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NSF-funded workshop aims to better train future cultural anthropologists

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November 08, 2023

What are the best methods to collect and analyze data? How should an anthropologist engage in participant observation? How can improvements be made on past practices? 

Cultural anthropologists from across the country convened on Arizona State University's Tempe campus last week as part of the Cultural Anthropology Methods Program (CAMP).

Funded by the National Science Foundation, CAMP is a continuation of efforts started in the 1950s to support methods training in cultural anthropology. Today it brings 40 distinguished faculty together with the goals of building methods curriculum for PhD students, making social science research methods accessible to a broad audience, and developing a scholarly community to support methods research in cultural anthropology.

Led by Amber Wutich, President’s Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and H. Russell Bernard, director of ASU’s Institute for Social Science Research, the CAMP workshop builds on the previous iterations of this work — which started with field schools before morphing into “camp” settings in the 1980s, led by Bernard for decades. 

“The goal of NSF CAMP is to create a big tent for research excellence, where professors, students and practicing anthropologists can learn and teach cutting-edge research methods,” Wutich said. 

According to Alissa Ruth, who is the director of strategic initiatives at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the director of education for NSF CAMP, anthropology has a long tradition of participant observation and fieldwork, during which a researcher lives and works within a community to get a better “insider perspective” of a phenomenon of interest. 

“Well-trained anthropologists who conduct fieldwork and participant observation are able to provide context to why something may be happening and recommend pathways forward,” Ruth said. “An ethnographic approach to research is a key method in cultural anthropology, and is enriched with data collection methods like interviews, surveys, cultural consensus analysis, time diaries, focal follows, observational studies, etc.

"So not only knowing how to collect data is important, but how to analyze different data is essential. This is what we are trying to do with CAMP and CAMP International.”

Taking CAMP global

This iteration of CAMP started in 2020 and is focused on building a set of resources and curriculum that will be available online, free of charge, to anyone in the world interested in building skills and knowledge in cultural anthropology research methods.

“What’s special about this camp is you,” Bernard told the room of researchers in attendance. “The people who teach methods are scattered. Bringing you here together, and building these resources online, helps to scale up our efforts.”

While at ASU, attendees recorded several lectures at the university’s recording studio. With topics ranging from decolonizing methods to gender analysis to research ethics, the lessons aim to help train future cultural anthropologists to expand their thinking and efforts when it comes to research methods. 

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Robin Nelson, NSF CAMP director of strategic planning and associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. “(Creating these online resources) is a far more integrated and inclusive approach to CAMP, especially as we work to decenter from the American-centered way we train students. This gets us much closer to what we want to be as scholars.”

With the new launch of CAMP International, the online resources will not only be made available to people around the world to watch and learn — they will also be able to upload their own lectures in any language. This way, the resources are able to reach broader audiences, making them more accessible and inclusive on a global scale.

To help accomplish this, organizers have also teamed up with other anthropological organizations to broaden their reach, including the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, the Canadian Anthropological Society, and the Asociación de Antropología del Estado Español, among others.

“Anthropology has always been a global field. The launch of NSF CAMP International will help anthropologists from around the world learn from each other about global research methods innovations,” Wutich said. 

The organizers for CAMP International expect their online resource library to become available online and worldwide by summer 2024.

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