Ep #55 Doing Right by Others: Robert Borofsky on the Value of Anthropology

“Realistically there’s many people – maybe most anthropologists – are caught up in their own world, like many people are, trying to just get ahead. That’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is that I try and do [good]. I try and move forward with it.”

Content Warning: This interview has mention of addictions and the rehabilitation process.

In this episode we bring you an interview with Professor Robert Borofsky, Professor of Anthropology at the Hawai’i Pacific University, Founder and Director of the Center for a Public Anthropology, editor for the California Series in Public Anthropology, author of Making History: Pukapukan and Anthropological Constructions of Knowledge, Yanomami: The Fierce Controversy and What We Can Learn From It, and most recently An Anthropology of Anthropology: Is It Time To Shift Paradigms?, and one of the keynote speakers at the AAS Conference last year, where this interview was recorded.

It is quite fitting that the theme of the AAS was ‘Values in Anthropology, Values of Anthropology‘, since he, along with our own Kylie Wong Dolan, unpack how to do meaningful anthropology. They explore questions like: who is anthropology serving? If we want anthropology to do good, how do we decide what that ‘good’ actually is, and how do we measure it? Rob also shares his own fieldwork experiences, emphasizing the importance of longevity and reciprocity in fieldwork relationships, and how to find ways to reach beyond the discipline and ensure that the work anthropology does matters.


“The idea here is you want to have a relationship that continues, [a] relationship of caring and trust, and trying to benefit others in a way that’s meaningful… Doing good is benefiting others, not just yourself in ways that they find good… You try and work it out with them in a way that empowers them, not just yourself.”

“There’s a sense that that’s what life’s about – you’re not in control and you have to live with it, adjust, and you’re vulnerable in that. But then that leaves room for newness and possibility.”

“I really do feel a sense that we should do right by others”

“I don’t get any … extra energy from you telling me how great I am, I think I what I would rather do is interact with you”

“I’m not saying you challenge the system directly … none of us have that power.”

“We should be studying problems that matter … You want people to really tell stories that matter, do things that matter, to inspire people.”

“What can you do yourself with courage? What can you do that you think would be meaningful?”


Rob mentions philosopher Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance. For a brief explanation of what it is, check out https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/veil-of-ignorance

And you can find Rob’s books at the websites below:

You can also find the Center for a Public Anthropology here: https://www.publicanthropology.org/contact/

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This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Deanna Catto and Matthew Phung
Podcast edited by Kylie Wong Dolan and Matthew Phung

Feature image: ‘Pink veil’ by hehaden https://www.flickr.com/photos/hellie55/48289121757/

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