Anthropology in and of the academy: globalization, assessment and our field's future

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Brenneis, Don


Social Anthropology, Volume 17, Issue 3, p.261-275 (2009)


In considering the challenges and opportunities likely to be faced by social anthropologists over the coming 20 years, this paper begins with a recognition of the critical role of institutional structures and processes, especially practices of evaluation and assessment, in the future trajectory of our discipline. The core of the article critically explores two general modalities of assessment and evaluation: deliberative processes, of which peer review is a classic example, and more formal techniques focused on particular quantitative indicators such as citation factors and impact analysis. The discussion draws upon ethnographic work on and from the midst of such bureaucratic sites, on tracking in some detail the conflation of descriptive and evaluative practice embedded in the forms of quantitative metrics, and on current critical examinations of both deliberative and analytical strategies. The article argues that deliberative, consultative peer review can lead to much more acute, textured and realistic outcomes for such reviews, whether of programmes or individuals, than can a reliance solely on bibliometrics. I also suggest that scholarly associations such as EASA have a particular role to play both in arguing for the value of serious collegial engagement in such work and in modelling, in ways with which social anthropologists are deeply familiar, how such qualitative reviewing might be responsibly and proactively pursued.