For Whom the Bell Tolls: Anthropologists Advising on Public Policy


  • Dorothy Willner

    1. University of Kansas
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      DOROTHY WILLNER (Ph.D. Chicago 1961) has done fieldwork in Ecuador, Israel, Mexico, and the United States and has worked as an applied anthropologist in Israel, Mexico, and the United States. Publications dealing with politics include: “The Rise and Role of the Charismatic Leader” (with A. R. Willner); Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (1966), Nation-Building and Community in Israel (Princeton University Press 1969); “Ritual, Myth and the Murdered President” in The Realm of the Extra-Human (A. Bharati, ed., 1976). She is professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas.


What knowledge do cultural anthropologists have to contribute to public policy? What problems have they encountered and what roles should they assume? After reviewing several positions, this paper suggests that anthropologists consider contributing to public policy through other branches of government in addition to the executive. Emphasis is given to the legislative branch in a representative democracy. Although the paper discusses the United States, the approach ought to be applicable to other representative systems as well. [public policy, political anthropology, applied anthropology, ethics]