Thursday, May 9, 2013

Research Ethics in Anthropology: Problems in/with the field

Recently there has been a lot of bioanthropology buzz about sexual harassment and assault in “the field”, the diverse, global settings in which professional anthropologists of various types, and their students, do their research.  This comes at present on the heels of a brief presentation at the recent American Association of Physical Anthropology (AAPA) 2013 meeting, in which a speaker presented results of a rather informal survey poll in which respondents reported various degrees of sexual harassment, ranging from relatively informal intimidating to true assault.  Regardless of the details, the results show that these issues are alive and well in Anthropology.   

Of course lots of people have lots of opinions about such things, and sexual attractions and behaviors have many subtle nuances and misperceptions, as do other aspects of the ethics of working in field sites with a hierarchical authority structure, international collaborators and hosts, and so on.  But what was not part of the presentation, and what seems not really to have resulted so far is some form of realistic call to action that might be implemented.  Perhaps the action will follow the shock and anger, but that isn’t a given.  And while this topic isn’t anything new, (see the post and figure here or the blog post here), it does lead one to think about a few things in new ways. 

For example, my first thought when hearing about the presentation at the AAPA meetings was: Well, this type of thing also happens right here in the ivory tower – so of course it happens out there (in “the field”), too.  Abuse (not just sexual in nature) occurs in households, churches, schools, neighborhoods; it happens anywhere that there are people who are vulnerable to being abused.  Having spent the last several years around Penn State, with our Sandusky child-abuse scandal, this is painfully obvious. 

Do these types of things occur more frequently in the sometimes isolated settings of “the field”?  I don’t really know, and the types of self-reporting web-based surveys being used aren’t going to tell us that with any easily knowable precision, at least not from a statistical standpoint.  However, I do a fair share of fieldwork and I do see how things can get strange rather quickly.  Some people behave more poorly than normal when they are away from authority figures.  Furthermore, different cultures have different norms, ascribe different meanings to different body language, and people who don’t belong to those cultures can quickly get lost in the midst.  Not everyone has, much less understands, the same rules of conduct,

Perhaps, however, the University is a place where these types of things happen more frequently than in other places.  Fiduciary relationships are commonly barred in work settings outside of academia.  I would argue with reason too.  There are lots of reasons why the boss shouldn’t be sleeping with the employees: including favoritism, exploitative relationships, and the ever present potential for things to go too far in an unprofessional work place setting.  But these rules aren’t always present in academia.  Many universities do not have rules barring professors from sleeping with their students.  Even in places where there are rules, those rules are likely to be different with regard to graduate students.  And that is where I think things get really tricky.  Of course a graduate student could develop genuine romantic feelings for a professor and vice versa.  But with the HUGE power differential in place between student and professor, I think the chances for things to quickly go wrong, most likely with untoward consequences for the student, are too great.  

Now, back to “the field”, and I don’t mean the field of Anthropology, I mean...  actually, what is meant by “the field”?  Is it only the place where I collect my data?  Can I do some analysis and even write a paper there too?  Is my field someone else’s home? (For a lot of anthropologists, and their local collaborators, students, or work-hands, yes, it is).  And if my field is someone else’s home, then what does that mean with regard to all of these issues?  I’ve seen enough Americans acting ridiculously while abroad to know that ethical issues go both ways. 

It has to be said as well that in Anthropology, maybe even more than other fields(?), there are those who feel that exerting sexual pressures is part of evolution, and hence is natural, as is sexual inequality and initiative, and that it is unrealistic to expect otherwise.  This explicitly Darwinian evolutionary view may mainly be a convenient rationale for the aggressor, but it is sometimes held unapologetically.  The point is that there is by no means a consensus about what is and isn't acceptable behavior, and that may be why there is a need for some forms of rules.  As with other areas such as respect for property, language, and dress codes, regardless of one's personal ideas about behavioral ethics, one simply would have to agree to the rules and code, and its sanctions, as a condition of access to field settings. 

I’ll close by suggesting that we should be active in fixing this, at least to the extent that we can in the context of a society (our own) in which sexual harassment and abuse are all too common.  I’m not the expert, but perhaps as a group, Anthropologists and other scientists can be.  I see answers to these issues as being broadly split into two main foci: one looking at victims (those who could be or already are) and one looking at the aggressors.  I am sure others can imagine additional ways to address the problem, but here at least is a start.

From a victim standpoint, we could:
1.)    Look at ways of reducing danger when possible.  My introduction to fieldwork was something akin to baptism by fire and I have a feeling it is the same for many others.  Perhaps training prior to actually doing fieldwork should be required (but by who?)  Real or fictional stories could be presented to students about to begin fieldwork.  We can’t delve into blaming victims here, but many times you can be your most reliable part of the equation.  It’s not always possible to control your surroundings and settings, but constantly being aware could at least sometimes help.
2.)   Make it relatively easy and painless for people who are being mistreated to report it.  This can be a real obstacle.  Sometimes groups of people, even prominent institutions, make it hard on victims to speak out.  Sometimes speaking out jeopardizes an entire project or at least the reporter's involvement in it. If we care about fixing this problem, we’ve got to make this step less intimidating, and ensure that victims are a priority.  Furthermore, institutional legal help should be geared toward helping victims seek retribution rather than covering legal butts.  (I know, I know – wishful thinking.  But while I’m making a wish list…)
From the aggressor standpoint:
1.)   Sometimes bad situations can arise simply out of poorly managed operations.  We should start with the assumption that people don’t want to be jerks, and perhaps give faculty who are leading field teams the training they need in order to avoid harmful situations for them and their students.  Perhaps a code of ethics that addresses these sorts of issues should be a mandatory aspect of NSF and NIH grant proposals.  Perhaps our universities and professional affiliations should take an active role too. 
2.)   We need ways to harshly punish perpetrators of abuse, and the teeth must be large, sharp and jagged.  Grants should be at stake, as should professional reputations, academic positions, tenure, and pay.
3.)  Furthermore, not all perpetrators are affiliates of our universities.  Some are residents of our “field” sites, etc.  It is perhaps even more difficult to find ways of policing their action, since they are likely to be under different laws and institutional rules.  However, I would argue that grant money, or more accurately, the threat of losing grant money, can go a long way.  
It’s true that these issues aren’t confined to Anthropology, or to field sites, but that doesn’t mean that the field shouldn’t recognize that there is a problem, and work on ways to address it.  You might think that students, being dependent on mentors and pretty much powerless in the academic hierarchy, are exactly the wrong people to address this.  But we’re also the ones with a lot to lose if we don’t.

This post was contributed to by Dan, Anne and Ken.  Also, thanks to several others for thoughtful insights and conversations, including faculty in the Department of Anthropology (PSU) and Jessica Westin.


JKW said...

I'm happy to see a post about "research ethics," but I'm disappointed that the focus is limited to only one issue discussed at the recent AAPA symposium. As for sexual harassment specifically, we need to remember that sexual harassment is a legal issue, not just an ethical one. Regardless of whether the harassment took place in the field, the home institution and field work supervisors can be held legally accountable (notwithstanding jurisdictional challenges). The "aggressor" is not just the person doing the harassing - it's everyone contributing to the environment that allows it to occur there. And the "victim" is not just the person harassed - often witnesses and ill-prepared supervisors are victims of the wrongful acts too. We also need to remember-- speaking more generally than the sexual harassment problem-- that ethical issues are involved at every stage of research (from research design to conducting the study and communicating the findings in and outside of academia), and there are many different types of research ethical issues (e.g. procedural, intrinsic, & extrinsic).

Being proactive with research ethics is critical. It's why I've been pushing for the AAPA ethics committee to be transformed from an ad hoc committee to a standing committee. The time to address ethical challenges is not when a problem arises or when we're in "crisis management" mode. Rather, the time to address the challenges and devise procedures to minimize opportunities for the problems to occur (and minimize the damaging, negative effects if/when the problems do occur) is early on. Ideally, reflection and refreshers on the positions and protocols would be regular occurrences as well.

A baseline of ethical literacy is a prerequisite to dig deeper and reach the source(s) of these problems. It sure is a shame that there aren't anthropologists and other scientists who are also trained in ethics and law to help navigate these serious areas. Oh wait...

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Weiss said...

These are all very good points. I'm hoping that someone--maybe here--could take a lead and try to develop some more crystallized thoughts about this.

Clearly there are other issues such as legitimate and other ways to spend research funds in the field, documentation of informed consent or for bringing field materials back home and so on.

But since anthropologists work in countries with very different policies or ethical codes (and/or with various forms of open or subtle corruption), we can try to impose our standards on our people or anyone local working under our support. They could be required to sign an agreement about ethics as a condition of participating in a field study.

But interactions may not always fall into clear categories. The exquisitely delicate aspects of dealing with foreign collaborators in their own countries are not new, but are subtle. So I think the problem is not easy to solve entirely, but at least we can insist that 'our' people behave properly.

More formalized ethical training, rather than rote (often snickered at) pro forma training, would be important.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment JKW - I think we agree on everything you said. And you’re absolutely right that we shouldn’t just focus on sexual harassment, let alone sexual harassment in anthropology (or more narrowly, bioanthropology). Part of my inspiration to write this was partly based on that fact, and that I’m more shocked that people seem shocked that this occurs. On the other hand, I could write a book about all of the things that should be addressed with regard to ethics and it wouldn't quite fit into a single blog post. Sometimes focus is OK.

Regardless – what do we do to get the ball rolling? Will bioanthropologists be shocked now and forget about it later? Or will something come of this? For example, what would it take to have a standing committee at AAPA? And would that start fixing this problem?

Ken Weiss said...

I think that standing committees are important in principle but can become rote formalities rather than seriously affecting entities. But if there were a document, accepted, say, by NIH, NSF, and the AAPA (and AAA, etc.) that participants in field research were required to sign and keep on file, this might help.

But could there be agreement, much less enforcement?

Holly Dunsworth said...

"I’m more shocked that people seem shocked that this occurs."

They're not shocked it occurs. They're shocked it's being publicly acknowledged and that, upon reflection, it's taken us this long to do so.

It might be hard to imagine, but this subtle distinction matters to victims. When people say dismissive things like (not that you did, but for example), "oh honey, we've known it's been happening at site X for a long time," or such things, that hurts victims who have felt powerless to say anything. It makes them feel stupid/weak/ridiculous and like their experience isn't as worthy of scrutiny since it occurred at a known site or in a known field or in a known species, etc.

Thanks for talking about this on the MT!!

Ken Weiss said...

Maybe MT could be a forum for this, though we aren't the ones who had anything to do with the AAPA talk that we did hear.

That issues like sexual harassment exist isn't surprising but as you say it's important that they be acknowledged so they can be dealt with.

But just tsk-tsking isn't enough nor is ranting about boys' inability to keep control of themselves. Nor is just drafting some kind of blanket statement about how wrong it is, etc. What is needed is a cogent, concise kind of policy.

The problem is generating it, getting people to agree to it and enforce it, and yet recognizing the subtleties that apply in this very personal arena of human affairs.

Holly Dunsworth said...

I think one major obstacle is that there is A LOT of grabass and consensual hanky panky in the field and people do not want their opportunity for that to be diminished.

Holly Dunsworth said...

"A LOT" might not be a scientific fact.

Katie Hinde said...

Data collection for our study, which combines both survey and interview components, closes tomorrow. Here is a link to the survey: This survey allows us to do an initial survey of the landscape of experiences and identify important co-variates (such as having a code of conduct at the field site). So far there have been >500 respondents from numerous disciplines that engage in fieldwork. We discuss many of the issues that you bring up in the detailed description of the initial results at the AAPA all of which, including the slides is here: This is such an important topic and one particularly worthwhile thing is that many of our colleagues are contributing their voices to the discussion.

Katie (Kate, Julienne, and Robin)

Julienne Rutherford said...

I'd like to share the link to Kate Clancy's blog post that describes the AAPA presentation and links to the slides themselves as I think this will help provide the context that some here seem to be concerned is lacking. We certainly acknowledge that the behaviors and actions that our respondents describe occur in many academic venues, not just "the field"; however, as the talk itself was framed, as a field-based science, anthropology needs to be aware that terrible field experiences early in a person's career have huge repercussions on the probability of success. As for what constitutes "the field," that is a call the respondent can make as there are of course a huge variety of contexts and venues, times and places, that could be construed as fieldwork. Our goal in the initial survey was to be intentionally open-ended. The survey is still live and open to folks who identify as field scientists in all disciplines, not just anthropologists.

We are actively engaged in this project for the long haul and once we have analyzed the full dataset, we intend to draw from the evidence to develop and promote guidelines for change. We are very excited and gratified to see this conversation grow. The ball is indeed rolling.

Julienne Rutherford said...

Unknown said...

Hi Holly,
Thanks for your comments. I think Dr. Madrigal's comment to Science was specifically that she was shocked that it occurred (or that it still occurs). My comment was in response to that.

And I agree with you about the unprofessional atmosphere in field settings. I guess I think that the field should be treated as a work place too.

Holly Dunsworth said...

I think the movie "M.A.S.H." demonstrates nicely how things can go wrong in the field in the name of fun. Men and women alike go gleefully along with sexual harrassment in that movie. Watching it on screen makes it clearer than living through it does.

Holly Dunsworth said...

My comment above was written while the ones above it were being posted. Bad timing.

Ken Weiss said...

So, regardless of what is gathered in the survey, the point (to me) is that we now know enough to know without any doubt that there is a problem, and what its basic features are.

So the challenge is to do something realistic and practicable, rather than the typical kind of bureaucratic pronouncements or empty gestures, to address the problem directly and effectively.

Unknown said...

Thank you to both Katie and Julienne for responding and for addressing a very real and important issue in what you are doing. That people are talking about it now is probably a huge step.

One concern that I have from a statistical standpoint has to do with the representativeness of your sample. That is, I’m not sure that we know who the underlying population is. I think what you/we really want to get at is the entire population of people who could be exposed to these types of bad situations. We would then need some type of random sample from that population in order to actually calculate rates of abuse, prevalence, incidence, etc. Otherwise we are left talking about rates, prevalence, and incidence of respondents without really knowing how representative those respondents are of the actual population at risk.

That being said, I don’t think the statistics are necessary. You’ve got really strong anecdotal evidence that this occurs. The reason I worry about the stats part is that I imagine some people could point to problems with this type of sampling in order to claim that the issue is overblown or not as severe as you say (think about climate change deniers). I think the issue is huge and hugely important and that is why I worry about this.

Holly Dunsworth said...

One victim is bad enough.

Holly Dunsworth said...

I doubt any serious anthropologist would require a sound estimate of prevalence to agree that it needs to stop. We are not a discipline of climate change deniers :)

Holly Dunsworth said...

Those sentences are not connected.

Ken Weiss said...

So, there is pretty much agreement on this! The thing now is to do what's much harder: figure out a remedy.

If the forum continues, perhaps there can be some convergence on realistic action to take.

1. What kind of 'document' or statement of policy has a viable chance of reaching consensus? (how will the nuances and ambiguities of innocent human behavior be separated from the line one doesn't cross, so enough people would sign on?)

2. How and by whom should it be implemented and enforced, if the latter is a viable option? (granting agencies? each university or institution separately? The UN?)

3. How does one address the cross-cultural and political realities of such issues? (How to get agreement with them that doesn't preclude working in their country? How to tailor cross-cultural standards?)

4. Is a single standard guide or contract something that can be designed, and how/where to implement it?

These are much harder do deal with, I think, than identifying the problem, because there is likely to be resistance about enforceability, reasonableness, and all of that sort of thing. So the challenge is now ahead of everyone interested in action.

Unknown said...

Hi Holly,
Yes, one victim is enough, more than enough. And you're right, I have yet to meet a climate change-denying anthropologist :)

Ken Weiss said...

Well Dan and Holly, I actually don't agree. There is no way to prevent an occasional aberrant person from violating any norms (or for that matter, formal constraints) that one might name. Not all the rules there are would have stopped the maverick here at Sandusky State.

But, while I completely agree that statistical rigor would be hard to achieve and somewhat beside the point, the survey data seems clearly to indicate that the problem is more than just the occasional maverick.

That (to me) is what makes it a 'policy' issue that merits some sort of structural response.

Holly Dunsworth said...

Here's the thing.
Prevalence and estimating it rigorously is important for, say, a drug company when deciding whether to invest in a cure for a disease (with X prevalence compared to Y cost, whatever). But prevalence has never, to my knowledge, factored into how humans decide to help one another.

Unknown said...

I see both of your (Ken and Holly) points and I'm not entirely sure that it is one way or the other. I'll have to think on this more.

That is, I think one is enough to cause action, but that action might be different than if we know it wasn't just a one time thing.

JKW said...

Ken, I don't think we need a "consensus" statement. I agree with you that those can be rather hollow. I also don't think that a uniform approach is preferable (since the particularities of field sites, study protocols, personnel dynamics, etc should all be considered in deciding what procedures may be appropriate).

IMO what needs to happen is that each institution, each department, each investigator must integrate ethical (and legal) considerations into our culture, particularly during planning stages -in other words, each of us needs to be responsible enough to think about these problems and have a plan in place before going out to the field (or into the lab, classroom, etc).

A standing ethics committee could serve as a valuable resource in helping members think through the particulars (not giving answers or a "seal of approval" so-to-speak but, rather, by providing guidance to make sure that certain factors have been considered during the decision-making process).

Holly Dunsworth said...

But it's not a one time thing.

If there was a perfect sampling and a good estimate of prevalence was possible to calculate, (a) let's hope it's actually smaller than the estimates from the pilot data suggest but (b) whatever it is, it's not nil. What would hypothetically change about how you go about establishing preventative measures? What's different about how you go about protecting future victims?

I've seen several people react to #safe13 (aka this) with critiques of the sampling and questions about prevalence and I'm trying to understand why these questions actually matter here. I'd love to understand if you can help...

Anne Buchanan said...

In fact, in my opinion, such measures aren't needed, particularly because, as Dan said, it's impossible to actually know the denominator. You allude to this, saying that you hope prevalence is actually lower than it seems to be from these data. Because the data are from self-selected participants, it's likely that the results will be over-estimates of 'actual' rates than would be a random sample of the population at risk.

But it doesn't matter. It's already clear, even before any statistics are done, that there's a problem. Trying to turn that into science isn't necessary, imo, in part because the statistics can't be accurate, and won't be accurate in ways we can't know, but more importantly because even one instance of harassment or abuse is too many. The focus, on my mind, should be on how to prevent it from happening, and how to sanction those at fault when it does.

Ken Weiss said...

I personally agree but think you're being utopian. Why don't we all agree not to lie, cheat, etc.?

To me--I know, I am a cynic!--committees and institutions just shove paper around and cost time and energy, but how much do they really constrain behavior, especially remotely where there aren't witnesses (as, for example, there sort of are in a mouse-housing facility).

Consensus here may be impossible, too. though I hate to say it, not every man thinks pressing one's attention on women is a wrong thing. Some thing that to do that is our Darwinian mandate (this is not me, by the way--I'm still scared of girls!).

So what to do is going to require some careful thought, to balance reaching accepted standards, but also enough constraint to have them followed most of the time. Well, perhaps like you, I'm an idealist and think it might happen....

Ken Weiss said...

The details probably don't matter so long as, as seems to be the case, they show that these are not one-off offenses. A false sense of precision could even undermine a call to some sort of action, by making the issue seem to be some sort of statistical-technical one.

Again, it's my personal view that it's important to know that this happens and not just because of rare malefactors.

Unknown said...

Hi Holly, I agree with you that it’s not a one time thing and there's plenty of evidence for that. I shouldn't speak for Ken but I think he was saying that in a hypothetical case where it was only a one time thing, then we might actually treat it differently.

I think the questions and critiques about sampling and prevalence matter because those words (rates, prevalences, etc.) have very specific meanings. That is what I was trying to say in my previous post about sampling. But you're right, people shouldn't need prevalences to be moved to make a change. So why use the term? Whats being calculated is not really a prevalence, unless we're really just interested in people who have answered the survey, and it's not necessary.

Also, in a previous comment you mentioned that some people will probably want to keep the "playful" environment that they currently have in the field (grabass, etc.) I think those same people would use questionable statistics to say that its not really a big problem in the field. Why not bypass that potential altogether? Sometimes statistics aren't necessary.

Unknown said...

This was meant to answer your question Holly, but Anne and Ken already beat me to it

JKW said...

Holly, I'm not sure if your reply is to my comment or not. I agree that one victim is one too many. This is not a one time scandal. My point is that this is indicative of an ongoing cultural problem (you can see this in business literature under the term "organizational behavior") that is not limited to anthropology. I would argue it is also merely a symptom of the toxic environment that is so pervasive in academia.

I'm suggesting that rather than talk about this as an isolated ethical problem, we need to promote ethical literacy among our profession (students, researchers, instructors, and administrators alike). Ethical literacy requires an ability to spot the problems, reason through those problems, and engage in moral imagination (See e.g. Nancy Tuana, "Conceptualizing moral literacy", Journal of Educational Administration, 2007; 45(4): 364-378. Available at

And, as I mentioned at the AAPA symposium, we need to move beyond a compliance-based ethics discussion. Each one of us can promote a different culture - one that doesn't tolerate hostile environments, harassment, or assaults and one that thinks about the broader impacts (e.g. career trajectories, well-being, etc) of both victimization and whistleblowing.

Anne Buchanan said...

And, to follow on JKW's points, a danger of inaccurate survey results, particularly if they overestimate the extent of the problem, is that Anthropology will be unduely tainted, when the problem is -- I would guess -- no greater in this field than in others.

Ken Weiss said...

Well, it could be that we were accused of just politicizing inaccurate 'estimates' of things, or of post-modernizing in the sense (whether correct or not) of just making subjective claims.

Of course, sexual harassment _is_ a subjective issue. The problem with not having a sense (that we seem now, in fact, to have) is that one might just grab the rapist, dust one's hands, and say "There, that's that!" So, while prevalence in a rigorous estimation sense may be not needed (or achievable by some sorts of surveys), there seems to be no reason to doubt the plurality and spectral nature of the offenses, which both makes it clear that some solution would be warranted, and that the spectrum of behavior--the different types of unwanted behavior--may help design some sort of preventives.

Holly Dunsworth said...

I wish we could have two separate discussions about this. One where science and statistics minded people are using it as an example for how hard it is to get a representative sample. A purely academic discussion.

Yet, separately, and COMPLETELY unrelated is the discussion of why this is happening to people and what we can do to prevent more of it or to deal with it best when it continues to happen. Another kind of discussion all together from the first one.

Holly Dunsworth said...

Now, if those are not separate discussions, I'd love to know why not. That's not sarcasm. That's sincere.

Holly Dunsworth said...

And who are we worried about misinterpreting this study and why? That would be a useful thing to flesh out.

Anne Buchanan said...

Yes, these are definitely two separate issues. Except that if the science misrepresents the problem, then the extent of the problem becomes the issue, when it's not really the issue at all. The issue should be what you say -- how to keep harassment and abuse from happening. To my mind we don't need any statistics at all. Anecdotes and reports should suffice.

Anne Buchanan said...

Prospective Anthropology students? Graduate students who are trying to decide what to do their dissertation work on, and where? And with whom?

KateClancy said...

This, for starters. But it is not rational to want, request, or need a representative sample for these research questions, not only for Holly's point (which is true) but because generally, this is not what we expect in other bio anthro research. We take selection bias into account when we do our analyses, and take people to task if they don't bother to do so. We try for as representative a sample as we can, while not demanding that folks who study human biological variation measure every human. Methodological confounds are not reasons to doubt the data, but to be careful with interpretation. Which, if you know any of the four of us on this project, is something you can trust.

Also, one last thing on selection bias: I think an argument can be made that many people will fill out the survey because they had a GREAT experience, and want that included in the sample as well. Our recruiting efforts since the preliminary analysis have also made a special effort to capture those with good experiences (because we want to see if there are interesting differences between good/bad exps) and the survey is now open to all field-based science.

We started with bio anthro because we are bio anthro, and the rapes my friends were telling me about -- you know, the ones that made it impossible for them to even open the files with their dissertation data because they would get flashbacks -- were happening at bio anthro field sites. We have been careful to point out that bio anthro is situated to evaluate this issue because of our feminist history, and exactly because there's a good chance it's WORSE, not better, in other subfields.

KateClancy said...

Ken, not sure if you've been following the story of our research, but the AAA has released a zero tolerance statement. Also, anthro departments across the country have contacted me to tell me they are convening special committees to think about how they can be more proactive and preventative about these issues in the future. I have also heard about some grad unions thinking about the language of their sexual harassment policies and how they can educate their members about how these policies apply in the field.

When we are done analyzing the full dataset (remember, the survey ends today) -- which now is well over 500 individuals -- we will submit a manuscript for peer review. Perhaps when we are able to see what's going on in the data, that can motivate next steps as a field.

KateClancy said...

I think changing the culture is what is going to have to happen... and there are two parts. The first is that victims and witnesses both have to think about the broader consequences of not speaking up, so that they (particularly witnesses) do so. The second is that perpetrators have to learn to fear this, so no matter what kind of sexism is in their hearts, they don't act on it.

But again, once we can do more analysis with our much larger dataset, we'll be able to look at personal and field demographics, and our mixed methods analysis, to arrive at some stronger conclusions.

I don't see cultural change as utopian, but necessary. And we've seen major cultural shifts just in the US in the last few decades that make me hopeful that a group of well-meaning and conscientious anthropologists can make change even faster.

KateClancy said...

One other last point about stats -- this is why our research is mixed methods. Quantitative analysis actually has limited use here. But the qualitative stories are not only powerful, but we have rigorous ways in which to assess the qualitative data that should inform our understanding of the scope of the problem and possible solutions.

As the person who performed all sixteen of the first wave interviews, and cried through many of them, I can say that the qualitative data is moving and represents an urgent need for change.

KateClancy said...

Again, even the preliminary results had quantitative and qualitative analysis. I don't know why anyone would dare use the word "misrepresent" anywhere near a colleague's preliminary results (that they are careful to couch as preliminary). And I don't know why no one is talking about the qualitative analysis.

KateClancy said...

Yes. And Holly, thank you for continuing to press all these points.

Ken Weiss said...

We'll see what works. Hopefully, policy statements and zero tolerance policies will have some edge to them and lead to a difference. At least for those of us who agree about these issues, which is hopefully the great majority, things might change for the better.

Anne Buchanan said...

Kate's comments make it clear that the right things are already starting to happen. Her work has raised awareness, anthropology departments are responding, grad unions are responding. This post, and many other responses, show people are talking about the issue, and about how to prevent and sanction abuse. Excellent. That, not methodological differences of opinion, is the important thing.

KateClancy said...

One final nit to pick, and I promise to leave well enough alone.

I was very surprised by the first paragraph of this post.

"Recently there has been a lot of bioanthropology buzz about sexual harassment and assault in “the field”, the diverse, global settings in which professional anthropologists of various types, and their students, do their research. This comes at present on the heels of a brief presentation at the recent American Association of Physical Anthropology (AAPA) 2013 meeting, in which a speaker presented results of a rather informal survey poll in which respondents reported various degrees of sexual harassment, ranging from relatively informal intimidating to true assault. Regardless of the details, the results show that these issues are alive and well in Anthropology."

-Why was the presentation described as "brief"? It is exactly the same length as all the other talks that occur at the AAPAs.

-It takes little effort to say "a speaker"'s name when speaking of her research. This is the kind of basic thing I make sure to do when I write about the work of others on my own blog.

-"a rather informal survey poll" -- I'm not sure what was informal about our survey. The survey instrument underwent intellectual scrutiny by four colleagues, we were careful to use the literature on sexual harassment and chilly climate to bound our questions appropriately. The survey -- and interviews -- were IRB approved.

I would just like to see us being careful and respectful with language when talking about a topic that has had profound personal and professional consequences for our colleagues.

Julienne Rutherford said...

Readers here might be interested in reading the AAA zero tolerance statement ( the survey inspired, and the articles Science magazine published online ( in print ( The online Science piece links to a statement from AAPA president Lorena Madrigal. The media coverage and professional responses the survey has thus far inspired moves several steps beyond "buzz."