engaged anthropology (2018)

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—be 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.

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Public Thinker interview:  Stuart Kirsch on Engaged Anthropology (Public Books, 2019)

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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

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Ch. 1. How Political Commitments Influence Research

Backstage in the Ok Tedi Case

Ch. 2. When Contributions are Elusive

Writing Across the Border in West Papua, Indonesia

Ch. 3. The Search for Alternative Outcomes

Conservation and Environmental Degradation in Papua New Guinea

Ch. 4. When the Intervention Fails, Does the Research Still Matter?

Overtaken by Events in the Solomon Islands

Ch. 5. How Analysis of Local Contexts Can Have Global Significance

Double Exposure in the Marshall Islands

Ch. 6. The Risks of Intervention

Campus Debates on Repatriation

Ch. 7. Dilemmas of an Expert Witness

Indigenous Land Rights in Suriname and Guyana

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