Why Anthropology

For the first class of Intro-to-Anthropology 2022 the objective is to explain “What is Anthropology?” as well as “Why Anthropology?” For this class, I have been most inspired by the book by Tim Ingold Anthropology: Why It Matters.

In looking around the internet, I was disappointed that I could not find a statement that would describe what anthropology is as well as something inspiring about why we should be learning anthropology now. In short, I hope to define what is called four fields anthropology, the only academic discipline to combine studies of human biology and evolution with archaeology and history as well as culture and language. Anthropology is also one of the few disciplines to take a truly global perspective, asserting that all human groups are important to the fate of humanity. I hope to convey that given the issues humanity is facing–climate crisis, healthcare crisis, racial injustice, and inequality–we need an academic discipline that lives up to the potential of anthropology.

Why Anthropology Resources

I have tried in the past to write webpages on What is Anthropology, with an example from 2017 on human potentials and in 2013 a first blogging attempt at What is Anthropology that actually was cited in the Wikipedia Anthropology entry.

For courses, my 2021 class on what it means to be human is a fully transcribed lecture. In 2020 I drew on the Muckle and González textbook to describe anthro as a perspective. The 2018 and 2016 classes were rather classic straightforward what is anthro 2018 and what is anthro 2016 lectures. In 2017 I tried to use anthro blogs as an introduction.

As mentioned at the outset, I have not found accessible internet resources to tackle these issues. Danilyn Rutherford’s 2020 What is Anthropology on Sapiens is accessible and brief, but it seems too whimsical for our times. Wade Davis had a wonderful opportunity in his 2021 essay on “Why Anthropology Matters” in Scientific American. It’s a perfect platform with a perfect tagline: “It’s the antidote to nativism, the enemy of hate–a vaccine of understanding, tolerance and compassion that can counter the rhetoric of demagogues.” The essay really could have been an amazing tour-de-force. Unfortunately Davis instead (and ironically) chose to fight old internal battles, from chiding anthropologists for not making a culturalist us-against-them response to the September 11 attacks; over-crediting foundational superstar anthropologists instead of the people who anthropologists learned from; to a final salvo separating professors from the critical social movements of our times as well as the primary concerns of our students.

A good critique of Wade Davis is in this Twitter thread: