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II. 9.2 Role of anthropology in tribal and rural development.

Previous Questions:

  1. Examine in detail the role of Anthropology in planning for Tribal development. (15Marks 2015)
  2. Critically assess the role of anthropologists in rural development. (20Marks 2014) (S.N – 1997)
  3. Using examples, comment on how anthropology can be utilized in policy making. (20Marks – 2012)
  4. Discuss the role of Anthropology’ in Tribal Development. (L.Q – 2006) (S.N – 1994) (S.N – 1992)
  5. Role of anthropologists in rural development (L.Q – 2005)
  6. Anthropologists are better equipped to play an effective role in rural and tribal development. Discuss (L.Q – 2004)
  7. Anthropological approach in Tribal development (S.N- 1987)
  8. Discuss the role of Anthropology in planning and executing development programmes among the tribal communities. (L.Q – 1985)

Role of anthropology in development, started on a very limited scale during the colonial era, became significant and diverse in the post-colonial time. The postcolonial period witnessed the newly independent nations embarking upon development plans and policies. As the programs are meant for transforming the socio-economic conditions of people; anthropology began playing an important role in planning, evaluation, and implementation of development programmes, anthropologists are not confined to government sponsored development, but participate in varied roles and settings.

The involvement of anthropologist and use of anthropology in tribal welfare and developmental program is not sudden but has followed the process of gradual  involvement. The involvement of anthropology in development can be traced to the colonial era, when anthropologists focused on the study of the introduction of innovations in simple societies. Importance of knowledge of anthropology for efficient administration was perhaps first realized as early as 1807 when the Court of director of East India company made a formal decision that first hand knowledge of local people would be of great use in future administration of the country. To this effect D. F. Buchanand was appointed by governor general in Council  to take geographical survey to acquire the knowledge of conditions of inhabitants of Bengal and their religion. Problem oriented work came out in 1981 when J H Hutton put forward  news regarding the effects of contact with the tribal people. He suggested self governing tribal areas with free power of self determination.

After independence, Anthropologist came out with very useful and pragmatic policies and programmes for tribal development in changed socio- political climate .S C Roy  made report regarding the tribes of Bihar. However, Verrier Elwin  in his monumental  monograph  on  Baiga’s  of Central province may be regarded as the first work in which anthropological view about the future of a tribes found vocal, bold and explicit explanation.  He lamented that  Baiga’s where made a victim of  over-hasty and un-regulated process of upliftment and civilization. He suggested remedial measure as sort of National Park approach in which Baiga’s  could be accommodated. He was a very prominent anthropologist of the time. As a result,  majority of anthropologist of that time were labelled as isolationist, revivalist, status-quoist and non-changers. The social workers and politician lead by Thakkar Baba had different views called as the social workers  view (Theory of Assimilation) .

Anthropology or anthropologist are employed in the developmental process as applied Anthropology or action anthropology as it has some unique features. Applied anthropology came into existence during the colonial period to assist the administrators in finding solutions to practical problems. In the beginning, applied anthropology was involved in the application of knowledge by those who were responsible for administration of colonies. Anthropologists prepared ethnographic accounts describing the customs and practices of people, and served as advisers. Knowledge of the language, customs, and traditions of people was found useful by the administrators to deal with the people in the colonies they administered.

Instead of developing theories on socio-cultural change and human behaviour, the applied anthropologists believed in using their knowledge for ameliorating the living conditions of people. A variant of applied anthropology has its emphasis on action. Action anthropologists do not influence the decisions of people, but help in providing clarifications. Ultimately, the people have to take their decisions. The action anthropologist is one who is helping the people in goal clarification in decision making and choice making, at the same time learning from the people.

Applied anthropologists are said to function as analysts, consultants, administrators, and co-administrators. They are involved in diverse settings and circumstances such as hospitals, factories, schools, prisons, law, management, population policy, agriculture, ethnic problems, and drug abuse.

Anthropological participation in development process has many social economic relevance and significance. After the analysis of disastrous result due to wrong approaches and non performance of non anthropological developmental policies and programs,  government realised that it had done injustice to the real expert ie anthropologist. Impetus to the feeling that social workers administrators and anthropologist should work in tandem with each other for the development and upliftment of tribal society. That started reflecting the composition of newly constituted tribal  Research Institute,  tribal Advisory Council and various committee of Planning Commission.

Role of anthropologist-

The contribution made by anthropologists is in

  • analysing policies,
  • studying the implementation of projects and programmes and their impact on people; and
  • advising planners and administrators.

They are involved in collection of data useful for planning and administration. Frequently, the preoccupation of anthropologists can be seen in social impact assessment. In the context of development, anthropologists emphasise respect for human and natural resources, knowledge and experiences of people, protection of environment, and equity. In the post colonial period, when developed nations started offering economic and technical aid to third world nations, anthropologists started looking into the social implications of developmental assistance. Anthropologists assisted administrators to plan for development programmes, by applying their knowledge of people. They played a role in understanding the resistance of people to development innovations. They analysed the social framework of the communities as reflected in beliefs and values, in order to suggest suitable measures to minimise resistance to development innovations. The measures taken for planned development and their consequences are not only of applied value, but these also help anthropologists in analysing the socio-cultural changes resulting from development.

Anthropologist mainly focuses on-

  1. Pre study of  people and culture
  2. Diagnosis of the problems
  3. Finding out the solution to the problems after taking into consideration various pros and cons of it development programs and policies  Example- rejection of milk cattle by Kondhs  based on felt need approach
  4. People’s reaction to the program and policies and anticipation of change
  5. Preparing the target groups
  6. Physical and psychological preparation for the possible changes to programs and policy to be implemented
  7. To study cultural synchronisation that is to study recipient and donors culture

During implementation of the project, anthropologist monitors the projects from the perspective of issues faced during the implementation and possible solution to rectify the problem. They also study whether there is social destructions due to projects( AK Haldar),  so the management of consequences during the implementation anthropologist should study whether the people are benefited -example maler in Bihar. After the completion of project they should evaluate the whole project from the beginning to the end, which can serve as a case study for the future.

Roy Burman’s suggestions

I. Considerations of the strategies of tribal development should cover the following aspects-

  1. Scope of tribal welfare and development activities
  2. Integration of tribal welfare and development activities in the national development plan
  3. Role of government ans statutory bodies
  4. Role of voluntary organizations
  5. Role of tribal institutions

II. Welfare and developmental activities are excepted to be concerned with

  1. Satisfaction of minimum needs
  2. Control and management of productive resources
  3. Employment optimisation
  4. Braod based participation of the population in development process
  5. Socio-cultural and political aspects of national integration

Need of anthropology

Anthropologist study  tribes or any other society with the view of holism and cultural relativism. They use face to face method of study in order to bring out universal values of human behaviour. They also give primary authentic data  due to face to face study. This features are unique to the discipline of anthropology. As a result they are able to suggest developmental plan for tribes or  any other societies hence they are called to take part in the developmental process.


The programmes aiming at development of the people will be successful, only if the policymakers, planners, and development administrators understand the people, their culture and pressing needs, and their aspirations. The needs and priorities of people, their capacity to absorb development innovations, the compatibility of development innovations with the culture of people have to be understood. The expertise of anthropologists helps in framing of policies, relevant and meaningful to the people. The holistic approach of anthropologists makes them realise the overall consequences of development such as changes in relations, institutions, values, etc. In a developmental scenario, the anthropologists focus on the perceptions or the points of view of the people. Anthropology highlights the need for tolerance towards cultural variation, and disapproves ethnocentric imposition of alien ideas and practices in the name of development.

Their approach for fieldwork involving long term stay and participant observation is not popular with development administrators, as they want feedback and inputs at the earliest for grounding time bound action programmes at the earliest. It is high time that administrator as generalist and anthropologist as specialist come together to corporate with Team Spirit to make tribal development program success. In this way anthropological knowledge can be used to the best advantage of the whole society in general and its people in particular. Anthropology is playing a significant role in undoing the negative consequences of development in the past, through recent strategies in development through Sustainable Development, Participatory Development and Sustainable Livelihoods Approach.

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