Sol Tax Distinguished Service Award to Ted Downing 2014

The Sol Tax Distinguished Service Award - A Rocking Chair

Sol Tax was an anthropologist who provided distinguished and innovative service to applied anthropology and to anthropological societies. The Sol Tax Distinguished Service Award is to be presented annually to a member of Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA), in recognition of long-term and truly distinguished service to the Society. The Sol Tax Award Committee encourages members of the SfAA to nominate individuals who are deserving of this award..

Ted Downing

2014 Sol Tax Distinguished Service Award Winner - Ted DowningAfter serving over a decade the Board and committees, Ted was elected President (1985-87) during the midst of the Society’s fiscal crisis.  To avoid bankruptcy, his administration drastically downsized the Society.  The business office was relocated to Oklahoma City, headed by Tom May.  Ted’s Tucson guesthouse was turned into the executive office, staffed by his family.  Board perks and publication costs were curtailed. The annual meetings were transformed from liabilities into revenue centers, steps taken to create a two-year reserve, membership drives intensified, and the Sustaining Fellows membership was instituted.   Ted codified our corporate culture, writing its first Policy and Procedures Manual (adopted in 1986 Board meeting in Liberty Hall in Philadelphia).  This creative Board fostered other innovations: introducing workshops to the annual meeting, adding the position of SfAA Archivist, and using a consent agenda to increase Board efficiency.  As past-president, Ted founded the Society’s International Standards Committee.  He organized a delegation, led by President John Young that lobbied The World Bank to strengthen their safeguard policies to protecting indigenous peoples and those being displaced by their projects. Reflecting on Ted’s work, former SfAA, President Anthony Paredes aptly describes him as “a practicing anthropologist who practices anthropology on practicing anthropologists.”

Ted spearheaded new forms of communications between professionals, bringing the first transportable computer to our meetings and setting up anthropology’s first Internet communications group (ANTHAP1) when our colleagues worked in “computer centers.” He published groundbreaking research on electronic communications in the classroom in Engineering Education.  Since 2000, Ted has been CEO of a virtual a professional network of over 300 specialists from 20 countries, the International Network on Displacement and Resettlement INDR ( INDR has had notable influence on nudging international safeguard policies on forced displacement.

His lifelong collaboration with his wife Carmen has produced landmark contributions on involuntary resettlement and a theory explaining the psycho-socio-cultural transformation that occur when people are forcefully displaced and how to mitigate these transformations.  A coalition of major mining companies and leading global environmental groups commissioned Ted to prepare a whitepaper on indigenous peoples and involuntary resettlement for the Rio +10 Conference. His reports as an investigator for The World Bank’s Inspection Panel demonstrate an ability find policy noncompliance in exceedingly complex development projects (including work in Uganda on the Bujagali Dam and in Chile with the Pehuenche Indians and in Nigeria on the West African Gas Pipeline).  The later work resulted in Chevron making an award of over US$10 million to correct harm done to the Yoruba. His publications cover a wide range of topics, all guided by his and the Society’s common concern from discovering human organizational solutions to human problems. Ted prefers writing pithy articles to books, explaining the probability of being read is inversely proportional to the length of a publication.

Ted is known for his unprecedented, ethical standards as a human rights activist.   Recall that our anthropological organizations refused to endorse the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Ted broke this tradition at the 1984 Society meeting presenting a session, with Gil Kushner, on Anthropology and Human Rights, later published as a book with the same name. So ingrained, at that time, was avoidance of human rights in anthropological work that Ted’s department asked him to do this work on his own, not University time.

In 1996, while a consultant to The World Bank, Ted and Carmen faced an ethical dilemma of either joining in or denouncing serious human rights violations by the Bank against the Pehuenche Indians (Chile).  Ted filed the first human rights complaints ever made against the Bank, ultimately leading to a American Anthropological Association hearing in Washington that supported his claims.  While this resulted in his being blackballed by his former employer, Bank insiders report Ted’s persistence caused a significant restructuring and strengthening of the IFC’s socio-environment efforts.   A decade later, the Bank’s institutional memory seemed to have lapsed when Ted became an investigator for the Bank’s Inspection Panel, its internal affairs section, of projects in Uganda and Nigeria.  The later lead to an 11 million dollar correction in compensation to the Yoruba.  His work continues – in 2013 he examined potential human rights and impoverishment threats of a proposed displacement of over 7,000 people in the pathway of a proposed lignite mine.
Ted exemplifies taking anthropology to the public at large. He is one of two anthropologist ever elected to a State Legislature, serving two terms in the Arizona House. He served on the Judiciary, Ways and Means, Education, and Higher Education Committees, sharing governance responsibility with 89 other legislators in preparing a $10.1 billion budget to serve Arizona’s 6.5 million people from 2003 to 2006.  Ted represented the same Tucson district (180,000 people) with his colleague, then Senator Gabrielle Giffords.

A political pragmatist, Ted’s bills focused on election reforms, social justice, increasing financial support for university and community college students, protecting animal rights, improving energy efficiency, and increasing civil liberties. Eighty-six of Ted’s co-sponsored bills became law, an outstanding record for a Democrat in a Republican controlled legislature. A list of his legislative bills and awards by civic groups can be found on line ( see lawmaker tab).  Ted service to his community also includes four terms as Democratic Precinct Committeeman (2000-2009); State President (1988-1990) and Vice President (1990-1995) of the American Association of University Professors, Arizona Conference (10 campuses); and election to the Arizona Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, 2008 -2010.

Looking back on this service, Ted jokes that he has done fieldwork in dozens of high risk societies, but the most savage was the Arizona State Legislature.   Following this work, Ted reasoned that partisan primaries were creating political gridlock and authored a proposition to eliminate partisan primaries to be replaced by open primaries in Arizona with the top two candidates advancing to the general election.  Arizona Proposition 121 (2012) received almost a million votes, but failed when the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove’s organization funded the opposition. For this work, he was recognized with one of two National Anti-Corruption Awards by the National Association of Independents (

Since 1992, he has been Research Professor and Director of the Social Development Laboratory in the Arizona Research Laboratories at the University of Arizona, its premier interdisciplinary organization. He has taught applied social development and social policy in Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico and lectured in 10 countries. He used his Fulbright award to teach indigenous peoples the fundamentals of computers in Mexico. The Institute of Social Anthropology at Oxford invited him to be a visiting scholar focusing on applied anthropology. He has also held multiple appointments at the University of Arizona, including Assistant Professor of Hydrology and Water Resources (1971-72). Ted earned his Ph.D. at Stanford and is proud to have been a Beloit student trained by the late Dr. Andrew Whiteford.