Applying Anthropology - An Introductory Reader

Applying Anthropology 10th Edition – with Living Anthropologically

Applying Anthropology 10th Edition (2012) continues to be the only four field introductory reader to anthropology and is a good Introduction to Anthropology. I used this anthology through the previous edition (see cross-referencing for 9th edition) and was a reviewer for the 10th. There are some great new articles. Clarence Gravlee’s How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality is reason enough to seriously consider using it. But since fall 2012 I found too many dated and unwieldy materials. I’ve been looking for alternatives. For a look at my current selection of articles, see Introduction to Anthropology 2017.

Here is how the Applying Anthropology articles relate to the Living Anthropologically sections on Biological Anthropology – Human Nature, Race, Evolution.

1.1 Anthropology and Human Nature

a) Horace Miner, “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”
Like thousands of anthropology professors in a time-honored tradition, I begin the course with the Nacirema article as a way of talking about anthropology as an investigation into human sameness or universals, and differences or particularities, emphasizing that those things which make us the same are also the things we see as most different. Click Body Ritual among the Nacirema for more on how I teach this article. I introduce the idea from Renato Rosaldo’s Culture & Truth that Miner’s article could also be seen as a critique of ethnographic writing, a warning to be careful about over-generalizing and locking people into timeless descriptions. I also attempt to talk about how Miner overlooks power differentials in ethnocentrisms. For more on Miner (and Laura Bohannan), see Micaela di Leonardo’s sections in Exotics at Home.

b) Laura Bohannan, “Shakespeare in the Bush”
Bohannan’s article can also make the point about universals but with deep cultural particularities. Bohannan’s article remains useful, especially for students who have just finished reading Hamlet for high school. The article should be retitled, and it can reinforce a problematic us-versus-them divide. See my reflections on Shakespeare in the Bush.

1.2 Evolution and Natural Selection, Anthropologically!

a) Robert Root-Bernstein and Donald L. McEachron, “Teaching Theories: The Evolution-Creation Controversy”
b) Benjamin Z. Freed, “Re-reading Root-Bernstein and McEachron in Cobb County, Georgia”

I was sad to see these articles carried over into the 10th Edition of Applying Anthropology. There must be someone who has written better reflections on the status of evolutionary theory and scientific understandings. I have used these articles to introduce evolutionary theory and although they have some good points, they have serious drawbacks. For more discussion and a free PowerPoint, see Living with Darwin & Evolution-Creation Controversy.

c) Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, “Mothers and Others”
Hrdy’s article is quite useful for providing a different look at evolutionary mechanisms, stressing cooperation and a much more nuanced view of natural selection. For updates, including new longitudinal studies on fatherhood and testosterone, see Mothers and Others, Testosterone Anthropology, Biocultural Synthesis.

d) Peter J. Brown, “Culture and the Evolution of Obesity”
Peter Brown is one of the editors for Applying Anthropology, and his article can be used to make the point of how culture and biology are intertwined, as well as how what is adaptive under particular circumstances can be maladaptive in others.

1.3 Biological Anthropology and Racism

Charles E. Orser Jr., “The Challenge of Race to American Historical Archaeology”
Other than Gravlee, the only article in Applying Anthropology to discuss race as economic-political inequality is by an archaeologist. It is also one of the most difficult articles in the anthology, and so I usually save it for later in the course. Still, it comes closest to discussing structural racism.

1.4 Human Skulls: Boas Head Shape Studies Revalidated

Meredith F. Small, “Our Babies, Ourselves”
I use Meredith Small’s article to stress how babies are “neurologically unfinished” (218) and how the finishing occurs within a particular social environment. However, this point can easily get lost in the rest of the article which reads as endorsing all different kinds of childcare practices. The article does not address how some practices might be less about culture and more about poverty and necessity: certainly leaving children in the care of young siblings may be a “cultural” difference, but it may also be a response to less-than-ideal circumstances. For more on how I teach Meredith Small’s article in 2013 and a free PowerPoint, click Meredith Small – Our Babies, Ourselves.

1.5 Attacking Anthropology and the Race Revival

The race revival is now covered as part of Gravlee’s article below. The 10th edition of Applying Anthropology ditches a long-running love affair with Jared Diamond’s Race without Color. For the first time since I began using the Applying Anthropology readers there is no Jared Diamond at all! This is quite an exceptional turnabout, as at one point they included three Diamond articles, Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race and “Easter’s End” (see the sections on Questioning Collapse in More than Guns, Germs, and Steel). As much as I find Diamond’s “Worst Mistake” problematic, I missed it in this volume, as it pairs nicely against Goodman and Armelagos, “Disease and Death at Dr. Dickson’s Mounds,” and John Bodley “The Price of Progress.” I was therefore quite surprised to find Diamond’s “Worst Mistake” re-surface in the 2013 edition of Applying Cultural Anthropology.

1.6 Race Reconciled Re-Debunks Race

There is not much in Applying Anthropology for forensic anthropology. Dick Gould, “Identifying Victims After a Disaster” is interesting and moving, but does not discuss the intricacies of forensic identification.

1.7 Race Becomes Biology, Inequality Embodied

Gravlee anthologized in Applying Anthropology–a boon for Introduction to Anthropology courses everywhere!

1.8 So Many Primates for Primatology

a) Barbara Smuts, “What Are Friends For?”
b) Barbara J. King, “Apes, Hominids, and the Roots of Religion

Smuts’s article is carried over from previous editions of Applying Anthropology–it is good but perhaps becoming dated. Barbara J. King is a wonderful addition, as Applying Anthropology had been seriously deficient on the great apes. King is a great writer and tuned to popular culture–her NPR blog-post Humans And Other Animals: A Voice From Anthropology could be used in this section.

1.9 Bipedalism is Also Called Walking

a) Ann Gibbons, “A New Kind of Ancestor: Ardipithecus Unveiled”
Gibbons’s article replaces a very short John Noble Wilford piece from the previous Applying Anthropology. It’s a good move, as Gibbons highlights the debates about how to interpret fossils and bipedalism. It could lead into the debate on Was “Ardi” not a human ancestor after all? (2011).

b) Carl Zimmer, “Great Mysteries of Human Evolution,” Mystery #2, “Why do we walk upright?”
I was frankly quite surprised and puzzled Zimmer’s 2003 article remains in Applying Anthropology. It’s not terrible, but there has been more than a little movement on some of these “mysteries” in the last ten years. However, Zimmer’s mystery #2 is a concise rendering of why the striding-out-into-the-savanna model has not held.

1.10 Stone Tools for 2+ Million Years

a) Kathryn Weedman Arthur, “Feminine Knowledge and Skill Reconsidered: Women and Flaked Stone Tools”
This is a new addition for Applying Anthropology–really looking forward to teaching this 2010 American Anthropologist article!

b) Carl Zimmer, “Great Mysteries of Human Evolution,” Mystery #3, “Why are our brains so big? and Mystery #4, “When did we first use tools?”
These Zimmer sections are short–his depiction of the human brain as an “awesome social computer” seems strange, but it does potentially lead to talking about coevolution with tools.

1.11 Denisovans, Neandertals, Archaics as Human Races

1.12 More Mothers than Mitochondrial Eve

Carl Zimmer, “Great Mysteries of Human Evolution,” Mystery #6, “Why did we outlive our relatives?”
Nothing in Applying Anthropology on the 2010-2012 admixture findings, and as in the previous edition, this mystery needs some dramatic re-writing. I would have preferred replacing the “great mysteries” with Zimmer’s reporting on Denisovan admixture–Siberian Fossils Were Neanderthals’ Eastern Cousins, DNA Reveals (2010).

1.13 Biocultural Naturenurtural Human Biologies

a) Barry Bogin, “The Tall and the Short of It”
Bogin definitely illustrates human biological plasticity, but the article has become dated. Bogin needs to better explain how plasticity interacts with the statistically high heritability of height. I like to point out that research on lactose tolerance has become more complex, as the idea that there is a simple genetic switch seems doubtful—see A worldwide correlation of lactase persistence phenotype and genotypes (2010). Environmental factors and changes in diet with industrialization are still under-examined. I have sometimes used the Paul Krugman article America Comes Up Short (2007) as an update for Bogin, especially since Krugman’s reference to “nasty, brutish, and short” sets up the archaeological debates on domestication–see Agriculture as “Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”?

b) Carl Zimmer, “Great Mysteries of Human Evolution,” Mystery #8, “Have we stopped evolving?”
Zimmer’s mystery #8 is another one in need of dramatic re-writing. Not only is it the case that brain size has not been expanding, but it seems human brain size has been shrinking over the past 10,000 years. See the wonderful Mailbag: The teacher who wouldn’t believe in shrinking brains from John Hawks.