Social Anthropology and Emergency Management

One concept I want to develop further with emergency management is social anthropology. In social anthropology we begin to understand that anthropology is well social and we are all part of a social tapestry. In emergency management it is no different that as society develops and changes so does emergency management, everything is fluid.

Let us start with one concept in cultural anthropology, participant observation. In this concept, “Anthropologists compare how people live in different societies at different times and places and come up with theories about why people behave in particular ways.” [1] We need to understand that in participant observation the ideas of anthropology can change and fluctuate like everything else. We compare and contrast society with what society is actually doing. In participant observation anthropologist participate in society, develop relationships, and further understand a “alien” society in a practical frame. I believe understanding a society intently means delving into it head first.

Participant observation came about in the 19th and 20th centuries especially by the work of Bronislaw Malinowski who did much fieldwork. Malinowski was born in Krakow Poland and is called the father of social anthropology. His research was ground breaking at the time. In 1914 he did four years of fieldwork in New Guinea. [2]

Bronislaw Malinowski

What does all this have to do with emergency management? Emergency Managers need to be active participants in their respective communities. According the the US Geological Survey the number of cities and towns in the United States equal about 35,000. I know not all but most have a emergency management office or a person designated to handle such. Sometimes I think a member of the community is a better emergency manager then otherwise. I say that not as a knock against the field but because they know the people. In small towns everyplace the person designated to be the emergency manager know the folks by name and already have developed relationships with them. When hiring outside the community it is almost like you are reinventing the wheel. That person has to come in and build trust with in the community. This outside person needs to be a participant observer with the community. She/He needs to develop those relationships and the only way to do it is to get your hands dirty and really be a part of your community.

To finish up just as I said earlier that participant observation is fluid so is emergency management and emergency managers, Sempre Gumby; Always Flexible. I believe that to be true.

So, My question to you all is what have you done to gain trust in your communities? Do you have a person-to-person relationship in your community? What advice can you give to other emergency managers on how to build relationships and gain new perspective within their communities?

Can’t wait to hear you thoughts!


[1] What is Social Anthropology? (n.d.). Retrieved August 4, 2019, from


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Jason Schmerer

I have 5 plus years’ experience in continuous improvement and analytics and enjoy helping others, connecting dots, and working with various kinds of both qualitative and quantitative data.

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