News FocusProfile: Pauline Wiessner

Anthropologist Brings Worlds Together

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Science  13 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5993, pp. 743-745
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5993.743

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Polly Wiessner, 62, sees no conflict in her dual role as both observer and participant in traditional societies. For nearly 4 decades, she has been carrying out anthropological fieldwork that links science with advocacy and ties the present to the past. Her research on exchange networks in Africa's Kalahari Desert and in Papua New Guinea has provided anthropologists with some of their best models for the cultural evolution of prehistoric societies. Along the way, Wiessner has helped the traditional peoples she works with navigate the modern world. She is regarded as a leading practitioner of "engaged anthropology," in which researchers collaborate with the people they study. Although she now lives in Salt Lake City, she still works closely with African Bushmen and Papua New Guinea tribesmen and is considered a friend to both cultures.