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AnthroPolitique

International Development and Affairs, Culture, and Cross-Disciplinary Topics

Traversing the Science Divide: Understanding Anthropology

Within academia and even more starkly within the professional realm is the divide between the “natural” sciences and the “social” sciences. The traditional divide of the sciences has been one which has developed due to common misconceptions between fields. Anthropology, the “study of mankind” is one of the most significant, yet overlooked fields within the social sciences. Like other social sciences, anthropology holds answers to key issues that traverse the science divide.

Anthropology is the study of the human experience, past and present, by incorporating both the natural and social sciences. With a broad and all-inclusive definition, anthropology is known as a holistic field in which anthropologists from a wide range of backgrounds seek to develop a better understanding an even broader spectrum of cultural phenomena. Understanding what it actually means to be a “holistic” field while encompassing the entire human experience is understandably difficult to conceptualize, especially for those outside of the field.

Just like the natural sciences, anthropology focuses on the importance of collecting valid and reliable data. In anthropology, field observation and in-depth analysis is among the primary means of data collection. Anthropologists emphasize the importance of objectivity in the collection and analysis of data. Objectivity allows for the proper understanding of the human experience based on the concept of cultural relativism.

Emphasis on objectivity does not mean that anthropologists claim to be absent of any predispositions. On the contrary, the fact that all humans have predispositions that have developed from socialization is a key factor in studying the human experience. Awareness of our own predispositions and efforts towards objectivity allows for the understanding of culture and the context it creates. Cultural relativism is the idea that the human experience the phenomena within these experiences can only be understood within the context in which they exist. Broadly speaking, the context is the culture in which the experience is taking place.

Culture itself can be defined in a number of ways and includes anything from politics, language, and arts to technology and science. As such, anthropological work requires the anthropologist to become involved first-hand in issues ranging from local traditions to governmental and healthcare systems in order to understand the “culture” surrounding the scope of their work. The comprehensive work of anthropologists therefore lends itself to a plethora of knowledge useful well beyond the confines of the field. Even as a field that contributes to countless topics, issues, and ideas within the human experience, anthropology is often characterized as a social science independent of natural sciences such as biology, physics, and chemistry, among others. To say this characterization is misplaced is an understatement – the natural sciences, like the social sciences, exist in reality within the context of the human experience.

Anthropology is unique in that it seeks to study the human experience in order to develop a holistic understanding of phenomena. Human issues are composed of interconnected factors, sustainable solutions can only exist if we thoroughly understand the answer to the question why? As human beings, we are consistently changing aspects considered to be within the realm of natural sciences. As such, it is important to recognize that in order for natural sciences to advance, social sciences, particularly anthropology, must be integrated. We must answer the why before we can begin to find the answer to how we can solve issues within the human experience.

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Reassessing the Link Between Politics and Humanitarianism

As a globalized world, we have entered an era in which various facets have become interconnected. Unfortunately, it has been primarily through events characterized by violence, fear, and destruction that the global community has recognized the importance of protecting the world’s people. Interwoven networks have made it such that issues once seen as local or state-wide have now crossed borders, with widespread consequences.

Solutions to issues such as human trafficking, poverty, violence, and inequality, among others, may be solved only through action by our world as a whole. Recognizing the need to come together to reach a common goal, organizations have vocalized a need to develop standards and strategies for change – but how far does the echo for these initiatives reach?

The link between politics and humanitarianism has been one of the most crippling characteristics of globalism in the following ways:

1. The manner in which politics acts as a guiding principle in humanitarian decision making and action.

2. Causing humanitarianism to draw away from altruistic intentions. Instead, the world’s social conscience has become saturated with power politics through the opportunistic behavior of world actors.

Feats can be achieved in the direction of protecting human rights, preventing violence, ensuring economic and political stability, eliminating poverty, and providing resources and support to vulnerable individuals. This is not to say that change will come overnight. The amount of time, resources, and effort cannot be underestimated. However, one thing can be said for sure, until we reassess the link between politics and humanitarianism, the question is not whether it is too great of a feat to bring about change. The question is instead: When will human lives be considered of greater value than economic and diplomatic interests of actors in our global chess game?

Why International Issues Must be Addressed with Cross-Disciplinary Responses: The Case of Ebola

Ebola has taken over media as an international health concern in 2014. With questions mounting over whether Ebola will become widespread and how to contain the disease, it is time to bridge the gap between the natural and social sciences. More specifically, it is essential to integrate research in key areas such as public health and epidemiology with key information in fields such as anthropology.

My first encounter with a story that expressed the bridge between the Ebola outbreak and anthropologists was in NPR publication, “The Experts The Ebola Response May Need: Anthropologists”. In the article, NPR staff point out that anthropologists may be key in addressing the Ebola outbreak, given their knowledge of local traditions as related to the spread of the disease, as well as the understanding of how fear plays a role in the epidemic.

In this post, I suggest that anthropology does not stop short of providing assistance in the realm of knowledge of local customs or fears of Ebola – anthropologists provide a wealth of knowledge through the use of ethnographic research and observation that is key to addressing a number of issues, Ebola included.

The reality is that in many cases, through in-depth understanding and wholistic studies, anthropologists are aware of potential widespread issues, whether they be social, political, or public health concerns, well before others in separate fields. The Ebola outbreaks acts as no exception.

Aside from providing an anthropological analysis of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a more direct message must be expressed: Ebola not only represents a failure of a number of health systems and the weakness of the international community in responding to global health issues. The 2014 Ebola outbreak represents the failure to address the desperate need to find cross-disciplinary solutions to global issues.

Anthropology is unique in that it provides an understanding of groups, interactions, phenomenon, ideas, and a number of other factors that are encompassed in the “study of mankind”. The gap between social and natural sciences must be bridged to provide for the free-flow of knowledge across fields. As we recognize the need for sustainable solutions, “sustainability” must become synonymous with “cross-disciplinary”.

Suggested Reading: “Notes from Case Zero: Anthropology in the time of Ebola“; “Ebola in Perspective

Introducing “AnthroPolitique”

Dear Reader,

I would like to thank you in advance for taking the time to stop AnthroPolitique. To help familiarize you with what you will find as you browse, I would like to provide you with a brief introduction which will include a bit about my background.

My name is Leighann Eileithyia Kimble and I am the founder of Logrando Juntos, Inc., an organization focused on providing education, ESL, and childcare resources to those in underprivileged communities. As a growing organization, we seek to provide assistance and support to individuals in every corner of the world.

In a separate role, I am Executive Assistant to Dr. M. Rashad Massoud, Director of USAID Applying Science to Strengthen and Improve Systems Projects and Senior Vice President of the Quality & Performance Institute at University Research Co., LLC (URC). In this role, I lead various administrative tasks, ranging from scheduling and travel planning, to event hosting for major organizations. This position has allowed me to not only host, but to participate in individual meetings involving organizations such as WHO, CDC, and the Embassy of the Republic of Georgia.

I hold a MA in International Relations from Webster University and a BA in Anthropology, International Relations, and Asian Studies from Mary Baldwin College. My research experience and passion lies in International Relations, Humanitarian Affairs, Anthropology, and Latin American Studies.

In short, this blog will be open to a variety of topics ranging from international relations and anthropology to public health and policy. I invite you to contribute your own comments and views as you read, and to keep an open mind should you come across an entry, comment, or idea that is different from your own.

Happy reading!

– Leighann E. Kimble, MA

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