sNAPAshots: Marietta Baba

[NAPA Logo] National Association for the Practice of Anthropology. sNAPAshots Conversations with Professional, Practicing, and Applied Anthropologists. Marietta Baba, Executive Director, Foundation for Women & Children Enslaved in War; Professor and Dean Emeritus, Michigan State University
This entry is part 7 of 18 in the sNAPAshots section

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Interviewer 0:09
Ever consider organizational anthropology? If so, check out snapshots conversations with practicing professional and applied anthropologist. Let’s meet Marietta Baba. Marietta is the executive director of the Foundation of Women and Children Enslaved by War, and professor and dean emeritus at Michigan State University. How did you get interested in anthropology?

Marietta Baba 0:37
I was initially interested in human evolution. So who are we? Where did we come from where we going? With the questions posed by Paul Gauguin. I was interested in those, I worried about physical anthropology in school. And I was so enthralled with a subject matter that seemed to address those questions that I said, I’m going to get a PhD in this. So later on, I was doing my doctoral research. And I met other people from other fields of computer science, they were doing the modeling of our data. And they introduced me to modeling organizations. So along the way, our lab went through a technological shake up. Everybody had to change platforms for doing their research, and I took the training, I didn’t find the work satisfying on project and then spun off with a computer scientists to focus on organizational modeling. And that became my field of practice, organizational anthropology.

Interviewer 1:37
How has the anthropological perspective or training enhanced your contribution to your workplace?

Marietta Baba 1:45
Anthropology teaches you that a trained observer can learn from immersion in the field. So any experience in an organization for example, attending a meeting, or having an informal conversation going on-site. These are all opportunities to learn, gather information, and apply it to what you’re interested in. I’m not suggesting we become spies, we have to be open about this and mindful about what’s going on around us and then be ethical in what we do with the information. But it’s crucial to be able to see whatever the subject is, and learn from direct experience lived experience, which you get from fieldwork, your own lived experiences. So for example, in human trafficking, and commercial sexual exploitation, which is the work that I do, I’m fortunate to be able to go into the field with service providers and they take me along to prayer meetings, to street outreach work. We visit massage parlors and strip clubs. And from these experiences in the field, I learned about human trafficking and how all the different parts that I’m observing connect with commercial exploitation, how they work together as an industry, which can’t, it’s difficult to read that in a journal article, all the things that you learn from being in the field. And obviously, the question then becomes, you know, the data, you know, what data are you focusing on? How do you collect it? What do you do with it? What’s ethical practice? And those are questions of anthropology.

Interviewer 3:28
What types of industry challenges or problems do you get to help solve with this anthropological lens?

Marietta Baba 3:36
And I’m particularly drawn to one where there’s a paradox, and the paradox is not resolved. I think human trafficking is a paradox. It’s clearly a terrible crime. It seems to be getting worse. We spend a lot of money on those three areas of protection, prevention, and prosecution at all levels, federal, state and local. But we don’t know what works. So we don’t know what’s effective, for doing the protection, prevention, prosecution, we have no idea. And not only that, we don’t know why we don’t know. And we don’t even ask really, I mean, academics ask in your papers without answers. So I find this paradoxical situation very intriguing. And I think anthropology brings a lot to the table. So I already mentioned field work, going and seeing things you cannot see you cannot read what you can see. You talk to participants in the field, survivors — service providers and survivors — and you get insight or knowledge about this industry. Again, things that are not published. What do you do with it? That’s another question. You get this insider knowledge men an anthropologist says I’m Sure, you know, read across disciplines without regard to disciplinary boundaries. Human trafficking is a multidisciplinary field. You know, contributions come from law enforcement, psychology, social work, medicine, all these different fields. Well, as an anthropologist, like “Oh, data Bonanza”, let me read everything I can get my hands on, regardless of fields. And then you not only see correspondences, you see gaps, and things start to emerge out of the data that you didn’t know. Nobody knew where they are. They didn’t tell you. So for example, this thing called retrafficking, it’s where a person gets trapped in a cycle of exiting, reentering, exactly entering. It turns out that that’s a significant supply of victims into trafficking as these trapped people that can’t get out, they try to get out and they can’t leave. You don’t see that as a major issue in any literature, it emerges here and there as a minor issue. But then when you put it all together, you take all the data on retrafficking, across literature’s and put it together, it emerges as a major problem.

Interviewer 6:08
What anthropological skills do you use in your field?

Marietta Baba 6:12
All anthropologists have to have the skill of learning. I think you’re trained through anthropology, how to learn how to learn from the field, how to learn about a new context, how to learn language, how to interpret, different schools of interpretation, and we all learn that. In practice, my belief is a learning lens must be trained on yourself. You have to learn about what you’re doing and its impact, because you’re so enmeshed in society, and there’s so many different things that can be affected by what you’re doing. So it could be that there’s a flaw in your practice that you can’t see, I mean, something you’re very committed to doing. But it turns out that it’s harming somebody, and maybe it’s even harming you. But you can’t tell, because you’re in it. So I think it’s a skill to learn how to decode that. So for example, how do you get feedback on you and what you’re doing? How do you get honest feedback? How do you learn to listen and take it seriously. When you get a negative result? Feedback? What do you do with it? These are skills you can learn skills and whole courses on continuous improvement. All kinds of different glosses for this, but I would put the learning in the practice area, and learning about yourself is a skill.

Interviewer 7:41
Thank you, Marietta, for sharing your experience as a practicing, professional, and applied anthropologist for more snapshots find us here practicing Mehta, LinkedIn and Twitter

[Onscreen Text] Many Thanks to NAPA’s General Council for their Support! NAPA is a section of the American Anthropological Association. Practicing Directors: Reshama Damle and Suanna Crowley Producers: Cathleen Crain, Niel Tashima, Joshua Liggett

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Music: “Tokyo Music Walker Slowly”

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