Paper short abstract:
The paper discusses confronting colleagues belonging to different disciplines ranging from biology to forestry, husbandry to geography, with anthropological methods, theories and ethics during the course of the research programme PETREA (People, Trees and Agriculture in Africa).
Paper long abstract:
PETREA (People, Trees and Agriculture in Africa) was an interdisciplinary action research programme funded by the Danish Cooperation (DANIDA) and aiming at improve local access to trees and tree products in Burkina Faso and Tanzania. The project was divided in two phases, the first one aiming at identifying problems relating to the use of trees, and the second one aiming at identifying realistic solutions. The present paper will discuss the difficulties met when confronting anthropological methods, theories and ethics with colleagues belonging to different disciplines ranging from biology to forestry, animal science, geography and political science. Accommodation in situ instead of in 4-stars hotels, collaboration with local colleagues on an equal footing, open-ended and flexible research projects rather than rigid synopsis designed in Europe, qualitative and long-lasting participant observation rather than quick and dirty questionnaires or PRA, focusing on the reality in the field rather than on reality on paper, or on existing power relations rather than on an ideal and immagined legal world, questioning conventional wisdom (on desertification narratives, on participatory forest management, on devolution, etc.), building on local ideas of social justice rather than on values imported from Europe, accountability of research results towards farmers rather than employers, were some of the aspects of a constant struggle to apply anthropology critically and try to avoid reproducing conventional and cynical ways of doing research and development.
Applied anthropology: the old and the new