Application and Theory: The Appreciative Nemesis
In their text on Applied Anthropology, Ervin emphasizes the “reciprocal relationship” between applied anthropology and theory.
Despite their intimate interplay, the dividing distinction is often from the direction.
The comparison Ervin provides in their text is that researchers select their topics to pursue in classical, theoretical anthropology. The issues usually relate to their research interests.
On the other hand, the applied approach can be viewed more as an anthropological service, where the topics of interest stem from society's needs. The applied anthropologist may have a role in policy decisions, while the theory will have value to policy in a more roundabout fashion.
I like to think of these concepts as if they are appreciative nemesis. Although they appear to be against each other for the sake of classroom debates, they inherently feed off of one another to thrive, respectively. The applied aspects of anthropology give the theoretical framework a context to thrive within. Likewise, theory can serve as a guiding template that can inform applied project development.
There is a great potential for collaboration between perspectives. Researchers may not always be aware of their work's possible applications, and practitioners may not know how to examine the problem at hand best.
Ultimately, anthropology is interested in understanding and solving human problems. It is with both theory and applied research that we can solve particular issues across multiple scenarios. Anthropologists don’t need to excel in all theory and application but must be open to collaborating and communicating.