introduction to anthropology course description

Introduction to Anthropology Course 2015

by Jason Antrosio

Update: This post is part of a series on teaching four fields Introduction to Anthropology. Please see:

For my 2015 Introduction to Anthropology course, I got a first look at the 3rd edition of Anthropology: What Does It Mean to be Human? by Lavenda and Schultz. I adopted this textbook since their first edition and did a review of the 2nd edition. I commented on revisions for this 3rd edition, and from an initial look, it seems like this version addresses some of my earlier concerns.

I am also excited to be adopting War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views edited by Douglas P. Fry. During the height of the Diamond-Chagnon-Pinker alliance, I originally highlighted the hardcover version of War, Peace, and Human Nature, and pined for a reasonably-priced paperback. The paperback was just released in February 2015, and I’m hoping that for an Introduction to Anthropology course this collection will show how anthropologists and others can bring together archaeology, primatology, biological anthropology, and sociocultural perspectives around a common theme.

For an ethnography, I am returning to Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz and her short but powerful Labor and Legality: An Ethnography of a Mexican Immigrant Network. I used this book in my 2013 Introduction to Anthropology course, and the issues remain very relevant–see Ryan Anderson’s interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz on Savage Minds, Legality, Race, and Inequality as well as the Open Anthropology issue World on the Move: Migration Stories edited by Alisse Waterston.

Unfortunately I will not be returning to Lila Abu-Lughod’s Do Muslim Women Need Saving? Although I was excited to use this book for my 2014 Introduction to Anthropology course, I found that in many cases the students found the exact opposite message to the one Abu-Lughod was trying to convey. When confronted with long and lurid excerpts, what Abu-Lughod critiques as a “pornography of bondage” (2013:102), the pornography became more powerful than the critique. I fear that with Charlie Hebdo, Abu-Lughod’s message has even less chance of being received. There is some irony here, in that Abu-Lughod had already pointed out the particular politics of these framings in France:

That books about bad Arabs who force and enslave girls have a special place in the politics of European immigration is revealed by the enthusiastic reception of such books in France. Three of the classics I discuss in this book were first published or publicized there. . . . French anxieties about North African immigrants are particularly intense, as these Arab Muslims form a postcolonial underclass in the restless suburbs. (2013:97)

I do suppose that my 2015 Introduction to Anthropology course is something like a three-book advertisement for Oxford University Press! But Oxford UP has reciprocated: I will be trying to use this course to construct a genuinely four-field anthropology reader that can go with an Introduction to Anthropology course and specifically supplement the Lavenda and Schultz textbook. So I’ll post updates–and be grateful for your suggestions–along the way.

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  • AJ

    I find it crazy that in our culture, reading and writing is so important and then other cultures look down on it. Education is a huge part of American culture. You grow up, going to school, planning to attend college. Not going to school isn’t even a thought for a large majority of Americans. Sitting around hanging out with friends, and drinking beer is frowned upon. Especially when at that time, you should be in school. The drinking age is 21, and you have to limit good times with good people to further better your education. That’s not the case for this African Tribe. From old men to children, they drink day in and day out around the clock. By noon the village is up in a drunken party. Singing and dancing and playing instruments. This was their everyday life. No age limit, no responsibility to school nor jobs. Even the act of reading is questioned or looked at in a different; almost negative way. They only read on four, maybe five occasions. tax receipts, bride price receipts, court fee receipts, other letters. In our culture we would consider that lazy and irresponsible. To them reading and writing is a waste of time. Both cultures question each other. So situations like these, show the difference of how people can still be human without having the same thoughts on what a “human” is or what actions are needed to make one human.

    • Hi AJ, I would be a bit careful with this reading of Shakespeare in the Bush. Remember that this is a special seasonal activity (not all year round). Also might consider the reasons for why they might be suspicious of writing–and don’t necessarily find it useful.

  • Tonya

    I was caught off guard by reading the chapter and learning all of the different aspects and kinds of anthropology. I never thought of anthropology being so broad and excessively used throughout our lives and even our daily lives. In particular, medical anthropology interested me the most because of my nursing major. I never realized that medical anthropology existed but after reading about this I strongly could relate it to my past nursing courses. Medical anthropology is concerned with human health and looks at the factors that contribute to disease/illness and how certain individuals treat/deal with these particular diseases. In the nursing field, we come across medical anthropology all of the time and always consider ones religion, ethnicity, culture and ect when providing their care. Therefore, I can understand why medical anthropology is said to be one of the mostly rapidly growing areas of anthropology. The healthcare teams must be aware and accepting of others religion, ethnicity, culture, customs, norms and ect in order to provide the most sufficient and legal care for their patients. This really made me interested in wanting to learn more about medical anthropology because I realized how beneficial this is for my future nursing career and I noticed how much it correlates with my past nursing courses, especially in the clinical setting.

    • Hi Tonya, thank you for the comment. Anthropology can seem like a too-daunting field, but I’m glad the medical anthropology material is a place of intersection. At Hartwick, you may look into taking a course with biological anthropologist Connie Anderson.

  • This was sent to me by a student who can remain anonymous:
    Hello there, I am majoring in Anthropology and am already finding it
    difficult in some aspects, maybe I don’t have the ability to ‘critically
    think’ or my brain isn’t developed yet to wholly understand what Kottak
    or any other anthropologist is trying to say. I really want to do well,
    I really don’t want to be that ‘kid’ who does not participate in class
    because she is scared of being scrutinised by her peers and her
    professor. I really would appreciate some sort of advice from you in
    this regard.
    A terrified ‘potential’ anthropologist

    • My advice would be to “hang in there.” Many times the people who appear to know what they are talking about (and seem to be scrutinizing) may not know as much as it seems. Remember that careful, quiet observation, even sometimes “looking dumb” can be crucial to success in anthropology. Hope that helps, but I’ll share this and see if others chime in.

      • I intimidate classmates by asking questions that I wonder seem dumb all the time! At my university, it is considered highly impressive to have questions that reflect having read the material. Just let the love of learning remove the focus on whether you are doing well and then everyone will be sufficiently impressed. I am a history major, but this applies to anthropology students as well.

      • Julia1wolfe

        I agree. In fact, one of the things I love about anthro is that not knowing is valued.

    • Julia1wolfe

      Theory in particular is hard to read and understand. You might want to get a mentor – someone further along (another student or a prof) who could talk with you about what you read so you can be sure you understand it.

  • Brianne

    Reading the first chapter of Anthropology broadend my views on how society is mediated. Anthropology has many fields to asess human culture, nature and the past. Each field conducts studies of humans actions of how and why they do them. The chapter has summerized specific areas of study into five major subfields such as biological, archaeology, cultural, linguistic and applied anthropology. The area of study that has most attracted me is the cyborg anthropology due to its accelerated growth through techonology. In the world of business it has become crucial to understand the new and updated series of techonological advancement for a company or for businesses to keep up with the new generations addictions to the new ways of technology. This new addition to society changes our culture and changes our future generations that are now depending on something that wasn’t depended apon 15 years ago. Learning more about this field would be most influencial for any up coming anthropologist or someone who is interested in anthropology. As a business major this is going to effect me greatly in years to come, so understanding this area of study will be beneficial for myself.

  • Abby

    I thought it was very interesting just how many categories of anthropology there are and how diverse they are. I admittedly have very little knowledge of what anthropology is, so already I’ve learned a lot in this first chapter. Being a business major I think it is very important to look into the study of human nature, society, and it’s past. We have to deal with people everyday and work with them and make sure their needs and wants are met. Also as a business major we have to know how to entice people into wanting our product/service. I found the cultural anthropology section interesting as well because again with my major we have to deal with a variety of people (especially if you work internationally) so it is imperative to get to know the culture you are going to be interacting with so that you do not accidentally insult someone. This is very similar to the scenario at the beginning of the chapter with the two anthropologists eating the maggot paste even though it is not something they are accustomed and may think is gross to not be insulting they had to try it. I think this area of study will be very beneficial for myself and I will be able to use what I learn in many ways

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  • AnthroDB

    Hi Jason,
    Have you had a chance to check out the relatively new textbook by Ken Guest? I’m thinking of adopting it but I’d love to hear your opinion.

    • Thanks! Do you mean the Essentials of Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age? It looks interesting but I haven’t had a chance to review it. I’m hoping to post some materials about my upcoming Introduction to Anthropology and Cultural Anthropology courses soon, so I’ll try to revisit this.

      • Alessandro Angelini

        Essentials is the abridged version of the main textbook, which is titled simply Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age. I believe Essentials cuts out the chapters on human evolution and art/media from the original and updates several other things.

        • Hi Alessandro, thank you for the follow-up. I’ll definitely need to check out both!

    • Hello again, just wanted to let you know that Alessandro Angelini also recommended the Ken Guest textbook. So I’m going to try and write a review soon!