Students enrolled in the graduate program in anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin have the opportunity to pursue a track in activist anthropology. This track currently has several components including a sequence of preparatory courses and an activist research internship lasting six months or longer. Our program builds on the best of a long tradition of the creative combination of scholarship and social activism within our discipline, while at the same time encouraging critical reflection on both the conceptual and practical limitations of that inherited tradition. Activist anthropology is predicated on the idea that we need not choose between first rate scholarship on the one hand, and carefully considered political engagement on the other. To the contrary, we contend that activist research can enhance the empirical breadth and the theoretical sophistication--as well as the practical usefulness of the knowledge that we produce as anthropologists. Finally, we intend to bring the activist anthropology track “home” in a dual sense: opening space for alternative forms of anthropological training within our department and university, and encouraging activist research on U.S. society, challenging the deeply seated dichotomy between “over there” (where political engagement happens) and “here” where more conservative premises often prevail.
We also contend that activist anthropology can make a crucial contribution in helping to resolve the various “crises” afflicting the discipline in the last two decades, and in setting our course for the 21st century. Activist anthropologists affirm the importance of empirically grounded and analytically driven ethnography, without recourse to compromised notions of scientific objectivity. We acknowledge the inevitable, multi leveled political implications of anthropological research, while leaving behind the self-referential intellectual paralysis that such awareness often has engendered.
Activist anthropology is an option, an emphasis within our graduate program. It is not for everyone. Yet it does promise to offer critical perspectives on issues central to our discipline, issues that no anthropologist can afford to ignore.
What is Activist Anthropology? (PDF, 762K), an article by Charles Hale answers this question.