From Applied to Expert Social anthropology: Emerging Concepts, Terms, and Definitions

Since the 1970s, applied social anthropology has developed into the field’s best-known and most widely adopted specialization. In the 2018 Global Survey of Anthropological Practices conducted by the World Council of Anthropological Associations, 17% of respondents identified themselves as applied anthropologists – the largest specialist cohort beyond that defined by social or cultural anthropology. But does the appellation ‘applied’ accurately capture the concepts, terms, and definitions common to this cohort’s professional practice?  

Respondents to the GSAP survey described their applied practice as either or both a ‘specialization’ or an ‘area of expertise’. This reflects a clear trend over the past 50 years in which applied social anthropology has come to be regarded as distinct from a more general and theoretical form of the field taught in the academy. However, in Australia and across the world, the work of applied social anthropologists can be shown to align with roles, functions, and relationships that constitute an even more specific form of expertise than the application of academic theory implies.  In our work with community-led organizations, NGOs, governments, courts, tribunals, and law firms, social anthropologists are engaged not because we can apply academic theory, but because our specialized training, study, and experience render us experts in the eyes of those clients. 

This seminar traces the origins of ‘applied social anthropology’ as an umbrella term for what has subsequently evolved into the highly formalized, widely recognized, and exceptionally functional specialization known as ‘expert social anthropology’. The seminar focuses in particular on the concepts, terms, and definitions that capture the theoretical, methodological, and ethical features common to expert social anthropological practice in Australia and around the world.

James Rose is a forensic and expert social anthropologist specializing in culturally based land tenure and population dynamics, cultural heritage preservation, and data governance. His methodological focus includes social and kinship network analysis, geospatial modeling and analysis, and relational database management systems. James has 20 years’ experience working with community-controlled organizations, government agencies and departments, Commonwealth institutes, health service providers, universities, and the private sector. He is a Senior Fellow with the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, a member of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Forensic Anthropology Committee and maintains a private consulting practice.

Date & time

Mon 29 Apr 2024, 3–4pm


Seminar Room B, Coombs Building


James Rose


Trang Ta


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