Storytelling and Social Justice
On October 14th and 15th, 2015 a conference was held in Prague entitled “Making Anthropology Matter.” The discussion centered around European professional anthropologists’ ongoing concerns about how to best apply their largely-academic research efforts. Many anthropologists hope to usefully relate their findings to contemporary social concerns.
With this in mind, most conference participants spoke about the tension they feel exists between the contemporary liberal values of engagement, advocacy and social justice, with the problems of finding research funding as well as more general academic support. Funders and employers often hope to persuade researchers to circumvent a fundamental, scientific requirement that requires independent and politically unbiased inquiry.
Easa – short for the European Association of Social Anthropologists – focused on this stubborn but important contemporary issue in their two-day gathering in Prague. The issue chosen for debate was one that is on everyone’s mind. Many spoke about the special skills anthropologists have, through participant-based, long-term work, to provide a new perspective.
Brenda Beck spoke to the group about her own efforts in applying the results of her fifty years of anthropological research, her South Indian Tamil-language story materials that have been collected by her over more than five decades. Her talk, largely autobiographical, was entitled “Repurposing Stories to Teach About Social Justice.” Her comments featured both Canada and India-based experimental middle and secondary school applications. Several teachers in both countries have recently begun to use materials rooted in her life-long interest in a South Indian folk epic known (in English) as The Legend of Ponnivala story.