Anthropology and the Changing World: How Can Anthropologists Serve Humanity?

H.M. Ashraf Ali

Abstract


Change is perhaps the most common aspect of human life experienced in every society of today’s world. There may be differences in context, pattern, speed, scale, or extent of changes, but peoples across the globe more or less seem to share experiences of social, cultural and economic alteration in their everyday lives. Globalization, through the spread of the free market economy, the revolution of information and communication technologies (e.g., the spread of the Internet, media and entertainment technologies )rapid urbanization, the spread of consumer culture, and transnational migrations, have interconnected the world economically, culturally and politically. Even remote communities have been influenced by global change. Such change has both positive and negative consequences on peoples’ lives. Though many people’s have been blessed by economic and technological advancements, economic inequalities between and within nations proliferate. In addition to the continuance, even growth of global poverty, violation of human rights, discrimination and violence against women, and stigmatization and exclusion of ethnic minorities means large numbers of people have little, if any, access to such technologies. Thus too many people still do not have access to educational, economic, and health facilities and opportunities. In many countries, hegemonic political-economic approaches and discourses shape development interventions, and imposition of such policies creates further problems, including displacement of indigenous people from their ancestral territories in combination with lack of adequate resettlement, environmental degradations, and ethnic conflicts over land use and natural resources management. My principal objective here is to delineate how anthropologists can understand and help solve human problems emerging from this global change. Anthropology has a rich tradition in comprehending the complex phenomena of human society, in valuing alternate knowledge systems, and in mediating problems that arise in conjunction with ‘development’. In this paper I will focus on three major anthropological domains. Firstly, following a brief overview on epistemology and foundations of anthropological knowledge (i.e. scientific methodological tradition), I will discuss contemporary human problems emerging from global change and assess how sociocultural anthropology can contribute to understandings of gender and health issues in development. Secondly, I will assess emerging development problems in Bangladesh with a critical anthropological lens, considering how anthropological viewpoints can contribute to solving these problems. In other words, I will contextualize how anthropological knowledge generated from socially-grounded methodological traditions can be applied to solve the problems of the contemporary humankind. Finally, following changing foci within academic anthropological discussions, I will examine the prospects of anthropology as an agent in both understanding and serving humanity. Key words: Applied anthropology; development; cultural relativism; changing world

Keywords


Applied anthropology; development; cultural relativism; changing world

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968%2Fj.mse.1913035X20090304.002

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