Anthropologists working in government, business, and non-profit settings apply their education and training in anthropology to understand people and the problems they face, and to help their organizations and communities develop solutions to those problems. Representing this perspective, the five authors primarily engage in professional anthropological practice for a living.
In addition to learning anthropological theory, methods, and the current literature, anthropologists typically need additional skills and competencies. We learn to work collaboratively in and with organizations, relying on our abilities to understand social relationships and connections to the world. We also learn to face social interactions with empathy, patience, and leadership. Empathy allows us to listen to others and explore the cultural assumptions that individuals and groups have about themselves, their roles, and how things are working within their respective spheres of life and work. In collaborative encounters, we act patiently as intermediaries, seeking to represent and communicate the perspectives of clients, customers, team members, employees, and other stakeholders involved in and affected by our work. When conflict and tension arise, we exhibit leadership abilities to challenge others as necessary, clarify issues and points of view, and work toward generating consensus.
By applying skills in ethnography and other qualitative and quantitative social science research methods, applied and practicing anthropologists gain insight into cultural practices and share that insight within the organizations that hire us. Such insights help organizations serve a broad range of situations, such as feeding families, enhancing health care, shaping strong communities, improving work environments, assisting in the development of new technologies, advocating for those at risk, and dealing with climate crises. We provide cultural analyses of the economic, political, and social factors underlying problems and suggest potential ways of resolving them. Whether working as employees, contractors, consultants, and/or advocates, we apply our knowledge and experience to assist in developing goals and strategies for change in the policies and programs of governmental, tribal, corporate, and non-profit organizations. In many instances, we work to test, implement, and evaluate changes in them.
Our knowledge, skills, and experience as anthropologists are tied to many specialized fields including business, contract archeology, education, endangered language revitalization, environmental conservation, forensics, human-centered design, immigration, law, medicine, military life, public health, technology, and tourism. Potential work roles include program manager, planner, archivist, curator, user experience researcher, design researcher, specialized research methodologist, consumer researcher, survey researcher, analyst, trainer, principal/founder, community organizer, forensic anthropologist, environmental advocate, compliance specialist, immigration consultant, human rights advocate, staff development coordinator, digital specialist, prevention services supervisor, tribal liaison, executive director, heritage manager, osteologist, and archaeologist. Relying on various aspects of the “anthropological toolkit” (see “NAPA 1997” on the separate Resources page), we try to make a positive difference in addressing human problems by working to create understanding, clarify issues, propose possibilities, and design, implement, and assess plans to effect change.