Thank you for visiting and for making this the #1 page on Living Anthropologically. Be sure to check out What is Anthropology? and the Introduction to Anthropology pages.

It’s official. In August 2012, Kiplinger declares anthropology is the worst major for your career. Forbes follows suit October 2012: Anthropology is the worst major.

We’re #1!

From Florida Governor Scott’s we don’t need anthropologists to Frank Bruni singling out anthropology in the New York Times, I’m tired of playing defense. We’ve worked hard to get to #1.

Anthropology is the worst major for being a corporate tool. If going to college is only measured by the job you will take immediately after college, then please choose one of Kiplinger’s 10 best college majors for a lucrative career or one of Forbes 15 Most Valuable College Majors. Please don’t become an anthropology major!

Anthropology is the worst major for immediate career, but anthropology is the major most likely to change your life–see What is Anthropology? And anthropology may help you change the world, although standard disclaimers about “starving artists” apply. But anthropology is also a great major to acquire lifelong learning skills–language, culture, thinking, writing, analysis–that enables success in several careers. Perhaps paradoxically, anthropology is a great major for analyzing corporations and capitalism, and you probably have just as much chance–if not more–of landing in the top 1% as an anthropology major as you do with any of those so-called lucrative or valuable college majors.

Anthropology is the major for changing your life–and changing the world

Let’s face it–most people come to anthropology out of pure interest. Many anthropology majors join specifically because they are not looking for the capitalist payout, or a “typical” life. People come to anthropology to learn about the world and about themselves. Whatever I write, my most shared blog-post continues to be Anthropology, Moral Optimism, and Capitalism, I hope because it strikes a chord about anthropological analysis and contemporary capitalism.

Anthropology is the major for acquiring a lifelong learning skillset

Of course, changing capitalism is an arduous task, and there are the practical realities of needing a job, of wanting to do something vaguely interesting, of repaying student loans. But here, a rigorous anthropology major should provide skills to navigate a changing world in which graduates will have several careers, not just one.

Back in April 2012, when we were at #9 in The Daily Beast most useless majors, Adam Van Arsdale put up a great and very relevant post about this, The usefulness of anthropology. In his follow-up, Thoughts on an anthropology curriculum, Van Arsdale outlines writing, language skills, analysis from multiple lines of evidence, comparative perspectives. In other words, in a rapidly changing world we can be sure that these kinds of broad skillsets will be applicable for a range of career settings. (See the follow-up piece Are the Liberal Arts Relevant?)

Anthropology is the major for analyzing capitalism–and getting into the top 1%?

Somewhat ironically, although many people come to the anthropology major because they are wary of corporate payouts, there is a large contingent of anthropology in business and in advertising. Anthropology has produced some of the most lucid analyses of the capitalist financial crisis, as exemplified by Gillian Tett’s recent address to the 2012 Anthropology in the World Conference.

Then there’s the somewhat curious fact that looking at What Top 1% of Earners Majored In, there’s a very healthy assortment of liberal arts degrees in the mix. You have to scroll into the attached document to find Anthropology and Archaeology, but we find 3.3% of these majors end up in the top 1% of earners and these majors make up 0.4% of the top one-percenters. That may not sound like a lot, but compare Pharmacy–Kiplinger’s #1 best major for your career–and we find 3.9% of these majors in the top 1% and a total share of 0.7%. Is that so different? Or take Kiplinger’s #3 most recommended major, Transportation Sciences and Technologies, which lands only 1.7% of its majors in the top 1% for a total share of just 0.1%. In fact, my rough comparison reveals five of Kiplinger’s top ten land more majors in the top 1% than anthropology, with the other five landing fewer. For the Forbes 15 most valuable, six of the majors did better than anthropology in the top 1%, but nine did worse.

Anthropology Major and the Capitalist Lottery

One reason people don’t automatically shift over into the occupations Frank Bruni mentioned in April 2012, or into the majors Kiplinger and Forbes tout, is that most people know that capitalism has become a globalizing lottery. Majors in English, philosophy, history, and even anthropology get lucky and break into the 1%. Majors in pharmacy, nursing, and transportation can see their jobs globalized out from under them, without seriously improving their odds of getting the truly lucrative payout.

This is something anthropology has been talking about for a long time. Although not specifically anthropology, Susan Strange’s Casino Capitalism came out in 1986(!), with a title and analysis that is just as relevant today.

Anthropology is the best major to change your lifeIt’s also the case that this kind of lottery is part of academia, and part of anthropology. In a chilling piece, The closing of American academia, anthropologist Sarah Kendzior focuses on the 2011 meetings of the American Anthropological Association and the experience of adjuncts: “One after another, the occupations that shape American society are becoming impossible for all but the most elite to enter.”

Anthropology beyond the capitalist lottery

Anthropology knows about capitalism, from the top and from the bottom (see Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History – Geography, States, Empires). We’ve analyzed the capitalist lottery and know it isn’t good for individuals or for society. We strive to impart these lessons and skills in the undergraduate anthropology major. Yet our graduates are underemployed, working in retail. Our doctorates are underemployed, working as adjuncts. We need to figure out ways to go beyond the capitalist lottery, for our undergraduates, our graduate students, and our world.

Anthropology is #1

Thank you for visiting and for making this the #1 page on Living Anthropologically. Be sure to check out What is Anthropology? and the Introduction to Anthropology pages.

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  • Silktrack

    I was very sad to hear capitalism once again rules our lives! I studied a MA (Applied Anthropology) in 2000 and I enjoyed the tutorial discussion so much! I learn to be a ‘human being’!This landed me a job as a research assistant at a university’s psychiatry department and subsequently I completed my PhD in 2007. I now called myself a medial anthropologist and my expertise is in the overlap between culture and illness!

    Never give up! The world needs more anthropologists to change things around!

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Hi Silktrack, thank you for the comment and enthusiasm! Just received this link to Resources for teaching medical anthropology which could be helpful in those areas.

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  • chadhuddleston

    I always tell my students that anthropology will not tell you what to think (how to do a specific job), but rather how to think, allowing you to go into many different fields.

    • Yolanda

      Except people who hire interns scoff at any liberal arts degree, doesn’t matter if your GPA is a 4.0.

      • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

        Hi Yolanda, this may be so, but would have to consider where the liberal arts degree is coming from. I doubt that degrees from the elite liberal arts institutions get the same sort of scoffing, although they may hardly be home free. Might also be worth noting that the elite institutions are not the kind that give out a 4.0, which would be almost unheard of from a top school.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Hi Chad, I completely agree and discussed some of this in the comments above as well as the previous Liberal Arts Anthropology. One of the problems with the Kiplinger idea is that there are careers yet to be invented–in a changing world, being slotted into a particular area may not be the best idea for the long run.

  • Dinkey

    Anthro is great if you have other things beneath it in different fields. I think someone who just strictly studied anthropology may have difficulty.. A BA will get you nowhere (except back to school) an MA, now we are talking.. I think though some people feel they need a PhD in anthro, but that isn’t true either.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Hi Dinkey, thank you for this. As with my reply to Jay, there are a lot of possibilities for combining, and one of the many drawbacks or blindspots in the Kiplinger rankings is how students could do a double major or majors and minors to get both broad and specific training.

      Before going into an anthropology PhD program, I would read Elza Jane Darling’s Less than Zero Anthropology!

  • Jay

    Perhaps the original article was referring to getting a job immediately upon graduation with a BA degree….in which case Anthro majors are kinda screwed in this aspect, along with all other liberal arts degrees (if they want to make over 30k a year). An MA has much better prospects, especially in the applied field, or if your research relates somehow to business. I think there are many students who acquire a BA in Anthro then get right into an MA/PhD tract without thinking or any work or even research experience, they are not diversified at all, so it will hurt them in the long run if they don’t have a secondary skill, students really aren’t told this at all by their professors as some institutions.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Hi Jay,
      Thank you for the comment. There is also the issue of where the degree is from in the hierarchy of institutions, but you are correct that for many the idea that the “MA is the new BA” probably applies. There’s also a lot of scope for combining liberal arts coursework with a major in something more focused.

  • Jen

    I got an undergrad degree in Anthropology, while doing paleoanthropological research and first-authoring papers. My first job out of college? Working as an investment banker/analyst for a huge corporate firm. I made 80k my first year and a lot more shortly thereafter. Yes, I went to a great school, but my boss told me I got an interview because my resume was interesting, and I got the job because I “clearly understood people, was excited to learn, and knew how to think” for myself. None of those qualities are emphasized in B-school curricula.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Thanks, Jen, this could help with some of the other comments, in the sense that there is nothing inherently about anthropology that disqualifies for an entry-level job, and in certain markets can actually make you a distinctive candidate. Although I eventually did not take that route, I did get one post-anthro PhD offer to work in corporate consulting–probably I would have been bad at it, but it was possible to style anthropology as proto-consulting.

    • Ityoppya Seba Love

      One love Jen. I have an interesting resume too. I have lots of academic work in Anthropology and Folklore. I have been looking for gainful employment for some time. I live in NYC. Can you help me please? I would be so grateful. Need money and I learn fast and I know people!.

      • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

        Jen seems to be discussing her first position after undergrad. Not sure where she is now–could be in grad school!

  • Ashkuff

    Well, that was painful to read. Not because of bad writing or reasoning, of course. It’s just that the truth stings a little. The worst part is, anthropologists have mad skillz that’re sorely in demand. Yet, despite those skills, ANTHROPOLOGISTS THEMSELVES aren’t in demand, because nobody knows who we are.

    Out of curiosity, have you ever seen my pilot study, jokingly called “Why Nobody Gives a Damn About Anthropology?” Check it out, at
    http://ashkuff.com/foranybodytocare.html

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  • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

    An update on a few links that have come in since writing this:

    - In End of Summer Bummers, a department chair reflects on being forced to cancel anthropology adjunct sections.

    - At Selling Liberal Arts to 18 Year Olds, a Dean reflects on how different this is at different institutions: “At the snooty/exclusive liberal arts colleges, the sale has already been made. At a community college in a non-affluent area — my beat — the issue is a little trickier.” This post gets at some of the academic hierarchy issues in the comments below.

    - The American Anthropological Association blog posts Anthropology: the major, the career, with a round-up of articls and blog-posts.

    • ratnat12

      i am completely disagree with the post, i a simple m.a anthropology student, but presently i am pursuing phD in the best management (corporate) institute of my country india. infact, my prof. he is an anthropologist, social anthropologists, but he is teaching a marketing management in my insititute (Indian institute of management Calcutta). thank you

      • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

        Hi, I would actually agree with you on the importance of this kind of work! I am here trying to be a bit cheeky about this whole idea that anthropology is a bad major for a business career, and suggest that (1) many anthropologists come into for entirely other reasons but (2) it actually does deliver valuable skills for business. Thank you for visiting from India!

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  • Ityoppya Seba Love

    One love. I was a Liberal Arts major with an emphasis on Cultural Studies that focused specifically on Comparative Black literature. I went on to do a Masters of Arts in Anthropology and Folklore at U.C. Berkeley. The fact is that I feel that my studies in Cultural Anthropology gave me real tools with which to comprehend and better the urban landscape that I came of age in. I was born in East New York, Brooklyn to first generation Haitian immigrants. For various reasons the acculturation and process for us was very painful and it continues to be. I dealt with rampant ethnocentrism, color prejudice, classism, castism, and racism not to mention the persistent sexism and bias that plagues our culture and society. Compounded by the fact that I am a transnational {albeit from above} and I spent my formative years in AYITIhaiti. I had to learn my way through a social cultural quagmire in the streets of Port au Prince and New York City and my studies have helped to shape how I see myself and to be secure in my identity. All of that may sound or read like hogwash and soppy to some hard ass money makers or die hard kkkapitalsit. For me it has helped me to figure out my purpose and what my contributions can be. I’m on my way, I know how to help myself and not hurt others and our planet in the process. I just wish that others would stop being so judgemtal about our studies. There are concrete and tangible results that help us move on. By the way, one of them is living at the white house as head of state. His mother was a bone fide trained Anthropologist who raised him without the input of his father. He had a good life and his amazing and exotic background made him attractive to millions who voted for him. And his identity and the environment that he grew up in made him welcome to billions around the world. I for one wish that we worked harder to ensure that the field of Anthropology was more diverse and less racist and class centric. My experience in these departments left me scarred for life. The field is open to white folks who want to study others but not to black natives who want to study themselves. So in many ways, it seems to me that Anthropology has internalized some of the prejudices that it experiences. The exotification of the subjective other to the point of complete erasure of the people’s sense of self and identity formation. In other words, we need more natives studying themselves. That will give us a better view. And we might make progress. Thank you.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Hi Ityoppya,
      Thank you for this. Definitely makes me think of Michel-Rolph Trouillot, one of the people who most inspired me in anthropology–see In Memoriam, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1949-2012. Trouillot saw the whitening of anthropology early on. In his comment on Virginia Dominguez’s A Taste for “the Other”: Intellectual Complicity in Racializing Practices:

      We should contribute to making multicultural programs deliver something more than what many students and administrators may have first intended. We should push the few minority superstars to use their positions to modify the segmented market that produced them. When will the number and quality of minority Ph.D.’s they mentor decrease the market value of race in their respective fields? In sum, besides the verbal deconstruction of the categories involved, we should consider the numerous micro-practices of resistance, including the relative deracialization of our own specialty. In recent years, the proportion of blacks with higher degrees has declined in anthropology as in most research fields. Academics are not responsible for this decline, but we certainly have not done much about it. (345-346)

      Not long after that I entered the anthropology program, part of this ongoing deracialization. It is now more than clear how much anthropology suffers for not engaging in these micro-practices of resistance.

      • Ityoppya Seba Love

        Hi. Thanks a bunch for replying with such a thought provoking statement. I knew Dr. Rolph Trouillot. He lectured at UPenn when I was doctoral candidate in the Folklore and Folklife department. He also administered my Haitian language exam. And we are both published in the Edwige Danticat edited The Butterfly’s Way. I was so sorry to. Learn of his passing.It is really sad because Anthropology and Haitian studies lost a tremendous scholar and intellectual.
        Having said all of that, I must tell you that the process of deracialization that he wrote about so well is a product of post modernism in the academe and in the fields of ANTHTOPOLOGY, folklore and cultural studies. The notion of transcendance and the exotification of mixed raced and dual or multiple identities, nationalities and the ability to cross various kinds of artificial borders sometimes represented by casteclass, gender, sexuality and so forth is just another form of coloniall disorder since it seeks to reinstate the hierarchies that white supremacy has oppressed us with. I have met and worked with various Haitian ANthropologists since entering graduate school over 2 decades ago. Unfortunately, they seem more concerned with critiquing the colonial “other” and writing back instead of fortifying new groups of Anthropologists in their own midsts. Myexperience with these folks have been very damaging to my self esteem because they were didmissive of whatever contributioms that I could make and whatever attention I did receive from them was directly related to my connection and approval withby the white3 power structure

  • @beth_schill

    This is a fascinating read! I am actually employeed at one of the “Big Four” consulting firms – and while I always intended to go into academia I have been surprised at how successful and useful my cultural anthropology degree has been in my field. Perhaps some of the reasons that anthro majors are not as visible in the corporate world is because we put ourselves into the boxes of “anthropologist” and “businessperson” and rarely allow the two sides to interact. I know I did that for my first five years consulting – with a few exceptions (i.e observation skills come in very handy in new client situations!). Recently, I’ve recognized that being able to bring the best of both worlds together can change both how business is conducted, and also how anthropology is respected in the corporate world. I would check out, for those who are interested, the book “The Ten Faces of Innovation.” Ideo – a model company for innovation- ensures that they hire anthropologists!

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Thank you, Beth, glad you enjoyed this and thank you for commenting. As I mentioned in another reply, there is a lot of overlap between the consulting process and anthropological research techniques. I discovered this post-PhD, and sometimes wonder what might have been if I’d found out sooner. That said, at the time i graduated consulting seemed to mainly be about finding “efficiencies” through downsizing, so I’m not sure it would have worked out, but I’m hopeful you can find a synergy.

  • Cristina Douglas

    Hello!
    I am an Ethnology researcher (the equivalent of anthropologist and the term much more used in Central-Eastern Europe) in Romania for over 6 years. I have a Ba in Ethnology, 2 Ma in Anthropology and now I am preparing my PhD.
    For many years in my short career, I was considered by some friends and even by a part of my family like I wasn’t doing something serious, like for example being an economist or a doctor. Despite of my results, they won’t stop thinking like this unless I will earn some more money. Otherwise, my work doesn’t worth anything.
    I can see, even in my country, the conflicts between different cultures, sometimes between the popular culture and the new EU rules and I am thinking that only an anthropologist/ethnologist would be able to find some solutions. Unfortunately, in my country (and maybe in many others) this job is a “non-strategic” one and, for sure, should remain out from any useful activity.
    Like you said in your article, the most lucid analisys are the anthropological ones. I think everybody would gain from using the anthropology as a key of understanding the contemporary post-modern human. Anthropology is perhaps the most participant sience, since it evolves in the same time with the society.
    I hope this situation will change in the future and, like you said, the world will be changed.
    Until then,
    All the best from Romania!

  • Cristina Douglas

    Hello!
    I am an Ethnology researcher (the equivalent of anthropologist and the term much more used in Central-Eastern Europe) in Romania for over 6 years. I have a Ba in Ethnology, 2 Ma in Anthropology and now I am preparing my PhD.
    For many years in my short career, I was considered by some friends and even by a part of my family like I wasn’t doing something serious, like for example being an economist or a doctor. Despite of my results, they won’t stop thinking like this unless I will earn some more money. Otherwise, my work doesn’t worth anything.
    I can see, even in my country, the conflicts between different cultures, sometimes between the popular culture and the new EU rules and I am thinking that only an anthropologist/ethnologist would be able to find some solutions. Unfortunately, in my country (and maybe in many others) this job is a “non-strategic” one and, for sure, should remain out from any useful activity.
    Like you said in your article, the most lucid analisys are the anthropological ones. I think everybody would gain from using the anthropology as a key of understanding the contemporary post-modern human. Anthropology is perhaps the most participant sience, since it evolves in the same time with the society.
    I hope this situation will change in the future and, like you said, the world will be changed.
    Until then,
    All the best from Romania!

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Hi Cristina, so good to hear from you and cheers from the U.S. to Romania. You have some great insights here and I look forward to hearing more about how we can increase the relevancy of anthropology as a way to finding solutions to contemporary issues.

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  • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

    Please see Dear AAA: Sink or Swim? at Savage Minds for a follow-up piece on adjunct labor and the role of the American Anthropological Association.

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  • Holism

    I graduated in Anthropology! And these are the people that live the best!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Mohd.Nadzrin.Wahab Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

    Out of all the Human Sciences, Anthropology gave me the perspective to see Psychology, Communication, Political Science and History for what it is. It gave me a keen insight into the specturm between the two Qs. I fell in love with Anthro, and from there moved on to its other branches, but it always remains as my first and most powerful romance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mohd.Nadzrin.Wahab Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

    Out of all the Human Sciences, Anthropology gave me the perspective to see Psychology, Communication, Political Science and History for what it is. It gave me a keen insight into the specturm between the two Qs. I fell in love with Anthro, and from there moved on to its other branches, but it always remains as my first and most powerful romance.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/tiyana.lynn Tiyana Lynn

    I just wanted you to know that you just made my day. I was a little leery of making it my major after seeing it as #1 as the worst on the Forbes list. Now I feel that much more confident, and that much more relieved. I figured anthropology was about learaning about the world anyways. Thank you!

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Thank you Tiyana! Please keep us posted on how it works out!

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  • Raven

    Hello, My name is Raven

    I’ve always been interested in the field of Anthropology, but more specifically Archaeology. I’m still a junior college student, and haven’t transferred over to a four year yet. But my question is how do i start working my way into this field now? How do i got some archaeological experience, so that i’m not walking out with a degree, but absolutely no skills, so that i can show i have work ethic and real hands on knowledge of the field. Anthropology is a wonderful field of study, and the range of skills it gives you i think is almost unparalleled by any other scientific field outside of the social sciences. Certainly by know you should see I’m a true enthusiast. Currently i’m in the process of learning Arabic, because I’ve always wanted to focus my research mainly in north Africa,Levant,Yemen, and India. But for India i plan on learning Tamil later, plus a lot of interest is being generated in India now, sense it’s got the worlds fast growing population. Any way don’t want to get to off subject, but if there’s anyone on here who can give me advice on what i should be doing, and where i should be looking, please let me know.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Hi Raven, thank you for this. My own experience is more with broad skills in liberal arts degrees, but if you are already at this level of interest and specificity, I would recommend looking at an undergraduate institution with a well-developed specialty. Might also be good to find one with an archaeological field school, as that will help you get certified in some of the skills you need. Hope that helps!

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  • vaibhav

    i am pursuing bsc. in antropology ….reading this is i think i am doing a mistake.!can u tell me what are the job aspects after graduate or msc in anthropology..??

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Hi, that’s a very complicated issue. Although there are few direct jobs in anthropology after an undergraduate degree (some after an MA), it can be ideal to provide broad training and skills. May want to also see the follow-up Great Year for Anthropology!

      • vaibhav

        no actually i want to ask u about the scope and is the field good ??

        • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

          There’s actually a lot of interest and health in the field, see What is Anthropology. But you’ll want to talk to your professors about job prospects, as this has a lot of specific variation.

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  • rogerhwerner

    I have to emphasize that I agree with you completely. I spent the first five years of my post BA life (majors history and geography) bouncing from one job to the next hating everything). I discovered anthropology quite by accident and fell in love with it in 1976. I didn’t care if I ever earned a middle class wage. I was willing to work for food and shelter. I became an archaeologist and my last honest job was in 1976. I’ve been a fully employed anthropologist (archaeologist) ever since. Anthropology changed my life. Not only did it give me a new career and a new identity, it taught me how to obtain and keep an open mind, not to prejudge what you don’t understand, to accept what is different and not compare it to what is familiar to me. Grad school taught me how to think, analyze data, write, separate fact from fiction. I don’t know where I;d be without my degree in anthropology but I’d rather not think about it. I was never much of a corporate stooge and I expect I;d be among the millions of people with a job but who would rather be doing something else. I don’t have a job. I have a life and my life is my work.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Thank you for this, so inspirational!

      My one caveat, or note of caution, would be to say that I’m wary of advising students based on what we were able to do 20-40 years ago. These are different times, and a “new duty arises” (Boas), to provide a Purpose of Anthropology.

  • Ari

    two years of debate, surelly a super topic

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