Cultural Anthropology 2020

A World with Room for Everyone

For Cultural Anthropology 2020, we use the third edition of Essentials of Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age by Ken Guest. A course outline sketch is below, and then at the end there are some reflections on what I hope this course achieves.

Part 1: Cultural Anthropology Toolkit

1. Connected

  • Chapter 1 part 1, “Anthropology in a Global Age” (5-14)
  • Horace Miner, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema,” American Anthropologist (1956)

2. Global Age?

  • Chapter 1 part 2, “Anthropology in a Global Age” (14-31)

3. Culture

  • Chapter 2 part 1, “Culture” (33-46)

4. Gun Culture?

  • Chapter 2 part 2, “Culture” (46-61)

5. Fieldwork

  • Chapter 3 part 1, “Fieldwork and Ethnography” (63-82)

6. Ethnography

  • Chapter 3 part 2, “Fieldwork and Ethnography” (82-91)

7. Language

  • Chapter 4 part 1, “Language” (93-110)

8. Language Diversity

  • Chapter 4 part 2, “Language” (110-117)

Part 2: Considering History & Power

9. Race

  • Chapter 5 part 1, “Race and Racism” (121-141)

10. Whiteness & Racism

  • Chapter 5 part 2, “Race and Racism” (141-153)

11. Ethnicity

  • Chapter 6 part 1, “Ethnicity and Nationalism” (155-171)

12. Nationalism

  • Chapter 6 part 2, “Ethnicity and Nationalism” (171-179)

13. Gender

  • Chapter 7, “Gender” (181-207)

14. Sexuality

  • Chapter 8, “Sexuality” (209-235)

15. Kinship

  • Chapter 9 part 1, “Kinship, Family, and Marriage” (237-257)

16. Modern Families

  • Chapter 9 part 2, “Kinship, Family, and Marriage” (257-263)

Part 3: Hope

17. Economy: How we got to here

  • Chapter 10 part 1, “The Global Economy” (267-288)

18. Class & Inequality

  • Chapter 10 part 2, “The Global Economy” (288-307)

19. Environment

  • Chapter 11 part 1, “Environment and Sustainability” (309-331)

20. Sustainability

  • Chapter 11 part 2, “Environment and Sustainability” (331-335)

21. Politics

  • Chapter 12 part 1, “Politics and Power” (337-358)

22. Social Movements

  • Chapter 12 part 2, “Politics and Power” (358-367)

23. Health & Culture

  • Chapter 14 part 1, “Health and Illness” (401-422)

24. Health & Wealth

  • Chapter 14 part 2, “Health and Illness” (422-431)

25. Religion

  • Chapter 13, “Religion” (369-399)

26. Media

  • Chapter 15, “Art and Media” (433-459)

Reflecting on Cultural Anthropology

This version of Cultural Anthropology 2020 is a significant departure from how I taught Cultural Anthropology for a decade, culminating in this 2016 course. Those courses concentrated on reading full-length anthropology books as we traced the trajectory of the concept of culture within and outside of anthropology. While there was much that was useful about that approach, I began in 2018 to turn attention to what Kenneth Guest called an anthropological toolkit. We of course want to remember global history and the history of anthropology, but I felt we needed to foreground the future, especially in a basic undergraduate class.

In the 2018 What is troubling anthropology?, Matthias Teeuwen put it bluntly: “I think that there is an overarching sense that anthropology has failed to live up to its promise to ‘make the world safe for human difference’–as Ruth Benedict famously set the task for anthropology.” Detailing that failed promise was exactly the premise of my previous Cultural Anthropology courses. As of 2018, I attempted to turn more to what anthropology might possibly do to re-address that promise.

I at first adopted Guest’s three-book set which included a textbook, reader and fieldwork journal–see this 2019 course for a course outline. In the current Cultural Anthropology 2020 course, I am only using the updated 3rd edition of Essentials of Cultural Anthropology. I did this because the 3rd edition has valuable online resources included in an affordable $35(US) package direct from Norton. Although there were some valuable articles in Guest’s edited reader, it was not updated for 2020, and it had already felt somewhat dated when I first began using it (not a single article had been published after Trump’s election). And although there were things I liked about having a paper copy of a Fieldwork Journal, the idea that students are going to be able to hand in paper copies of anything during the time of COVID-19 is really just not going to happen.

Cultural Anthropology & Coronavirus

The last point about the practicalities of fieldwork brings up the question of how to teach Cultural Anthropology in coronavirus times. Unfortunately for Guest, who bravely updated his textbooks to come out (c)2020, they already feel like they are artifacts of The Before Times. Opening to the first pictures in chapter 1, “Anthropology in a Global Age,” my first reaction: Why are those people so close together? Why aren’t they wearing masks? (Note: I first saw the idea of “The Before Times” on the Discuss White Privilege Twitter feed, but it also was used in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.)

I’ve been struggling mightily with finding a purpose of anthropology and a purpose for teaching cultural anthropology during these times. In many ways, anthropology, the academy, and society-in-general are imploding. The course I am scheduled to teach–a reduced-density, masked but in-person course, with simulcast for remote and quarantined students–nevertheless raises ethical issues about health and safety for students, staff, and the entire community.

In this situation, I am still modestly hopeful that an anthropology that does attempt to reckon with its past and present can also be a bridge to a world with room for everyone. I borrow this phrasing from a book by Tim Ingold, Anthropology: Why It Matters. Ingold concludes:

For what drives anthropologists, in the final resort, is not the demand for knowledge but an ethic of care. We don’t care for others by treating them as objects of investigation, by assigning them to categories and contexts or by explaining them away. We care by bringing them into presence, so that they can converse with us, and we can learn from them. That’s the way to build a world with room for everyone. We can only build it together. (2018, 131)


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