For those of us who have fantasized over the years that the world would be a better place if anthropologists had a voice in government, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that applied anthropologists working in government settings have succeeded in raising awareness of, and respect for, anthropological ideas beyond the classroom. The bad news is that anthropologists face a long road ahead before the field is ready to exercise this newfound agency in leading the direction of research and policy on social problems. Our recent work on health disparities found that the obstacles we encountered were rooted in the habits of practicing anthropology rather than in any oppressive force of bureaucracy or hierarchy of professional knowledge underlying the structure of the government work context. Anthropology is most comfortable on the margins of both community and debate. Our methods and ethics prioritize the values and desires of the communities with which we work above our own bias; our theories and analyses produce holistic perspectives and cultural criticism rather than definitive stances. Although the position of informed outsider has its advantages in the contexts of anthropological research, it has proven to interfere with our work in the community of the federal government.

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