The concepts and methods of anthropology are designed to secure an understanding of culture the function of which is to secure human survival. Raymond Firth envisaged the role of anthropology to be social engineering after Westermann had defined it to be the scientific collection and interpretation of cultural data.
Firth pointed out the need to bring together primitive societies and civilization without letting the former suffer from disintegration. This task of bridging the gulf between the primitive and the modern was regarded by Firth as the legitimate task of applied anthropology and was called social engineering by him.
The scope of applied anthropology was thus defined to one of diagnosis and prediction. According to Kluckhohn it is better for the practical anthropologist to think of his role as that of the social doctor rather than of social engineer. Social medicine and not social engineering is the proper field of applied anthropology. Policy making being based on judgments has been held to lie outside the anthropologist's field. Evans Prichard has endorsed the point of view that anthropologists cannot become policy makers and still continue to be scientists.
The whole discussion on the scope of applied anthropology has been given a positively vigorous direction by Nadel in his analysis of the relation of anthropology to modern life that he regards to be a significant one. He says that this significant relation does not concern our interest in exotic primitive and pre historic societies but our own problems in our own times.
Anthropology has to provide a sound administration of colonial or dependent people; it can also broaden our outlook by enlightening us on the variety of human cultures and it can reveal cultures as various solutions of universal problems. Nadel also points out to one of the risks that are the misuse of the research findings by the governments. He says that anthropologists should shoulder the responsibility of preventing governments from misusing their research. He also regards social engineering as the proper scope of applied anthropology.
According to him the judgments which a policy making anthropologist would pronounce would not lie anywhere outside his legitimate field of enquiry. The decision to study social phenomena remains incomplete without evaluating them. When we analyze a society we must assess its capacity to achieve stability and continuity and to function smoothly, adequately and in an integrated function.
Anthropology being humanity has to justify itself as an applied science. The opposition between pure and applied research is in the ultimate analysis bound to vanish in the study of human problems and their solutions.
In India applied anthropology has an immense future. The policy of internal reconstruction on social and economic fronts requires the contribution of anthropologists. They can help the government in formulating a policy on tribal rehabilitation. An anthropologist can see underneath a complex variety of problems that demand a variety of regional policies. In assessing the impact of community projects on rural India and in popularizing planning anthropologists can play a vital role. The monographs written during colonial rule are being used still today, which are now out dated.
The rewriting of the Tribes and Castes reports is a task that only anthropologists can do well. Anthropologists can also undertake the study of generalized value-attitude system a knowledge that can help in formulating sound programmes in checking problems like population growth.
S.F Nadel in 'Anthropology and Modern Life'
Kluckhohn in 'Mirror for Man'
D N Majumdar and T N Madan in 'An introduction to social anthropology'