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Anthropology and the Public Interest. Fieldwork and Theory by Peggy Reeves Sanday

By Peggy Reeves Sanday

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The matter of priorities regarding sacrifice goes even deeper. To illustrate where it can lead, I want to recall what Raymond Firth (1959) found upon his return to Tikopia in 1950. Tikopia had just been hit by a devastating typhoon, and much of its food resources had been destroyed. Tikopian social organization ranks every family vis-à-vis every other family by criteria of genealogical seniority. The highest ranking household heads are the high chiefs, the next highest ranking household heads are the lesser chiefs, and so on.

Because of NEPA, it has become possible for the archeologist to work with federal, state, and private agencies to begin to insure that cultural resources (though to date emphasis has been on archeological resources) are adequately incorporated into the planning processes of those agencies. The goal now is to first preserve those resources intact and only as a last resort to excavate unless there is an urgent and immediate scientific need to develop the knowledge which those resources represent.

No anthropologist worth his salt would go to an exotic area without trying to find out everything he could about it first—unless obsessed with the notion that one had to go without any prior impressions at all. Nevertheless, the ideal of intellectual nudity seems to be not uncommon among some who would work in the jungles of bureaucracy. There is a great deal to learn about the fieldwork situation in advance—more if one is working in a complex society than in a simpler one—and, in many ways, it is easier to learn because a lot of it has been codified.

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