Working group Public Anthropology: How it started

In 2015 the Dutch Anthropological Association, de Antropologen Beroepsvereniging (ABv), started the workgroup Public Anthropology. The main aim of the workgroup was and is to seek and create ways in which anthropological perspectives and findings can be shared with a broader public, beyond our discipline and outside academia, preferably in a collaborative way.

The workgroup was launched at the ABv Annual Day of Anthropology, on 29 May 2015, in the Leiden Research Center for Material Culture. We organized an interactive round table session to explore with some 30 participants the need for and relevance of public anthropology (in the Netherlands). Six anthropologists, working in very different fields, started off pitching their vision on the usefulness and necessity of public anthropology. It fueled the discussion that we had immediately after the plenary pitches. In small break-up groups the round table participants discussed with the invited pitchers the obstacles and best practices for making anthropology public—using lots of sticky notes… In the final plenary discussion, we shared all our ideas and dilemmas, which served as fodder for the workgroup’s action list and follow up plans. See for a full account (in Dutch) of this round table meeting: Nut & Noodzaak – Naar een publieke antropologie.

 

Follow up

Bringing issues, concerns, and insights of anthropology to a broader, non-academic audience captures the hearts and minds of growing number of anthropologists. Yet, it is easier said than done… How can we make our perspectives and findings public, when, and with whom? It is on the agenda of the Dutch Anthropological Association for some time, and after the launch of the workgroup public anthropology we had a couple of small and informal meetings, in which we struggled with the question: how to continue after our first actions in 2015? A lunch meeting during the Day of Anthropology in 2016 appeared too optional and was too limited in time to go into the depths on the issue of public anthropology, whereas we realized that we were having the same kind of discussions (on obstacles, dilemmas, best practices) time and again. We needed some real action and, actually, some practicing!

This resulted in our collaborative ethnographic experiment during the Day of Anthropology, 19 May 2017, in Utrecht. Besides having a good talk and discussion with peer anthropologists about the do’s and don’ts of public anthropology, we aimed at actually collaborating with participants present to make something, together, and to make this public. The result? See: “Making anthropology public – in collaboration”.

Having experienced the vibrancy of doing a tiny bit of ethnography together, we decided to take this a step further. On 19 January 2018, we will organize a workshop on Participatory Action Research (PAR). Under the guidance of two practitioners and educators of participatory approaches we will discuss PAR methods as a tool to contribute to social change and learn to work with PAR through a couple of exercises. By organizing this workshop, we hope to further develop ideas and methods to support an anthropology that effectively address societal challenges beyond our own discipline—in collaboration and public conversation.

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