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(cover picture) Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn (ed.)
2003 Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology (2nd Ed.). Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press.

Notes: xv, 278 p.: ill.; 23 cm. ISBN: 0759103372 (alk. paper)
Reviewed 19 Feb 2004 by:
Susan J. Wurtzburg <>
Dept of Communication Disorders, U of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
Medium: Written Literature
Anthropological ethics

ABSTRACT:    This book contributes to the developing area of anthropological ethics. It could be used as a text for anthropology graduate students or for upper-level undergraduate courses in the USA.

In the past decade, archaeologists and cultural anthropologists have featured in several highly publicized debates dealing with ethical standards in research and appropriate fieldwork practice. Anthropological insiders and the general public paid particular attention to the Kennewick case (e.g. Chatters, 2000, 2002; McDonald, 1998; Oberg, 2002; Thomas, 2000; Wurtzburg & Campbell, 2001), other situations covered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA (e.g. Echo-Hawk, 2000; Kaufman, 2001; Rose, Green & Green, 1996), and the publication of Darkness in El Dorado (e.g. Coronil, 2001; Martins, 2002; Tierney, 2000). All of these cases feature prominently in Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology (2003), extensively revised from the previous 1991 edition. It consists of 10 chapters (many of them written especially for this version) and 4 appendices.

Fluehr-Lobban, who edited the collection, also wrote a number of the chapters, as well as the introduction. She performs all of these tasks most ably, although I would have liked to see one additional chapter focusing on the implications to anthropology of debates in philosophical ethics, biomedical ethics, and the other social sciences. Something along the lines of the introductory chapter in Biomedical Ethics (Mappes & DeGrazia, 2001) would have provided a broader intellectual framework.

Fluehr-Lobban draws attention to the fact that: ˘ethics in Anthropology is like race in America: dialogue takes place during times of crisis Ó Too often, the discipline has reacted to events rather than anticipating the need for dialogue÷ (p. 1). I would add to this statement the caveat that, too often, anthropologists have reacted to events in disciplinary isolation rather than considering applications from other social sciences, which is why I argue for a broader consideration above.

The first chapter is a critical history of anthropological ethics, covering the period 1890-2000. Fluehr-Lobban highlights important benchmarks such as ˘the first statement on ethics within a professional anthropological organization÷ (p. 5), formulated in 1948 by the members of the recently established Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA).

David Price provides additional early historical information in his discussion of covert research and the interactions among anthropologists, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or similar government departments. This provides a basis for understanding the background to the 1990 AAA membership vote changing the wording of the Principles of Professional Responsibility (PPR). Price draws attention to his concern that ˘although various historical revelations over the past half-century have no doubt made many contemporary members of the AAA less likely than their historical counterparts to enter into secret agreements with the CIA, the lack of a clear policy prohibiting such relationships leaves open such possibilities÷ (p. 43).

The following chapter by Gerald D. Berreman is a very personal account of the AAAĂs history. But perhaps it is too personal a discussion; sometimes it is not helpful to have dated personal disputes reactivated by re-publication.

The issues underlying and following from the publication of Darkness in El Dorado (Tierney, 2000) are presented in chapter 4 by Fluehr-Lobban. She suggests that reactions to this book may stimulate major changes in anthropological ethics and the instruction of students that ultimately might result in the discipline working more proactively to apply appropriate ethical standards. In this chapter, she explains how accepted biomedical principles may be relevant to anthropology.

The following two chapters deal with NAGPRA and its implementation by archaeologists (chapter 5 by E. Pierre Morenon) and by museum employees (chapter 6 by Fluehr-Lobban, Pualani KanakaĂ Ole Kanehele, and Jennifer Hope Antes). Morenon explores the ramifications of NAGPRA through the presentation of several case studies from the northeastern United States, an analysis of the law, and the consideration of ethical dilemmas connected to implementation of the law. The others discuss the ownership of a Hawaiian support figure curated by the Roger Williams Park Museum, located in Providence, Rhode Island.

Fluehr-Lobban also authored the next chapter dealing with informed consent and its implications for anthropologists and their fieldwork protocols.

Informed consent, as a formal legal-ethical construct, is only two decades old. It grows out of the 1972 [American] Supreme Court case of Cantebury v. Spence, which articulated the principle for medical research. The primary context for informed consent was the need for protection in biomedical research and practice where there existed the potential for harm to humans as a result of the research or treatment (p. 159).

She presents some of the objections that anthropologists have posed to the blanket application of written informed consent on all fieldwork methodologies. However, she discounts some of these issues too readily without truly considering the wide range of field situations experienced by anthropologists. For example, she mentions the difficulty with informed consent that ˘cannot be explained or adequately obtained in many settings where anthropological research occurs, such as nonliterate societies÷ (p. 168). She then states that it is ˘impossible not to work in some contact or formerly colonized area where a European language is a first or second language of the non-Western nation÷ (p. 170). Fluehr-Lobban is not acknowledging the reality of individual differences in language bilingualism and literacy often found in remote or even urban fieldwork locations, such as major American cities. For example, women or older community members may not be bilingual or literate, and may possess few rights to land or other wealth, In these cases, it does not seem appropriate to ask people to put their marks on documents which they fear might alienate them from resources or commit them to other events such as government taxation.

The final two contributions venture into less charted waters. David Hakken discusses cyberspace ethics, while Chapter 9 is a group contribution discussing the history of an anthropological ethics course at the University of South Carolina. This chapter is a great idea in theory since it is truly collaborative writing from a range of viewpoints, but in practice, the range of speakers makes the reasoning challenging to follow and lacking in central focus. However the extensive bibliography makes up for these deficits.

The concluding chapter by Fluehr-Lobban nicely sums up the volume. Her conclusions are followed by four appendices providing the Code of Ethics of the AAA, the Code of Professional Standards of the Archaeological Institute of America, the Ethical and Professional Responsibilities of the SfAA, and the Principles of Archaeological Ethics. In closing, I recommend this volume for all practicing anthropologists and archaeologists and as a text for anthropology graduate students or for upper-level undergraduate courses in the USA.


Chatters, James C. 2000 The recovery and first analysis of an early Holocene human skeleton from Kennewick, Washington. American Antiquity 65(2): 291-316

Chatters, James C. 2002 In the fray: Politics aside, These bones belong to everybody. Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition) New York Sept 5 D10

Coronil, Fernando 2001 Perspectives on TierneyĂs Darkness in El Dorado. Current Anthropology 42(2):265-266

Echo-Hawk, Roger C. 2000 Ancient history in the New World: Integrating oral traditions and the archaeological record in deep time. American Antiquity 65(2): 267-290

Kaufman, Jason Edward 2001 Artifacts: Museums return Indian treasures. Wall Street Journal (Eastern edition) Aug 31 W13

Mappes, Thomas A., and David DeGrazia 2001 Biomedical Ethics 5th ed. New York: McGraw Hill

Martins, LŐda 2002 Commentary on the El Dorado task force report. Anthropology News 48(8): 5

McDonald, Kim A. 1998 Researchers battle for access to a 9,300-year-old skeleton. Chronicle of Higher Education 44(37): A18-20

Oberg, Alcestis Cooky 2002 Kennewick man transcends political correctness. USA Today Oct 1 A13

Rose, Jerome C., Thomas J. Green & Victoria D. Green 1996 NAGPRA is forever: Osteology and the repatriation of skeletons. Annual Review of Anthropology 25: 81-103

Thomas, David H. 2000 Skull wars: Kennewick man, archaeology, and the battle for Native American identity New York: Basic Books

Tierney, Patrick 2000 Darkness in El Dorado, How scientists and journalists devastated the Amazon New York: W.W. Norton

Wurtzburg, Susan J., and Lyle Campbell 2001 Review of Skull wars: Kennewick man, archaeology, and the battle for Native American identity. Ethnohistory 48(4): 718-722