Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Art Hansen, May 22, 2003

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:15 - Influences on early applied anthropology / Influences on Hansen's career

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Partial Transcript: We're getting ready to start here. Hi, I'm Martha Rees, I'm a professor of anthropology at Agnes Scott College, and I'm here interviewing on May 22nd, 2003, Art Hansen who is an associate professor in the department of international affairs and development at Clark Atlanta.

Segment Synopsis: Rees first asks Hansen what he thinks were early influences upon the development of applied and practicing anthropology and how practicing anthropology got started. Hansen states that he thinks a lot of early influences came from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1940s and from people doing anthropology in industrial floor shop work. He then discusses how he thinks anthropology has largely abandoned study into things like rural society and industrial/labor relations, relinquishing them to other disciplines. Rees then asks Hansen how he got into anthropology, to which he replies that he had only taken one course in anthropology during his senior year of college, but it was really when he joined the Peace Corps that he became interested in it. He elaborates that he read a book by Edward T. Hall, "The Silent Language," and this book left an impression on him while he was in Bolivia, where he was trying to affect social change. He went to graduate school to try to find out why international development wasn't working the way he thought it should and that's how he got started in anthropology. Hansen discusses how he chose Cornell University for its focus on applied anthropology but, when he got there, the department had abandoned it because of thought surrounding the validity of applied anthropology and recent ethical controversies involving it. Hansen describes the shift that occurred in the late 1970s when many anthropologists were graduating with PhDs but there were no academic jobs for them. He theorizes that this contributed to renewed discussion over the relevance of applied anthropology to the overall discipline. Hansen then discusses that it took him a long time to find a focus in anthropology because nothing at university spoke to him due to it not being relevant to the world but grounded in theoretical thought. Rees asks Hansen about the nature of field work during his time at university. Hansen describes fieldwork during his university days as being fairly unattainable because it was unaffordable for most college students. The only fieldwork most students could afford to do was in the U.S., which, traditionally, was not considered anthropology unless it was done with Native Americans. In response to Rees asking what tricks he has that make him a practicing anthropologist, Hansen replies that understanding that there's more than one perspective and the understanding of ethnocentrism and willingness to apply it to ourselves are the tricks one should use when being an applied anthropologist to gain a greater insight and perspective into what one is studying. Hansen addresses dissenting voices, refuting the claim that you must use anthropological theory, methods, and be asking anthropological questions in order to be considered an anthropologist. He explains that he still utilizes anthropological disciplinary focus, but he is seeking answers for the world and not for the discipline. Hansen addresses the stigma that has haunted anthropology for a long time: that one has to have a PhD and be a university professor in order to be legitimate and successful.

Keywords: Academia; Applied Anthropology; Cross-cultural communication; Edward T. Hall; Ethnocentrism; Field work; Fieldwork; Influences; Peace Corps; Perspective; Practitioners; The Silent Language; University

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Cross cultural communication; Field work; Fieldwork; Influences; Society for Applied Anthropology

00:23:30 - Unexpected dissertation research in Zambia

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Partial Transcript: And, so, um, tell me any funny stories, or stories about maybe your first field work, or maybe the first time--like, maybe some more about what was happening to you in the Dominican Republic.

Segment Synopsis: Rees asks Hansen if he has any funny or interesting stories to tell about his first fieldwork. Hansen first explains that he had always assumed that he would be conducting his dissertation in Bolivia and would be focusing on Latin America. However, after finding himself in Zambia for his wife's dissertation research, he quickly became enamored with his experience there. Hansen discusses how his past position as a development worker did not allow him a position to learn from people, but his position in Zambia as a student allowed him this perspective that he had missed out on in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. Rees and Hansen discuss how much things have changed in grad school, talking about how they were taught nothing about research methods when they were in grad school and Hansen states that he tries to make sure that his students don't make the same mistakes he did as a young researcher. Hansen describes how he became involved with refugees in Zambia and they unintentionally became the subject of his dissertation research. He explains that the refugee population didn't really trust him as a foreign white man to admit to him that they were foreign refugees until right before he was going to return to the U.S. and they felt that they had nothing to lose. He describes how he ended up staying in Zambia for another year collecting data and tells his students to also collect data that excites them, but to make sure and stick to their original dissertation research as well so that they don't come back with holes in their dissertation. He elaborates on this notion by explaining the difficulties he faced in his own dissertation after collecting all of this unplanned data with almost no background literature to back it up.

Keywords: Dissertation research; Dissertations; Grad research; Grad schools; Graduate research; Graduate schools; Perspectives; Post-Vietnam; Post-Vietnam War; Refugees; Research methods; Zambia

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Perspective; Refugees; Research methods; Society for Applied Anthropology; Zambia

00:38:43 - Post-dissertation--War's impact on socialization

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Partial Transcript: So after you finished your dissertation on refugees, then, then you continued that?

Segment Synopsis: Hansen talks about what he started to do after finishing his dissertation research. He describes how he met a colleague, Tony Oliver-Smith, who had a similar dissertation experience to him where his entire dissertation subject changed because of unexpected events. Hansen discusses how he and Oliver-Smith studied completely different cultural areas, Africa and Latin America, and different research populations, townsfolk and rural refugees. However, Hansen explains that, despite these differences, the two of them found a lot of commonalities between these displaced people. Hansen makes a distinction that the issues he and Oliver-Smith were interested in were questions of reality, not of the theoretical. Hansen then discusses his interest in child soldiers and their reintegration into society. He is interested in what happens to culture when the next generation that is supposed to carry it on have been raised through militaristic socialization and what happens to gender relations and equality after militaristic notions have altered perceptions of gender roles/relations. Hansen explains that these kinds of issues get swept under the rug once conflicts are over and society returns to "normal." Issues get ignored rather than addressed by society. Rees asks Hansen what anthropologists can do to bring attention to these issues and Hansen explains that they can examine questions that aren't being examined, push issues into the academic agenda, use research to illuminate practical policies, and get involved with the actual programs you are studying. Hansen further elaborates on the issues facing unsocialized children once they become adults. He states that, although anthropology as a discipline has come a long way from only being interested in studying social continuity, the inclusion of actual people in crisis is still in the minority of studies. Hansen discusses the task force put together by the AAA and its goal addressing famine in Africa. He explains that although there was tons of experience in studying food security in Africa, almost nothing had been written about it because it hadn't been considered appropriate to the discipline. Hansen states that the potential to contribute with gathered information is only being slowly accepted by anthropology as a discipline as professional. Rees and Hansen then discuss how anthropology is more interested in things like identity rather than questions of how people make a living. Hansen states that any contribution to theory made by him is the byproduct, not the goal, of his research on refugees.

Keywords: Agency; American Anthropological Association (AAA); Anthropology; Child soldiers; Disaster anthropology; Forced displacement; Gender; Gender equality; Gender inequality; Gender relations; Refugees; Socialization; Triple A

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Child soldiers; Refugees; Socialization; Society for Applied Anthropology

01:02:51 - Evolution of gender, race, and class since the 1960s and 1970s

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Partial Transcript: Um, I have lots of questions to ask you more, but, but that sort of go off our topics.

Segment Synopsis: Rees asks Hansen how he thinks notions of gender, race, and class have changed since the 1960s and 1970s. Hansen answers that he thinks the most dramatic shift has been in gender. He discusses how, post-Vietnam War, the civil rights movement had not really moved on to gender and he himself had not even thought much about it at that point. However, he explains that, by the '70s, gender issues began to gain more attention and he and other men in academia were asking what gender quality meant in practice. Hansen describes how there was significant justifiable anger from women at the time and that some of it had been directed at him. He explains that, although he wasn't a direct cause of inequality, he had directly benefited from the system as a man and therefore was partially responsible. Hansen depicts how much of the discussion at the time reflected notions of masculinity as superior and women trying to be like men, distancing themselves from notions of submissiveness and femininity. Hansen describes an exercise he gave his students where they often set up a character for failure regardless of whether they were men or women. However, with women, the fear of failure was attached with a role conflict between being professional and a wife/mother while, for men, fear of failure was attached to the pressure of achievement and its reflection on one's identity. Rees and Hansen discuss the uniqueness of anthropology as being unusually gender equal in terms of demographic numbers, but still overwhelmingly white. This leads Hansen into discussing how notions of race didn't change much for him because he grew up and participated in the civil rights movement with a focus on racial equality, rather than being blindsided by it like he was by gender equality. Hansen then begins to discuss class and the common notion of American society being "classless," essentially "all middle-class while ignoring the fact that there is an upper class and a huge invisible underclass." However, Hansen admits that even he subconsciously ignores the fact that he isn't colorblind, acknowledging his being raised in a racist society. He goes on to discuss how it is a treat to teach at a historically black school and how, instead of teaching on what issues minorities face and what their perspective is, he has to teach on what the majority perspective and line of thinking is to his students.

Keywords: Civil rights; Civil rights movement; Class; Equality; Femininity; Gender; Gender expectations; Gender roles; Inequality; Masculinity; Race; Women

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Equality; Gender expression; Race; Social classes; Social classes--United States; Society for Applied Anthropology

01:13:53 - Building cultural bridges--Sexuality and Africa

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Partial Transcript: Um, well gosh, I've got other questions to ask, but one of the--one thi--um, I don't know, I would ask you what did you learn in grad school?

Segment Synopsis: Rees asks Hansen what he learned in grad school and what students should do if they were going to study anthropology. Hansen answers that it is really important for students to interact and have personal experiences with people from other cultures. He describes how providing students with an opportunity in class to talk with people from other societies and ask them questions in a safe space is very productive and beneficial to them. He explains that students often don't associate with people different from them outside of classrooms. Hansen describes his experience in teaching a human sexuality class. He explains that he would bring gay and lesbian students to the class so that students could talk with them and see that they were very much like them, that their sexualities played only a small part in who they are as people. Hansen says that this is such a part of anthropology, opening people's minds to different realities and perspectives. Hansen also describes how in Africa and Latin America, male friends often hold hands with each other. He describes how he would have a male friend of his walk to class with him holding hands and talk for a bit before having him leave, then ask the class if he himself was gay. This kind of exercise helped teach students that the same behavior may mean different things cross-culturally and had them confront their own judgement and ethnocentrism. Rees asks Hansen if he learned any similar lessons from his students. He replies that he can't think of anything from students, but he remembers something he learned from colleagues. Hansen explains that he often gave presentations on his research in Africa, showing poor rural refugees. However, his colleagues would visit and give presentations on Africa, beginning with images of modern Africa with department stores, technology, etc. Hansen explains that this opened his eyes that he should provide different perspectives of Africa to show that it isn't all poor and destitute like the common perception it has in western culture.

Keywords: African culture; Anti-ethnocentrism; Cultural behavior; Cultural bridging; Cultural understanding; Ethnocentrism; LGBT; LGBTQ; LGBTQ+; Perspective; Sexuality

Subjects: African culture; Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Perspective; Sexuality & culture; Society for Applied Anthropology

01:21:27 - Family and fieldwork

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Partial Transcript: Well, another thing you mentioned here was your family, and having kids, and how that's affected you.

Segment Synopsis: Rees inquires about how Hansen's family life has impacted his career. Hansen responds that it has and begins describing how family life was regarded by the anthropological establishment at the time of the birth of his first child. He explains that family was seen as a hindrance for a male or female anthropologist that only got in the way of research. Hansen describes the negative reaction of his wife's committee and the examples of anthropologists like Elizabeth Colson and Margaret Meade who either didn't marry or settle down. However, Hansen explains that having a family while conducing fieldwork worked in his favor because it established him as a normal and relatable person to the populations he studied and provided him with many participant observation opportunities. Hansen describes how his wife chose to study the Luvale in Zambia and how they navigated their way in a tense situation of conflict between the Luvale and Lunda. He explains that his connections/permissions with/from the chieftain of the area and the government helped to protect his family and allow the continuation of his wife's fieldwork. After explaining this, Hansen states that he only worked on gender and genealogies rather than politics while he was in the area because of the local conflict. Rees asks Hansen if his children hated being the children of anthropologists. Hansen replies that his son believed that academics work too hard for too little pay so he avoided the profession. Rees and Hansen discuss a bit more about how the children of anthropologists don't usually follow in the footsteps of their parents.

Keywords: Children; Family; Field work; Fieldwork; Indigenous power structure; Luvale; National power structure; Networking; Zambia

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Family life; Field work; Fieldwork; Luvale (African people); Luvale (African people)--Politics and government; Luvale (African people)--Social life and customs; Society for Applied Anthropology; Zambia

01:31:37 - Scott Robinson / Work in Florida

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Partial Transcript: Okay, now talk about Scott Robinson.

Segment Synopsis: Rees asks Hansen how he met Scott Robinson. Hansen explains that he met Robinson at the 1972 AAA meeting in New Orleans (corrects himself later in the interview as 1969) and had invited him to stay at his family's farmhouse since he was finishing up his dissertation at Cornell. Hansen, his wife, and his child traveled with Robinson from Ithaca, New York for his wedding in Mexico City the summer of the following year. Hansen then begins reviewing the years that have been covered in the interview and corrects himself on what year he met Robinson. Hansen explains that he returned to Cornell following his wife's Zambia fieldwork and then was in Florida by 1973. He discusses how he had to find a job since his wife already had a job at the University of Florida. Hansen describes how he got a job at Miami University studying Hispanic culture as part of a multicultural study of drug use, but was enticed back to Florida by a job offer there in 1975. After arriving at Florida, Hansen studied Hispanic refugees, mostly Cuban, in the U.S.

Keywords: Cuban Hispanics; Cubans; Florida; Hispanic Cubans; Hispanics; Miami; Multi-cultural study; Multicultural; Multicultural study; Refugees; Scott Robinson; University of Florida; University of Miami

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Cubans; Hispanics in the United States; Refugees; Society for Applied Anthropology; University of Florida; University of Miami

01:37:22 - Marketing oneself as an applied anthropologist

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Partial Transcript: So what should we do in the future, man?

Segment Synopsis: After Rees asks what should be done in the future in anthropology, Hansen begins to answer by addressing the dichotomy between academically-minded faculty and applied-minded students. He talks about how many undergraduates in anthropology never go on to obtain graduate degrees. Hansen questions if students with only a BA in anthropology know how they can utilize it and market themselves. Rees and Hansen discuss how BAs marketing themselves by saying they do multicultural work is a good way to stand out. Hansen discusses how Peace Corps volunteers and NGO workers can market themselves to agencies before going to grad school so that they can continue on the same track. Rees asks Hansen where his students end up going after graduating. Hansen answers that many of them end up working for NGOs, the state department, and public health programs. Hansen adds that about one third of his students are foreign and provide a minority perspective. Hansen stresses that welfare agencies need people who are sensitive to other people and this is where anthropology stands out.

Keywords: Dichotomy; Graduate anthropology; Multi-cultural perspective; Multicultural perspective; Non-governmental organizations (NGOs); Public health programs; State department; Undergraduate anthropology

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Perspective; Society for Applied Anthropology

01:43:25 - Anthropology and the state--The danger of introspection

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Partial Transcript: Okay, well, I've got more things, um, I guess--I'll ask you to add anything else, but my last question that I had in my little list is, um, what's the relationship between anthropology, practicing anthropology, or applied anthropology and the state?

Segment Synopsis: Rees asks Hansen about he relationship between anthropology and the government. Hansen describes the often at-odds relationship between liberal academia and conservative government, but the shift following 9/11/2001 where academics were more willing to work with the government, recognizing the need for intelligence. Hansen discusses that as a society, we are much more willing to accept torture as state policy and the loss of liberties for security. Hansen and Rees discuss the problem with heavy anthropological focus on being introspective rather than looking outwards. Hansen states that the third issue to him is the consciousness of other realities. He discusses the fixation on participant observation and long-term stay in a region and being embedded in culture as a good thing, but it is a problem when it is considered the only legitimate work. Rees and Hansen discuss the feeling of not feeling fully comfortable anywhere because you pick up elements from different cultures over the course of your research. They discuss the practice of making a home, being a mobile unit and other cultural examples they've picked up. Rees lists out her conclusions from the interview. Hansen emphasizes that being too introspective in anthropology is an issue and working as a "lone ranger" rather than a team member is something students shouldn't do. Hansen also recommends that applied anthropology classes go by topical names rather than generic ones so that they attract students from different disciplines.

Keywords: 9/11; Conservatism; Espionage; Government; Government relations; Intelligence; Introspection; Liberalism; Multiculturalism; Participant observation; Team work; Teamwork; Topical

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Multiculturalism; Perspective; September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001; Society for Applied Anthropology