Engaged Anthropology: Politics Beyond the Text

Engaged Anthropology: Politics Beyond the Text

Engaged Anthropology: Politics Beyond the Text Activism, Anthropology, Blog, History, Pacific, PNG, Politics, West Papua
April 19, 2018

Our good friend, Stuart Kirsch, has a new book just published that is an absolute must read. This latest book, recently released by the University of California Press, deals with the nature of anthropology and its involvement in the issues it studies. Kirsch has extensive experience working with indigenous peoples and engaging with their struggles to protect the environment, reclaim land rights and achieve greater self-determination.

Much like the conclusion of modern physics about an experiment and its participants, one can’t be an observer of human beings and their activities without becoming an influence on those being observed (and vice versa). The inextricable relationship between colonialism and the study of indigenous cultures by western anthropologists has meant that this influence has not always been altogether positive and often distorted the observations being made. It has even involved blatant violations of human rights. To avoid being a destructive influence, anthropologists must take proactive measures to direct their involvement with people and their affairs in constructive and ethical ways.

With cover art by Donatus Moiwend, a West Papuan artist with a history of involvement in the Papuan Cultural Renaissance of the 1980s, the book includes a chapter based on Stuart’s fieldwork with West Papuan refugees in Papua New Guinea and West Papuan political leaders. Drawing on interactions over several decades, the chapter examines the prospects and limitations of academic contributions to the West Papuan sovereignty movement.

Engaged Anthropology Stuart Kirsch

More about Engaged Anthropology

Does anthropology have more to offer than just its texts? In this timely and remarkable book, Stuart Kirsch shows how anthropology can—and why it should—become more engaged with the problems of the world. Engaged Anthropology draws on the author’s experiences working with indigenous peoples fighting for their environment, land rights, and political sovereignty. Including both short interventions and collaborations spanning decades, it recounts interactions with lawyers and courts, nongovernmental organizations, scientific experts, and transnational corporations. This unflinchingly honest account addresses the unexamined “backstage” of engaged anthropology. Coming at a time when some question the viability of the discipline, the message of this powerful and original work is especially welcome, as it not only promotes a new way of doing anthropology, but also compellingly articulates a new rationale for why anthropology matters.

“As the promises of globalization unravel, and as the ecological devastation of the planet deepens, Kirsch’s persuasive call for engaged forms of anthropology becomes vital to the survival of the field as a relevant intellectual and ethical project. This is a book all social scientists must read.”
–Arturo Escobar, author of Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds

“No one is better qualified than Stuart Kirsch to take on this topic. His treatment of what has been a taboo subject in political and legal anthropology, the tension between scholarly and activist goals, is handled with a forthrightness that leads to important insight.”
–Ron Niezen, author of Public Justice and the Anthropology of Law

“Kirsch asks the critical questions: Does ‘engaged’ anthropology produce good enough research? Is it good for anthropology? What generalizations does it allow beyond particular cases? This book takes a fresh look at roles anthropologists play in public affairs and political struggles. It takes the reader on a revealing tour of major issues in which Kirsch has been involved: a high-profile lawsuit against the Australian owners of the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea, the West Papuan independence movement, consultancy for the U.S. Nuclear Claims Tribunal in the Marshall Islands, arguments about repatriation of human remains in the United States, and participation in indigenous land claims.”
–Francesca Merlan, author of Dynamics of Difference in Australia: Indigenous Past and Present in a Settler Country

“Knowing Stuart Kirsch’s work on the issue of mining and the assertion of indigenous people’s rights to their lands and territories and to self-determination, I have no doubt about the relevance of this book not just for academics and activists but for society at large. In this Anthropocene era where human beings are the key actors causing the earth crisis, it is time to revisit and reshape anthropology to help address this crisis. This book, which emerged from the author’s experiences in linking theory with societal transformation, is an important contribution to continuing struggles for social justice, human rights and sustainability.”
–Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Available through the University of California Press, Amazon.com, and Amazon.ca.

Also check out this other great book by Stuart Kirsch – Mining Capitalism: The Relationship between Corporations and their Critics.

Mining Capitalism Cover



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  1. sidonie blondel says:

    I’m creating collages and I’m looking to be part of your collaborative board. Thank you for your feedback.
    All the best.
    Sidonie Blondel

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