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By Peggy Reeves Sanday
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Despite the fact that inquiry into the actual payoff of social scientific research is regarded by some of my colleagues as being in bad taste, if not slightly obscene, I believe that the question must be faced. Policy-relevant research needs to be the subject of research in order to know its influence (if any) on policy and to know the actual effects of that policy where implemented. It is not enough to accept the money, to do the study, and then to walk away. Too often—as Margaret Mead and her colleagues remarked in their report on the Thailand affair—the social scientist has regarded the bureaucrat who awards money in the hope of some tangible payoff as a candidate for wily exploitation via clever grantsmanship.
The point remains, however, that there is no way an anthropologist, starting cold, can go out and do a quick survey to learn the emic categories of another culture. If planners want information on the aspects of a culture that are relevant to their planning, either they must consult anthropologists who have already acquired expertise in the culture in question or they must turn to bicultural nonanthropologists, to persons who can deal with the planners in the planners' terms and who, at the same time, are competent in the other culture.
For without it, policymakers will be unwilling to grant that the different values of others deserve recognition; they will be unwilling to give up some of their own interest group's prerogatives and power to achieve cross-culturally acceptable priorities; and they will be unwilling to look upon policy making as a process of negotiation among representatives of their society's several groups. Rather, they will be more inclined to see policy as a determination of what is best for society solely from the viewpoint of their own interest group.
Anthropology and the Public Interest. Fieldwork and Theory by Peggy Reeves Sanday