Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

An anthropological response to the call for cultural midwives based on three case studies of communities

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  • The ecological crisis, recognized by scientists as well as an increasing number of lay people urges a response from a variety of disciplines. The consideration of sustainability requires the help of a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, which can contribute an ability to identify cultural patterns that impede cultural change towards sustainability, skills to describe culturally appropriate responses to situations, and capabilities to cultivate changes in lifestyles as aspired to by the group. I tell the story of three groups focused on sustainable communities. I narrate these with a postmodern approach. In the case studies, I combined techniques from applied anthropology (rapid appraisal, participant observation, focus groups, and interviews) with postmodern techniques (consideration of context, shared authority, multi-vocality, and co-creative ethnography). This study explores the effectiveness of facilitating changes through the use of anthropology and empowering participants so they can continue to make changes. The study also explores the effectiveness of combining applied and postmodern techniques. One example of this, and the hallmark of the project, is the photographic, co-creative ethnography, which, representing the work of one local group, invited imagined future sustainable lifestyles, and continued to build community bonds between participants. The collaborative ethnography engaged individuals in the ethnographic process, inviting them to contribute their voices and images. In the case studies, I explored questions such as what are cultural obstacles to living a sustainable lifestyle, what specific cultural strengths can foster an ecological identity, and what can applied anthropology offer non-governmental organizations working on similar topics? I also explore emic definitions of what is the community, what are its needs, and what is sustainability? Further, objectives include reinvigorating community bonds, testing the assumption that public participation in the process is more effective than a process dictated by an outside expert, and exploring the dual role of participant and researcher. I compared the two local case studies of communities of interest in community and sustainability with a national organization working similarly towards sustainability. After analysis of my research questions, I discuss the potential for the applied anthropologist as midwife based on my experiences with the case studies. The applied anthropologist attempts to respond to local level concerns and issues about the environment and reducing human impact, while building community. The action-oriented approach is similar to that of a midwife, which facilitates empowerment of the community involved to birth a more ecological identity. The approach has eight phases (recognition of a need, contact, dialogue, definition of needs, definition of the community, developing a plan of action, implementation, and evaluation), which provide opportunities for changes to occur in the behaviors and beliefs of the participants. The approach incorporates systems thinking to comprehend complex situations and to bring systematic approach to the process. The applied anthropologist as midwife fosters development of a sustainable community identity through the unique process.
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