Global Toolkit

Cultural Anthropology 2023

For Cultural Anthropology 2023, this course used the fourth edition of Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age by Kenneth Guest along with the Fieldwork Journal. There is a course outline sketch below, and then some reflections on how I hope cultural anthropology can be the global toolkit we all need.

And here is the YouTube Lecture Playlist:

I will be updating a version of this course as Cultural Anthropology Toolkit 2024.

Part 1: Culture Tools

Coffee

  • Fieldwork: Making a Cup of Coffee Unfamiliar

Chapter 1, “Anthropology in a Global Age”

Culture

  • Chapter 2, “Culture”

Consuming College

  • Fieldwork: College Students & Consumer Culture

Fieldwork

  • Chapter 3, “Fieldwork and Ethnography”

Mapping

  • Fieldwork: Mapping a Block

Language

  • Chapter 4, “Language”

Language & Gender

  • Fieldwork: Language & Gender in the Classroom

Part 2: Power Tools

Kinship & Mapping Kinship

  • Chapter 9, “Kinship, Family, and Marriage”
  • Fieldwork: Mapping Kinship Relationships: Tracing Your Family Tree

Race

  • Chapter 5, “Race and Racism”
  • Fieldwork: Initiating a Classroom Conversation about Race

Ethnicity & Nationalism & Ethnic Business

  • Chapter 6, “Ethnicity and Nationalism”
  • Fieldwork: Seeing the Business of Ethnicity

Gender

  • Chapter 7, “Gender”

Sexuality

  • Chapter 8, “Sexuality”

Class & Inequality

  • Chapter 10, “Class and Inequality”
  • Clint Smith, How the Word is Passed, “New York City”

Part 3: Global Toolkit

Global Economy

  • Chapter 11, “The Global Economy”
  • Clint Smith, How the Word is Passed, “The Whitney Plantation”

Environment

  • Chapter 12, “The Environment and Sustainability”

Migration

  • Chapter 13, “Migration”

Immigrant Interview

  • Fieldwork: An Immigrant Interview

Politics

  • Chapter 14, “Politics and Power”

The State

  • Fieldwork: Making the State Real

Religion

  • Chapter 15, “Religion”

Religious

  • Fieldwork: Visit to a Religious Community

Health

  • Chapter 16, “Health, Illness, and the Body”

Art & Media

  • Chapter 17, “Art and Media”

Anthropology as Global Toolkit

For many years teaching Cultural Anthropology, my text was Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s book Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World, culminating in this 2016 course. While Trouillot’s ideas of moral optimism and belief that anthropology could still be a global toolkit were important, those courses tended to be as much a critique of the blindspots and ways in which cultural anthropology had failed to deliver on its promises.

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. I tried using Guest’s three books in this Sketch-Outline of Cultural Anthro 2019, but by 2020 the reader had become dated and the 3rd edition needed updates as well, but it did adapt well during a coronavirus-laden semester. For Cultural Anthropology 2021 and Cultural Anthro 2022 experimented with other approaches, but with a refreshing set of updates I am circling back to Guest in 2023.

When Guest emerged with the first edition of the textbook in 2013, the time seemed ripe for anthropology as a global toolkit. Obama had won his second term as US president, and I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post titled Anthropology is taking over the world. Times semmed reminiscent of that Bill-Clinton-esque-easy-going globalization from before when 9/11 got exploited to launch multiple wars on terror.

There were certainly storm clouds on the horizon. Anthropology was being challenged, dismissed, and attacked, which was a primary reason for launching this blog. As Discuss White Privilege reminded anthropologist on a blog formerly known as Savage Minds, we were by no means in a post-racial era. In fact, the assertion that there was now “Anti-White Bias” should have spurred greater anthropological introspection.

The second edition of Guest’s textbook seemed to anticipate more of the same under a Clinton administration. When that didn’t happen, the third edition courageously incorporated updates for the 2016-2020 period, but was published right before a a global pandemic.

Global Age?

It was reasonable to question if globalization was as novel a concept as popular opinion suggested–one of Trouillot’s primary arguments–and to ask: is this still a global age? Brexit, Trump, Ethnonationalism, the China/US divide, the clamping down on migration and travel.

In proposing that anthropology can still provide the best hope of a global toolkit, it’s evident that the issues we face–climate crisis, racial justice, inequality, reproductive rights, pandemics, migration, and refugees–are truly global. What seems to also be global is a perhaps new denial of reality, and the success of anti-democratic methods to impose authoritarian rule, eroding or ending democratic freedoms.

To confront this, we need–perhaps now more than ever–for anthropology to provide the global toolkit to match the challenges of our times.

In this context, the closing lines of Ruth Benedict’s best-selling anthropological manifesto, Patterns of Culture, merit revisiting: “As soon as [cultural relativity] is embraced as customary belief, it will be another trusted bulwark of the good life. We shall arrive then at a more realistic social faith, accepting as grounds of hope and as new bases for tolerance the coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence” (1934, 278).

Traditionally, Benedict has been lauded (or derided) for the idea of cultural relativism. Here, however, perhaps we should emphasize the points of “more realistic” and “raw materials of existence.” For it is by acknowledging, realistically, the magnitude of the challenge that we stand the best chance of ensuring the raw materials of existence.


Living Anthropologically means documenting history, interconnection, and power during a time of global transformation. We need to care for others as we attempt to build a world together. This blog is a personal project of Jason Antrosio, author of Fast, Easy, and In Cash: Artisan Hardship and Hope in the Global Economy. For updates, subscribe to the YouTube channel or follow on Twitter.

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