Anthropology can be used in various ways, not just as a research tool for understanding social life. It can be used to disseminate knowledge about the various institutions. In the beginning of the paper it was discussed how professionalism encroach on each other. It is from this encroachment that the proper understandings between the different professionals exist. In recent times, the concepts associated with anthropology have had a huge influence on the theorists concerned with organization’s culture. By culture, it is meant the people’s interpretation of information and the process through which the meanings construed are approved from one person to the other.
Anthropologists have focused more on the on channels that are used to formulate policies (Van Willigen, 1993). The insights that are provided by anthropology can be important in bringing to light information on how various people react to situations they have little control over. Chambers thus notes:
“If the major goal of anthropology over the past century has been to improve our understanding of cultural process on the basis of cross- cultural research, the emerging major goal of applied anthropologists is to understand how cultural process affects the circumstances of policy decision making. It is hard to imagine how this can be done without paying as much attention to those who make, transmit, and implement policy as we have given to those who are most affected by it.” (Chambers, 188).
For the third sectors which are mainly concerned with development, anthropological studies of third sectors can draw attention to aspects surrounding development policies. The anthropological studies that have been carried out have helped to illuminate new perspectives in the policy segment particularly as regarding organization’s operations (Gardner and Lewis, 1996). Anthropologists have troubled themselves with studying how policies are transformed into workable practices and they have used third sectors to affect these studies. They have studied how implementations and policy are interrelated. They have proposed that bureaucracy has got a very vital role in understanding goals of stated policies and the relation of bureaucratic staff and their colleagues or the specific people they supervise.
1.5 Insights Gained from the study of Anthropology of experts and Anthropology of policy
From the study of anthropology of experts and the anthropology of policy. A lot can be drawn on the importance of anthropology studies on policies that govern organizations and experts. It is evident that we the non-professional has to be engaged. We see that we have to discover more about the areas of expertise that have not been clearly defined by work practices and the disparities that exist between non-experts and experts has to be studied. A rough ride should be expected though as resistance within organisations and amongst professionals is expected. Furthermore, attention to process is emphasised. From the reasons given, it is clear that a person is never born an expert (Boyer 2005). The status of an expert is acquired gradually and that a profession should be considered as habit. Additionally the expert should be humanised. The human being is surrounded by everything that makes him human. The human occupies or performs a social role but more important is the fact the he is involved in the multifaceted issues that anthropology encapsulates human life.
Anthropological studies have taken some steps in analysing policy frameworks especially within the non- profit or non-governmental organizations. Although the work has not been that extensive and conclusive, they have contributed to solidifying the ongoing research concerning these organizations. Anthropology has helped in providing a much detailed micro-level accounts of activities that deal with the organisations. The studies have also challenged the bias the western bias evident in the study of policies and they affect the third sector. Focus should be shifted to study the effects as a whole and not as a ‘western’ affair. The studies have further shown that cultural diversity does exist from the small scale informal type three sectors to the larger bureaucracies. The studies have also helped in the description and analysis of organizational culture and how anthropology can help in affecting rich changes of conceptual approaches. Lastly, the anthropological study of policy affecting the non-profit or non-governmental organisations has been able to link research and action at the grass-roots or community levels through the development of applied anthropology.
The studies of policies and their relevance to organizations has been applauded as one of the most important developments anthropology has been involved in so far. It has led to a growth in the third sector in the last few years. The benefits that accompany the anthropological studies have been beneficial to both humanity and the organisations themselves.
As seen, anthropology and its study on other profession is important as it helps in improving the knowledge about a certain field or profession. It has helped in expounding the limited knowledge that people had especially regarding the ‘expert’. It has put the requirements necessary for a person to be referred to as an ‘expert’.
The studies have also helped in formulation of policies which govern the ‘third sectors’. It has helped in understanding the need of third sectors and the ideologies behind them in the different cultures. It has also brought to light the fact that third sectors in the third world is generally understudied and that a proper focus should be made on their study in order to enhance their effectiveness especially to the goals they intend to achieve.
Generally it can now be appreciated that anthropological studies on other professions and on policy making bodies is an important one. It helps in formulating better policies and helps in understanding the common misconceptions about the ‘experts’.
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