Action Anthropology ot Applied Anarchism?

KENNETH MADDOCK, born in Hastings, New Zealand, 1937, is a first-generation New Zealander. He graduated in law from the University of Auckland, before turning to social anthropology in which he completes his degree this year.

Submitted by Reddebrek on July 16, 2016

ANTHROPOLOGY IS OFTEN CALLED the science of man, and, on the whole, anthropologists have not been reluctant to accept this description. But, by ranking their discipline among the sciences, anthropologists are forced into considering whether their knowledge can be applied in the solution of human problems, and, if so, on what conditions. Some sidestep the issue, holding that anthropologists cannot expect to influence practical decisions and should therefore concentrate on "pure" research. Most, however, are in agreement that their knowledge can be applied, but are in disagreement on how it is to be applied.
Traditionally, two conflicting approaches exist among those who accept the practicability of applied anthropology. The right wing hold that their proper role is simply to advise on the solution of problems posed by others, e.g. by colonial administrators. Thus, if administrators wish to impose a particular policy, the applied anthropologist would indicate the obstacles likely to be thrown up because of the nature of the culture affected. The left wing are more optimistic. Avoiding the schizophrenic separation of science and values, they hold that the anthropologist knows more about the nature of culture, particularly primitive and non-European culture, than anyone else, and that he should therefore share in the formation of policy. Both these approaches have certain difficulties attendant upon them, which it is not my intention to investigate now.
Quite recently a new approach to applied anthropology has come into prominence, an approach which seems more compatible with anarchism than either of the others and is likely to be attractive to anarchist social scientists. This new approach to an old problem is called action anthropology, and is associated with Professor Sol Tax of the University of Chicago more than with anyone else.
The genesis of action anthropology can be traced back to 1948 when Chicago University established a research centre among the Fox Indians, who live near Tama, Iowa, for the purpose of giving students some field training. There seems initially to have been no intention

KENNETH MADDOCK, born in Hastings, New Zealand, 1937, is a first-generation New Zealander. He graduated in law from the University of Auckland, before turning to social anthropology in which he completes his degree this year. to do other than pure research, but the character of the project quickly changed. The workers became interested in the Fox as people, and in the problems which they face. It was decided to help the Fox, particularly in their relations with the whites. And this is where the problem of applications arose. The Chicago team were not operating in the usual milieu of the applied anthropologist, which is the colonial situation, but among people who legally were equal citizens. No one could force a programme on the Fox. The possibility of exercising power less directly by relying on greater knowledge and sophistication seems not to have been considered. Instead, as Sol Tax put it: "We were not doing pure science – we thought we ought not to use the Indian community for purposes that were not their own. But neither were we coming to apply our anthropological skills to develop a plan or programme."1

Who are the Fox? They are an Algonquian-speaking people (their name for themselves is Mesquakie; "Fox" is the English translation of "Reynard", the name the French applied to these people) who, at the time of first contact back in the seventeenth century, were living in what is now Wisconsin. Their history is characteristic of that of most primitives in culture contact situations – it is a melancholy story. Wars with the French in the early eighteenth century resulted in near- extermination. During the English and American periods what were left of the Fox moved south and west into Illinois and Iowa; in the 1840s the American government moved them onto a reservation in Kansas. But the Fox had not lost their will to survive as a people. In the 1850s they bought 80 acres of land in Iowa, and moved to it under the protection of the state government. Since then other purchases have expanded their land to about 3,300 acres. The people themselves now number about 600, of whom about 500 live on the settlement and work for wages in nearby towns. The others, who work further away, return to the settlement only at weekends or for special occasions. On the settlement is a school paid for by the federal government, which also pays the fees of a Tama physician who keeps a morning clinic there. Further, the federal government pays tuition fees at the public high school in Tama. Even these minimal services are a source of tension: the government recognizes no obligation to provide them, and, indeed, threatens termination; the Fox, however, regard these services, and much more, as their due.

Despite the vicissitudes of culture contact, many Fox cultural traits in religion, social organization, and language still persist, not merely vestigially but with real vitality. Thus, for most Indians, English is a language learnt at school. The old kinship patterns survive. So does the old religion, though a few Fox are Christians, and rather more belong to an Indian adjustment cult based on the peyote ritual. Of especial interest to anarchists is the Fox authority system, characterized by an absence of recognition of any vertical authority.2 Authority roles in the sense of certain individuals having power to make decisions binding others, are non-existent. Instead, decisions are made only after extended discussion and debate, with no action taken without unanimity. This highly egalitarian cultural pattern has remained constant even though the federal government, acting pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act, has attempted to impose a hierarchical system. In consequence of the Act, the Fox now elect a council which acts for them in relations with the government. The council's chairman is treated by the government as a chief, but, in practice, meetings are still conducted in the traditional way, with leisurely discussion leading to decisions which are made unanimously or not at all.

The question of authority in Fox society is not merely an issue of interest to anarchists and anthropologists; it lies at the root of the Fox problem, and has bedevilled attempts at a solution. Thus, in 1944, the government drafted a ten-year plan for economic improvement. Roads were to be paved, the land area doubled, a retail store established. But unhappily this plan was never implemented. The tribal council voted it down because acceptance would have meant a section of the community binding the community as a whole. In a more regimented and hierarchical society a group in power would not have hesitated, but not so among the Fox.
If there were a rational awareness on the part of both Indian and white of the implications of so highly egalitarian an authority system, there might not be a Fox problem, or, if there was, its dimensions would be modest. White-initiated activities would not have been structured around the tacit assumption that vertical authority roles exist among the Fox – a structuring that makes them unworkable. The Fox would not have developed a failure complex over their inability to succeed in those activities. This is how Fred Gearing,3 one of the action anthropologists, puts the problem: "On the whole, white-initiated activities have been organized in a hierarchical arrangement of authority and the Fox have failed. Failing repeatedly, and having mixed feelings about what the white man calls progress in the first place, the Fox have settled down to a grand strategy of holding the line. Having set on that course, they tend, through time, to become more of a financial burden."

This was the situation when the action anthropologists became interested in the Fox as people. The concept of the problem as seen by Professor Tax and his associates is in terms of a vicious circle, some of the elements of which I have already referred to. Lying on the periphery of the circle are two sets of factors tending to aggravate its viciousness. First is the Fox authority system with its reflection in their failure complex. Secondly, there are the contrasting personality types and work patterns of Indian and white, a set of factors which is reflected in the white belief that the Fox are lazy. The Fox, according to Fred Gearing, differ in personality from the typical white in that they do not share the latter's compulsive drive to make his real self approximate to his ideal self, or his shame and guilt if he fails. Instead, the Fox personality ideal is one of harmony with himself and nature. The effect of this on respective work patterns is that the white can engage in sustained effort over a long period, independently of his own group if need be. The Fox cannot. So misunderstandings fester: the white sees the Fox as lazy; the Fox sees the white as aggressive and selfish. Each is probably right in terms of his own values.

Now we can enter the vicious circle. If whites believe the Fox are lazy, then the existence of the government services to which I have referred makes the Indians seem a burden on their thrifty and hard-working neighbours. The whites rationalize the situation, and conclude that the Fox can only be temporary; this rationalization generates action to speed up the "inevitable" assimilation. The Fox quite naturally resist change, their resistance being partly attributable to their failure complex, and so the circle is complete. The Fox seem more of a burden than ever.

One way of breaking down the vicious circle would have been to define concrete goals for the Fox to work towards – that is what the left wing in applied anthropology might have done. Instead, the action anthropologists decided on more open-ended goals, such as to increase the knowledge and awareness of both Indian and white. Through breaking down the mountain of misunderstanding, prejudice, and stereotype built up by the ethnocentric value judgments of both sides, they hope to achieve a release of people's energy and imagination. In short, they are acting as catalysts. An analogy suggests itself at this point: action anthropology is clinical in character. The psychotherapist helps the patient to an awareness of his own condition so that he can see for himself the roots of his condition. And so, too, with action anthropology: "by picking up a series of cues (in the light of general principles, of course) it allows concrete plans for action to emerge progressively from the ongoing processes of social change among the Fox.”4 Thus originally Sol Tax and his associates had debated the pros and cons of assimilation. Then, in Tax's words, "what a marvellous happy moment it was when we realized that this was not a judgment or decision we needed to make. It was a decision for the people concerned, not for us. Bluntly, it was none of our business."5
In playing their catalyst role, the action anthropologists are engaged in two specific programmes. First, education. On one level the whites are being educated into an awareness that neither the Fox, nor any other Indian group, can be thought of as only temporary. After all, they have survived centuries of culture contact. On another level the Fox themselves are being educated into a perception of the differences in culture and social organization between Indian and white. More particularly, the connection of the Fox authority system, with its positive evaluation of freedom, to past Fox failures in white-initiated activities is being illuminated. Further, a scholarship programme is under way to bring young Indians into the professions and skilled occupations, so that the white economy can be entered at levels other than unskilled wage work.
Secondly, economic improvement is envisaged. Obviously the success of this is partly tied to the outcome of the various aspects of the educational programme. However, a step already taken is to develop a co-operative industry producing and selling Indian crafts. This venture, which is proving commercially successful, centres on a young Fox, Charles Pushetonequa, whose high artistic ability had opened the prospect of a career in the white world outside, but who preferred to live with his own people doing unskilled work. Now he [no more text in original]

The Fox project is the first case history in action anthropology. Obviously a wider application of its methods would be richly justified in terms of human happiness, autonomy, and self-realization; however, there are some caveats which must be entered against action programmes. First, freedom from government control is essential. This rules out most colonial situations, and also, I am afraid, one possible source of funds. Secondly, it is probable that an action programme would be viable only where the culture concerned is intact enough to make community goals meaningful. In some situations native peoples are so highly "detribalized" that assimilation seems the most realistic, and the most humane, goal. Thirdly, certain aspects of an action programme could be expensive, e.g. the higher education project among the Fox. Not all anthropologists are as adept at raising funds as Sol Tax is said to be. A final point is that in situations where a dramatic conflict of interest between European and non-European exists, e.g. in Kenya or South Africa, an action programme could probably not succeed. A number of North American Indian and Polynesian societies would, however, be promising ground, and, no doubt, there are many others.

The anarchist character of action anthropology is plain to see, though I don't know whether Professor Tax would care to be labelled, or libelled, an anarchist. Whatever his personal reaction, however, it is clear that the open-ended goals towards which action anthropology moves – happiness, autonomy, self-realization – are in harmony with the anarchist tradition. So, too, is its choice of non-authoritarian means to realize those goals. Hence the question I post in my title: action anthropology or applied anarchism?

1 Sol Tax in his opening address at the Central States Anthropological Society symposium on the Fox project (5 May, 1955). In addition to the references cited below, readers interested could refer to Documentary History of the Fox Project, 1960, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
2 WaIter B. Miller in the American Anthropologist, April 1955.
3 Fred Gearing in his paper, "Strategy of the Fox Project", at the Central State Anthropological Society symposium.
4 Ralph Piddington, "Action Anthropology", Journal of the Polynesian Society, September 1960.
5 Sol Tax, "The Fox Project", Human Organization, Spring 1958.