The Meskwaki and Anthropologists


The Meskwaki and Anthropologists

Action Anthropology Reconsidered

Judith M. Daubenmier

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

432 pages


October 2008


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eBook (PDF)
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October 2008


$65.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

The Meskwaki and Anthropologists illuminates how the University of Chicago’s innovative Action Anthropology program of ethnographic fieldwork affected the Meskwaki Indians of Iowa. From 1948 to 1958, the Meskwaki community near Tama, Iowa, became effectively a testing ground for a new method of practicing anthropology proposed by anthropologists and graduate students at the University of Chicago in response to pressure from the Meskwaki. Action Anthropology, as the program was called, attempted to more evenly distribute the benefits of anthropology by way of anthropologists helping the Native communities they studied.

The legacy of Action Anthropology has received limited attention, but even less is known about how the Meskwakis participated in creating it and shaping the way it functioned. Drawing on interviews and extensive archival records, Judith M. Daubenmier tells the story from the viewpoint of the Meskwaki themselves. The Meskwaki alternatively cooperated with, befriended, ignored, prodded, and collided with their scholarly visitors in trying to get them to understand that the values of reciprocity within Meskwaki culture required people to give something if they expected to get something. Daubenmier sheds light on the economic and political impact of the program on the community and how some Meskwaki manipulated the anthropologists and students through their own expectations of reciprocity and gender roles. Giving weight to the opinions, actions, and motivations of the Meskwaki, Daubenmier assesses more fully and appropriately the impact of Action Anthropology on the Meskwaki settlement and explores its legacy outside the settlement’s confines. In so doing, she also encourages further consideration of the ongoing relationships between scholars and Indigenous peoples today.

Author Bio

Judith M. Daubenmier is a lecturer in the American Culture Program at the University of Michigan.


"This inspiring reconsideration of an important moment in twentieth-century American anthropology is richly annotated, with an excellent index and bibliography and two appendices listing the participants in the project and the published works that emerged. The book leaves the reader with a better understanding of the possibilities for and complexities of collaborative ethnographic work."—Larry Nesper, Collaborative Anthropologies

"Timely and appealing to social scientists and activists who continue to wrestle together with questions of values, leadership, and voice as they work toward new models of collaborative, transformative research."—Dana E. Powell, Western Historical Quarterly

Table of Contents


Series Editors' Introduction


Chapter 1: Making the Modern Meskwaki Nation

Chapter 2: Sol Tax and the Value of Anthropology

Chapter 3: ‘Science Has to Stop Somewhere’

Chapter 4: Action Anthropology and the Values Question

Chapter 5: 1954—Project Nadir and Rebound

Chapter 6: Fruits of Action Anthropology


Appendix I

Appendix II



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