What particular advantages do anthropologists have in trying to solve social problems?

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous answer gives a good illustration of how anthropologists of a particular culture can bring their understanding of the culture's history and development to bear on modern questions facing sociologists. Another good example of this would be Native American cultural anthropologists, whose knowledge of the history of Native American relations with alcohol has been drawn upon by modern sociologists hoping to minimize the problems with alcoholism that can be found on some Native American reservations. Anthropologists have helped trace the path of alcoholism through Native American societies through their early production of weak beers for ceremonial and ritual purposes to the sudden introduction of strong spirits by European colonists, an introduction which disrupted the natural development of alcohol within these societies and first caused the problems.

Another advantage anthropologists may have in terms of addressing social problems, however, is that anthropologists who have studied the development of any society may be able to bring their knowledge of one society to bear on another. Anthropology generally holds that most societies develop in similar ways. As such, social issues that are no longer huge problems in some societies can be expected to peter out similarly in others. Anthropologists of those societies where the problems have been solved can bring their knowledge of how that happened and suggest solutions based on this understanding.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If anthropologists have a special advantage in trying to solve social problems, the advantage comes about because they are better equipped than people in other disciplines to clearly understand how a particular culture functions. 

Anthropologists tend to immerse themselves in a culture.  They typically live within the culture, trying to understand it through close observation of the people of that culture.  By doing this, they arguably get a much clearer and more thorough understanding of a culture than people in other social science disciplines do.

This can give anthropologists an advantage in trying to solve social problems.  Let us take the problem of domestic violence, for example.  Anthropologists can use their thorough understanding of the culture to try to identify what, exactly causes domestic violence to occur in that culture.  This might be in contrast to sociologists who can only identify which parts of the culture are more prone to domestic violence.  By understanding the causes of domestic violence more clearly, the anthropologists are in a better position to suggest solutions that can effectively combat the problem.

Social problems are, by definition, the products of society.  Since anthropologists understand societies more deeply than other scholars, they might have a particular advantage in trying to devise ways to solve such problems.

Jane Ames eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Education and training are special assets for anthropologists. However, there is another crucial factor that enables anthropologists to solve social problems in ways that others cannot: perspective. Anthropologists tend to study the cultures and phenomena of groups of people to which they do not belong. Anthropologists are usually not entrenched in the circumstances, artifacts, and behaviors they study. They are outsiders, strangers. This affords them a unique point of view.

The everyday rituals of their subjects are unfamiliar to anthropologists and provoke questions other people (namely, those familiar and comfortable with the subject's world) simply do not think about. The average person does not analyze the everyday components of their life, because they are mundane, normal, and familiar. For the majority of anthropologists, these same activities are unfamiliar, and their newness inspires curiosity.

This is why anthropologists are well-versed in how to ask clear yet probing questions—to divulge the root causes and explanations for human behavior. As outsiders to their subjects, anthropologists are expected to have questions about everyday occurrences. Their understanding of a group of people is built from a clean slate: information gathered and analyzed diligently over time from their subjects.