CfP| Inter. Workshop “How to Apply Anthropology? Challenges for an Academic Discipline”


Liebe Kolleg*innen,
wir möchten Sie gerne auf den untenstehenden Workshop “How to Apply Anthropology? Challenges for an Academic Discipline” aufmerksam machen.
Wir freuen uns auf Bewerbungen bis zum 10. April 2020!
Herzliche Grüße,
Janine Schemmer und Alexandra Schwell

International Workshop: “How to Apply Anthropology? Challenges for an Academic Discipline”
14-15 May 2020, University of Klagenfurt/Austria

Following the Bologna reforms, academic study programs have become increasingly school-like and regimented. At the same time, universities are called to equip students with an adequate preparation for their professional life outside of academia. While disciplines such as the natural sciences rather seamlessly transfer their knowledge from the laboratory into practice, the humanities have much greater difficulties adapting their knowledge and their research foci to the expectations of the world outside academia. This also applies to cultural anthropology, ethnology, and cultural analysis, i.e. disciplines which, ironically, should be particularly prone to applied approaches, given their interest in everyday lives.

Yet, in large parts of the anthropological and ethnological disciplines, skepticism prevails, with critics arguing that a turn to practice and applied knowledge would lead to reduced complexity of academic knowledge and necessarily result in intellectual triviality. Such critique is based on, at least, two pillars: first, the demands and rationale of the non-academic world would obstruct any frictionless transfer from theory to practice by virtue of their search for easy explanations; second, applied anthropologists are accused of lacking analytical distance to their field which is often also their employer. The two logics of capitalism and academia are juxtaposed in an irreconcilable way.

Applied anthropologists, in turn, argue against these critics that cultural anthropology and cultural analysis at universities tend to perform l’art pour l’art; that scholars within the academy prefer to identify and analyze social and political questions from a distance, yet that they shy away from any serious attempt to contribute in a practical way to the solution of these very problems.

This arbitrary divide has a profound and lasting impact. The ways of applied and academic anthropology depart at the moment of graduation, when graduates leave university and seek to make a living in the world of work. Instead of sustaining the link and making use of valuable synergies, both sides tend to turn their backs on each other. This is even more virulent as an overwhelming percentage of anthropology graduates does not stay within academia but finds employment in NGOs, cultural institutions, journalism, the private economy or public administration.

This structural effect, and anthropology’s claim to the research of everyday culture and the impact of power structures and historical legacies on identities, subjectifications, and inequalities, should not lead us to shy away from the attempt to educate students in a way where they not only learn how to analyze practices, but how to transfer critical knowledge and put it into practice.

Applied anthropology approaches are not homogeneous but differ considerably, they intersect and merge. We broadly conceive of applied anthropology as “the application of anthropological knowledge, theory, and methods to real-world issues, the practical rather than the theoretical” (Copeland and Dengah 2016: 122). Orientations towards applicability exist:

* With regard to the application of ethnographic methods and anthropological theories e.g. to organizations, trans- and interculturality in the private or health sector, NGOs, public administration etc.
* With regard to specific problems and empowerment strategies, often with the aim to improve life chances of social and cultural groups or to fight discrimination. Such approaches often use collaborative forms of research and intersect with action anthropology.
While in the US, applied anthropology programs are common, scholars within Europe tend to feel a certain kind of unease when confronted with their applied cousins. This is even more surprising as applied programs offer an opportunity for small disciplines to meet demands for societal legitimation, particularly in times of declining enrollment numbers. Applied anthropology moves the discipline closer to its field and it allows students to pursue their studies with the perspective of employment outside the academy.

This workshop aims at gathering academics and experts who share and discuss their experiences with applied anthropology/cultural analysis in the shape of study programs, as practitioners or as professionals. We are particularly interested in the link between academia and practice, in the challenges and pitfalls of teaching and conceptualizing applied anthropology programs at universities, and in academic cooperation with the non-academic world. In the workshop, we ask

* How to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and practice?
* How to design study programs and teach applied anthropology?
* How to keep high academic standards and not slip into oversimplification?
* How do practitioners perceive academic anthropology, and what kind of synergies could emerge?
* Which specific ethical challenges confront applied anthropologists?
We believe that these aspects are timely and urgent for scholars, academic programs, and institutions across Europe alike. With this workshop, we seek to shed a light on both the applicability of anthropological knowledge and the potentials of applied anthropology programs within the university and beyond. In short: How to Apply Anthropology?

If your experience and/or research speaks to these questions and you are interested in participating in the workshop, please email a brief Statement of Interest outlining your personal/professional/research experience and how it connects to the theme of the workshop.

Please send your statement by 10 April 2020 to Melanie Proksch (<>).
University of Klagenfurt
Department of Cultural Analysis
Univ.-Prof. Dr. Alexandra Schwell (<>) and Dr. Janine Schemmer (<>)

Copeland, T. J. and H. J. F. Dengah (2016). “’Involve me and I learn‘: Teaching and applying anthropology.“ Annals of Anthropological Practice 40(2): 120-133.

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