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Anthropology Goes Public in the VA



Anthropology Goes Public in the VA


Almost a decade ago, in 2004, noted anthropologist Louise Lamphere observed a “sea change” in anthropology, with the interests of applied, practicing, and public interest anthropologists converging around the themes of increased collaborations and partnerships, outreach to the public, and efforts to influence policy. The sea change was concretized in anthropology’s flagship journal, American Anthropologist, with the 2010 inauguration of the “Public Anthropology Reviews” section. Public anthropology, arguably the convergence that Lamphere foretold, represents an expansion of the value and relevance of anthropology, as well as a shift in the production and dissemination of knowledge. Furthermore, as Nancy Scheper-Hughes articulated in 2009, public anthropology involves not only responding to public issues but making public issues. Anthropologists working in the federal sector, such as the Veterans Administration (VA), realize the challenges and rewards of practicing public anthropology on a daily basis. The movement of anthropologists into the largest integrated health care system in the U.S. exemplifies the sea change toward public anthropology, particularly with regard to the contributions our discipline can make to improving health care. This volume addresses three key aspects of the contributors’ voices within a growing anthropology in/of/for the VA. First, we describe pathways and approaches to practicing anthropology in the VA. Second, we characterize anthropological contributions to Veteran empowerment efforts. Finally, we illustrate how anthropology informs current dialogues and policies related to Veterans at the margins of health and social services. Within and across these themes, issues of praxis, ethics, action, and service are highlighted. Collectively the contributors resonate with—and exemplify—Scheper-Hughes’s contention that public anthropology is a “precious right and a privilege.”