Living Anthropologically

Table of Contents

(Brief version; scroll down for descriptions)

Anthropology – Understanding – Possibility

Living Anthropologically is an anthropology blog and website launched in 2011, with over one million visitors. Living Anthropologically began as a supplement for anthropology courses, especially Introduction to Anthropology. Living Anthropologically explains “What is Anthropology?”

Living Anthropologically attempts to address what Thomas Hylland Eriksen expressed in Engaging Anthropology: “Anthropology should have changed the world, yet the subject is almost invisible in the public sphere outside the academy.” The Living Anthropologically project is to make anthropological findings visible in the public sphere, drawing upon undergraduate teaching to highlight the most relevant lessons of anthropology.

From the very first post, I’ve tried to take counsel from Ruth Benedict’s approach to popularizing anthropology. As she launched Patterns of Culture into the world in 1934, Ruth Benedict was very concerned about titles, writing, book covers, and public perception. However, Benedict also provides a cautionary tale for popularizing anthropology. As Michel-Rolph Trouillot writes in Global Transformations, Benedict’s use of culture quickly became amenable to reinforcing ethnocentric and racist hierarchies that anthropology purported to challenge.

Trouillot’s Global Transformations, published in 2003, was meant to begin a conversation within anthropology. Or as Trouillot put it:

A major hope behind this book is that anthropologists can explore together the possibility of a […] model of engagement that reflects our awareness of the true power and limits of our position as academics. No single individual can or should define that model, yet I venture to say that its collective elaboration requires a responsible reflexivity. . . . Within North Atlantic democracies, imperfect as they may be, we are paid to speak our minds with relatively few personal risks, and we should use this privilege responsibly yet fully, lest someone takes it away from us. (2003:114-15).

Within North Atlantic democracies, imperfect as they may be, (academics) are paid to speak our minds with relatively few personal risks, and we should use this privilege responsibly yet fully, lest someone takes it away from us.Click To Tweet
In part due to Truoillot’s untimely passing, this hope went unrealized. The consequences of this unrealized conversation–partly explored in the 2018 post on Starbucks Enlightenment–place US academic anthropology in a precarious situation. This blog attempts to further the exploration of a model of engagement for anthropology.

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Living Anthropologically is an anthropology blog to showcase anthropology's undying faith in the richness and variability of humankind during global transformation. Let's bring anthropology to life and to public debates.Click To Tweet

Living Anthropologically

Table of Contents

The website category pages make up a table of contents for Living Anthropologically. Each link contains a set of related blog-posts, in chronological order (newest first). I have additionally included links to related pages on the website, since the site combines both a chronological blog as well as fixed-content pages based on anthropology courses and supplementary materials.

Anthro: What is Anthropology?

The question of “What is Anthropology?” must be answered in each generation. These posts on “What is Anthropology?” highlight vibrancy and diversity. For my most recent attempt defining “What is Anthropology?” see Conditions and Potentials of Human Life. This version of anthropology draws heavily on Tim Ingold’s Anthropology and/as Education (2017).


The “Anthropologists” category of Living Anthropologically contains blog-posts related to a specific anthropologist or anthropologists. These posts are primarily about the internal workings of anthropology and anthropological associations, unlike other sections of the site that are more focused on the external promotion of anthropology. A very helpful book is Matthew Engelke’s How to Think Like an Anthropologist, now available in the United States.

Anthropology Blogs

This category contains a selection of blog posts which are most related to things happening on the Anthropology Blogs. For the most current list of Anthropology Blogs, see Anthropology Blogs 2019. On this topic, see the book by Paul Stoller, Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media.

Anthropology Courses

These blog-posts concern anthropology courses and the teaching of anthropology. The page dedicated to cataloging Anthropology Textbooks and Courses is an important resource.


A collection of blog-posts about the role of history, material culture, and archaeology as a part of anthropology. The overview page Archaeology: Domesticaton, Agriculture, Civilization outlines some of the writing accomplished as an attempt at providing an independent web textbook. The sections on Jared Diamond–Agriculture: Jared Diamond’s Worst Mistake and Jared Diamond: Against History–are two of the most popular landing pages on the site.

Biological Anthropology

Blog-posts aimed primarily at biological anthropology. See also the overview page on Biological Anthropology which details 13 chapters of what became a Kindle eBook, Anthropology I: Human Nature, Race, Evolution. However, I have been unable to update the Kindle edition since 2012-2013.

Cultural Anthropology

Although it now seems impossible to change the terminology of “Cultural Anthropology,” most of the blog-posts in this category are critical of the use of the term culture.

Moral Optimism

The “Moral Optimism” category of Living Anthropologically contains blog-posts related to the idea of anthropology’s moral optimism. The term moral optimism comes from anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s book Global Transformations. See the page on Anthropology & Moral Optimism for elaboration and a free PowerPoint.

At the end of the day, in this age where futures are murky and utopias mere reminders of a lost innocence, we need to fall back on the moral optimism that has been anthropology’s greatest–yet underscored–appeal. But we need to separate that optimism from the naïveté that has been liberalism’s most convenient shield. We need to assume it as a choice–whether we call it moral, philosophical, or aesthetic in the best sense. We need to hang on to it not because we are historically, socially, or politically naïve–indeed, as social scientists we cannot afford such naïveté–but because this is the side of humanity that we choose to prefer, and because this choice is what moved us to anthropology in the first place. We need to assume this optimism because the alternatives are lousy, and because anthropology as a discipline is the best venue through which the West can show an undying faith in the richness and variability of humankind. (Trouillot, 2003:139)

I am inspired by the work of Gina Athena Ulysse, who is always engaged in the attempt to carry forward the moral optimism of anthropology. See her latest book, Because When God Is Too Busy: Haiti, me & THE WORLD.

Scathing Anthropology

The first draft of Living Anthropologically was called “Angry Anthropology.” I wrote it out of anger that anthropology and anthropological analysis was not being heard in the world. I was pitching it as a textbook companion, and my would-be editor wanted something more positive. Thus: Living Anthropologically. Although in general I have attempted to heed the advice of keeping things positive, the Scathing Anthropology category contains posts that foreground this original “Angry Anthropology.”

Living Anthropologically brings anthropology to life & public debates. Anthropology documents possibility & creativity to effect change. For updates, follow on Twitter or subscribe.

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