what it means to be human

From the 5th edition of Anthropology: What Does it Mean to Be Human? by Robert Lavenda and Emily Schultz, in Intro to Anthropology 2021 for our first class we read chapter 1, “What is anthropology?” The big answer to this question is that anthropology “is a scholarly discipline that aims to describe in the broadest possible sense what it means to be human” (5). But things might get confusing from there!

After that, on to module 1, Anthropology, Science, and Storytelling.

Transcript of “What it means to be human”

Alright, so I start off with this question of: “What is anthropology?” Because perhaps more than any other established academic discipline, there is less general knowledge of what anthropology is. In the old days sometimes, I would go around and have people write down what they think anthropology is before a class starts. Sometimes it was funny. People would be like “ants” or “dinosaurs.” But then the last time I did it, I went around the whole class and somebody said, “I got nothing” and then everybody else said “I got nothing” too so it took away the fun. Anyway, everybody that took the quiz got the right answer about the “humans” part, but it is a little bit ironic that Lavenda and Schultz here began their textbook in a fairly simple way, but it ends up being a little bit all over the place, a little bit confusing. Because they’re trying to do a big overview of anthropology, a big overview of all the things we’re going to be talking about during this semester, and a big overview of their whole textbook and condense it down into this first chapter. So what I’m going to do in this class is concentrate on five main points of what I think anthropology is, or should be, with a little bit of extra information here and there. And then you should know of course that we’re going to be looking into these themes as the course progresses. So I’m going to try and avoid what I always do which is: “well, we’re going to be looking at that later.” Just know that this is the overview and we are going to get into each of these topics in more depth as we go along. So hopefully that will all make sense, and like I said, a lot of the things some of you were like “well, I want to learn more about medical anthropology,” we get a tiny taste of it now but really we don’t revisit medical anthropology until almost the end of the semester, the last chapter in the text. Because the first chapter is outlined like the rest of the textbook will be so: “what is anthropology?” And I’ll also say here that this whole textbook tries to ask questions. Some of these questions might make sense but some of them seem a little bit forced. Sometimes I just want to know the answer, and they just ask a question that I never really had. Maybe that applies to “what is anthropology?”

What is Anthropology?

Lavenda and Schultz say that, “anthropology explores what it means to be human.” So let’s start with the word “anthropology.” “Anthro-” is a root word, the root word of “anthro” means people, or human beings, and “-ology” is the science, or the study of. It literally is the science or the study of human beings, or humanity. On page five Lavenda and Schultz say that it’s a “scholarly discipline that aims to describe in the broadest possible sense what it means to be human.” I’ve underlined the word “means” here because anthropology is not just about an outsider studying people as if they were under a microscope. We’re not going in and sort of being undercover and observing people from a distance. We actually want to talk to people, we want to understand what being human, being alive, being a person, means to the people themselves. We want to hear what other people have to say about being human. It’s a very engaged discipline and what makes something anthropological in a way is that we pay a lot of attention to how people interpret or make meaning of the world. Obviously we’re interested in observing people, but we’re interested in what people think about the world, their interpretations of it as well. As such anthropology is going to be a comparative discipline. That is to say, it’s taking in the whole scope of humanity. We don’t want to leave anybody out. We want to be able to compare cross-culturally or across societies, and we also want to be able to compare societies across time or historically as well. So in terms of its comparative scope anthropology tries to take as much as possible, all of humanity into its scope, starting from fairly early days as we’ll see in evolution, from the places where we might question whether the creatures, at what stage people become human people. Nevertheless, we’re going back pretty far, at least to bipedalism, or walking primates. Anthropology is also what Lavenda and Schultz call “holistic.” That is to say that it approaches human life as it is integrated or interconnected. Anthropologists tend to put together things that you might study separately in different disciplines. For example, you may have taken a class in religious studies, that obviously is the study of religion. There are classes in economics, business, you can go to a different place and take a class in economics. There are people who specialize in these sides of life. Anthropology is often trying to connect these various aspects of human life. We think of the human as a totality or a holistic, integrated creature. Let’s take religion and economics for example. We know that around December there’s this big month full of holidays and that’s very religious but it’s also very economic It’s a big time for stores. These things are not disconnected. They actually are very much connected. We might debate about whether they *should* be connected, but they are an integrated part of human life.

Anthropology also studies and takes into account evolution. Lavenda and Schultz here tell us something important, which is that evolution is both biological, we’ll be talking about biological evolution, but we can also talk about social evolution, the evolution of society or the evolution of culture. What evolution means is simply change over time. It simply means things are in process, that life is constantly in process, that life is constantly changing as we live our lives and as from one generation to the next. When we say “evolution” it’s important to distinguish, as Lavenda and Schultz do, that biological evolution and social evolution are not the same thing. It’s also important to know that evolution is simply change over time. It does not mean things are automatically getting better and better and better either biologically, when we talk about biological evolution, or when we talk about social or cultural evolution. It simply means things are changing and they’re going to be different. That’s the way things are progressing. Life is a process. This is a basic overview of the huge scope of anthropology. In the words of anthropologist Tim Ingold, anthropology’s subject is “humanity unsliced.” Sometimes we study humans in a sliced way, we like to slice them up when we study their politics, or we study their economics, or their literature, but anthropology likes to take these things and consider them together. All of these things contribute to our sense of human life.

Founding issue of “what it means to be human”

Since anthropology attempted and attempts to compare societies cross-culturally and across time, one of the things that motivates anthropologists is this idea of how similar are humans to each other over history and in different societies. Are all people basically the same? Do we share these things that we might call human universals? Or should we talk more about human differences, or things that are particular to a human group? This has been a huge debate since probably one of the beginning things that anthropologists would want to know: How similar or different are people across the world? When we try to compare them, will we find that people are basically all the same? Or are we going to emphasize how different they are? What happens is interesting. When you think about all the things that we could say, “alright, this is what all people do,” and we know they’re human because everybody has to eat, or everybody has been wearing clothes for 100,000+ years, so there’s clothing in every society. Everybody has to communicate, so there’s language, that’s a human universal. Or humans are tool users, we use different tools, and we can add on to this list of things that we know everybody does, and you’re in a society where there are other human beings when you see them eating and drinking and communicating. But the thing about it is that the things that are most universal are also the things that we notice first and the things that make us the most different. Lavenda and Schultz here begin with a story of eating termites. Everybody needs to eat. That’s a human universal. But not everybody eats termites. And so the things that we might think of as a delicacy are in other societies not even considered edible, they’re not considered good to eat, they’re not considered tasty.

There was a student question: Are there other things? Termites is a great example, but are there other things in other societies that would seem tasty or a delicacy to them but we might find disgusting or repulsive? *Of course.* The answer is, “of course there are, you bet.” Some of you might even be able to name a few things that you’ve either tried or come from your own society and you might consider very awesome but other people are like, “how can you even eat that? That’s not something to eat.” For my own fieldwork, I did fieldwork in the Andes in Ecuador and in southwestern Colombia. The delicacy there: the roast guinea pig or cuy. Oh, very tasty. Now they’re a lot bigger than those pets you might have had here, a lot tastier, but people freak out. There are some people who have an idea, I don’t know if this is really true, but their idea is that every society has a “test food.” Something that they really like but is pretty intense. If you grow up with it, you’re like into it, but it marks you as someone, it marks you as a part of that society. You might think of different kinds of things that are maybe really hot, really spicy, really smelly. If you grow up with it, you might really like it, but it’s a test to see if somebody from the outside is even going to appreciate that. The best way to pass the test, of course, if you want to be a budding anthropologist, is do what Jesus said: “Eat what is set before you.” You can usually pass the cross-cultural test. But the point is that if you think about other things like language and clothing, these are things that we all have as human beings but they’re also things that we mark as the most different, and we criticize people for, and we get all upset about it. This attitude is called–an anthropological word here, it hasn’t come up yet in Lavenda and Schultz, but I’m going to introduce it here–is the idea of “ethnocentrism.” The idea of ethnocentrism is that your own way of doing things: the things that you eat, the people that you marry, the language that you use, the technology that you have, is the correct way of being human. It’s the right way to do things, it’s the natural way, it’s the God-given way, it’s the way we’ve always done it. And that other people are somehow wrong, misguided, bad, maybe they’re not even quite as human as we are. If they’re going to be eating those things! There’s probably a little bit of ethnocentrism in every society. I mean you have to be a little bit ethnocentric just to get by. You have to assume that your way of doing things is a good way to do things. You don’t want to be questioning your beliefs every second of the day. But what we don’t want to do is slip into the idea that our way of thinking is the only way to do things and it’s the only way that God made people, and that the rest of people are in big trouble because they’re not doing things the way we’re doing things. This is what is called ethnocentrism. It’s what anthropologists have been fighting against for a while.

Anthropology & Colonialism

In part, because of a second point here, which is crucial to understanding what anthropologists were up to. Anthropology was born during a period of European and US colonialism. It emerges as an academic discipline at a time when non-European peoples “were coming under increasing political and economic domination by expanding European and European American capitalist societies” (Lavenda and Schultz, 9).

I put up a book here. This is a book that I read my first, or part of it, I read in a history class during my first year of college. It was my introduction to anthropology. It’s a book by Eric Wolf called Europe and the People without History. The book is, the title is, actually ironic, or it’s meant to be ironic, in that what Wolf was saying was that the construction of a place called Europe had to do with how they colonized different parts of the world and then assumed that the people in those parts of the world had no history. Europe got to have history and stuff like that, but the other people were simply savages, or primitives, or people stuck in time, and didn’t get to have history. Wolf was arguing against this. What he was saying was that the world is an interconnected place, and that the peoples outside of Europe were fundamental in the development of European society, industrialization, and capitalism. Things like the enslavement of African peoples was hugely important in the development of an industrial capital society. I read this book as a first-year student in college, and yeah it blew my mind, changed everything.

During colonialism, during the colonial period, is where we get our contemporary, our modern ideas: that people come in certain racial categories; that there is a ranking of people’s abilities based on their race. This comes to us from this 500-year period of European colonialism, particularly the encounter of Europeans in the Americas and the enslavement of Africans and the society that was built around these ideas. And so a very

harsh, you might say–ethnocentrism–developed out of this period. It was an ethnocentrism that assumed that certain people were on top and that all others were naturally below. This is not just ethnocentrism as in, “my way is different than yours, but we might be able to get along.” It’s ethnocentrism in the sense of “my way is the superior way, and your way needs to go away, your way will not be tolerated in this society,” or “it doesn’t make sense.”

This is a simplification of how I would describe the 19th century. So say around the time of the 1860s, let’s say the time of Charles Darwin, for example. Around the time of when the industrial revolution in the US and Europe was getting going. This is how people in these places, or at least some of the people at the top of society, felt. It was a hierarchical ethnocentrism in which the US, the European “Us,” especially the elites or the top part of the society, considered themselves to be civilized, or at the top. And that others outside of Europe and outside of the United States were somehow backward or primitive and they needed to be brought along. Or maybe they couldn’t be brought along because they weren’t capable of that, and so what happens is we have not only an ethnocentric [idea], we have an ethnocentrism that justifies the order that was established. Because then people can feel like they should be, it’s not just that they are superior, they *should be* superior because this is the way things are biologically ordained.

Anthropology & the Savage Slot

So what happens here is that a lot of academic disciplines start growing up in this time in the 19th century. Disciplines like sociology, economics, political science. Most of those disciplines are studying European and US societies. If you’re an economist in France you study the French economy, if you’re a sociologist in the UK you’d study the sociology of your own society. And so in an interesting twist of things, anthropology gets assigned everybody else. I mean, there were some people who would do histories of different peoples, but anthropology became the discipline that was tasked to study everybody outside of Europe and the United States. The question on people’s minds at the time was: “Well, why are those people the way they are? Why are they like they are? Why do they do those things? Why are they weird?” One of my biggest mentors in anthropology, sadly deceased, is Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Haitian anthropologist who worked in worked in the Caribbean but also taught. Here’s a picture of him in Baltimore, where Johns Hopkins is, where I went to grad school. His famous article, he had a famous essay, called “Anthropology and the Savage Slot.” What he was trying to say here is that what anthropology started to study was this whole configuration of peoples who were lumped into or stereotyped as being savages or primitive or backward. That’s what anthropology got assigned to do.

The prevalent explanations for “why are other people the way they are?” at the time. There were different explanations, but the predominant ones, and these were sometimes linked together, often linked together, was of racial determinism–that is to say people were the way they were because of their biology, because of their race, because of their genetics. If you wanted to know why people spoke a different language, it sounded funny, then you’d measure their tongue and you’d measure their larynx, and if you want to know why they had certain abilities you’d measure their bodies and all that stuff. [The idea] that people’s abilities were determined by their race, this was linked to ideas of environmental determinism as well. The idea that “oh, people in other parts of the world they don’t have seasons,” or, “they live in the tropics and so they don’t develop the same capacities and because we have snow then it makes us smarter.” These kinds of things were prevalent at the time, that people were determined either by their race, or by their environment, or a combination of both. In the early 1900s, and this appears in Lavenda and Schultz on page 10, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, Franz Boas, became a founder, one of, probably a lot of people would consider him the founder of US anthropology. He’s certainly a founding figure in US academic anthropology. Boas actually began his life in physics. He was on a voyage to the Arctic, and he actually began his life as an environmental determinist. He thought, “well, up in the Arctic is just snow and ice so everybody’s going to be the same up there.” That was the first thing, that he was disabused of this notion by traveling to different groups in this area and he was surprised at how different they would be, even in the same, what you might consider harsh, or very similar environmental conditions. He gave up his environmental determinism. Later in his life, as Lavenda and Schultz say, he also–and perhaps for our purposes more importantly–argued against the idea that people were superior or inferior based upon their biological race, or that their biological race would determine their capacity. He was interested in, for example, he did a lot of measurements on Ellis Island. There’s a very famous study where he measured the children of immigrants, and he was able to determine that even their head form and their body shape changed after one generation in the United States. . . . They hadn’t intermarried with anybody else. They were simply, their bodies had adapted differently to the new environment. Some of you may have grandparents or great-grandparents who immigrated from places where food was not very prevalent. I know that in my own family you can see the people get taller in each generation. So these ideas that race is biologically fixed, Boas argued against that. He would also argue, or start to make the argument, that our very notion of sorting race–that race was a valid biological category which we could say something about–he started to argue against that. I put that in parenthesis because we’re not ready to go down that road. We will be ready by about chapter five or six. Right now we’re at least ready to say there’s no evidence of any superiority or inferiority based on biological race.

Anthropology & Culture

The question was: “Well then why are people different? Why do they act differently? Behave differently? Think differently?” The answer for Boas and anthropology–*eventually*, it took a while, because they were raised in this environment too, they were part of that whole 19th-century hierarchical ethnocentric schema, but eventually they’d say, “wait a second, no, that’s not right.” “We’ve done studies, fieldwork studies, and that’s not the way things work.” Boas was not the best writer, but he did have some very good students who were very good writers like Ruth Benedict whose 1934 book “Patterns of Culture” was a huge bestseller. I don’t think you can see it, but down there it says it has a preface by Margaret Mead who became one of the most famous anthropologists. Also a very good writer and speaker, and became one of the most famous US anthropologists of all time. Benedict and Mead and others introduce a way of thinking about humans which was different, extremely different than the way people had thought about it before. It’s impossible to understand how radical, how different this was for people, if you don’t understand what was coming from before. What they were saying was that culture, our learned behavior, is what counts, is the main ingredient for what accounts for human differences. Two very important points of the culture concept. The first is simply that human behavior does have patterns. It’s not just willy-nilly. It’s not just random. We have to interact and be social creatures. There we are: Patterns of Culture. But crucially *we learn those patterns*. Now, we don’t always learn them in school. Most people don’t go to very much school, really. We seep it up. We learn them in society from our parents and from our peers. What anthropology argued was that these patterns are not determined by our biology, or we may call genetics, it doesn’t determine who you are.

I’m underlining *determined* there because that doesn’t mean biology and genetics aren’t important. Sure they are, but they’re not determining of culture. Also not determined by the physical environment. You can go to different places that have very similar climates and then be surprised at how different people are from a similar climate and geography just across the way. So it’s not determined by the physical environment. Of course that’s still important, so we don’t want to lose sight of geography and climate, those things are important, but they don’t determine how people are going to think and behave. As Lavenda and Schultz say in a crucial quote: the human animal depends upon learning in order to survive. We’re born with very few instincts. I mean maybe some instincts here and there. Mostly we’re born helpless and have to be carried around by our parents or whoever is going to be carrying us around. We’re helpless for a long time, perhaps longer than any other creature. We can’t walk, can’t do anything, takes us a long time to learn how to talk, get by. All during that time we need to learn our specific cultural skills and our specific language. Culture is what enables us to become human, to survive as humans, and to survive as part of a human group. There’s no other creature who depends as much upon learning for survival as humans.

What this enables anthropology to do, people like Boas, Benedict, Mead, is then to fight against that hierarchical ethnocentrism that structured the world at its time and in some degree still does today. That is to say, if people learn patterns and you can learn different patterns, and in some ways you can too. It’s rather random what patterns you happen to learn, and that those patterns are adapted to a specific environment. It doesn’t make sense to say that one pattern is necessarily superior or inferior to another. Contemporary anthropology–and one of you wanted to know “what is contemporary anthropology?” There’s what we might call “traditional anthropology,” or the anthropology that emerged out of colonialism. Then, as people began to understand what was going on, they started to reject these ideas that certain people should be classified as civilized and other people should be classified as primitive. Even in Benedict’s work and in her writing in the 1930s you’ll see some words like “civilized” and “primitive.” Those words will creep in there. Benedict was arguing *against ethnocentrism* and *against racism* but those words and labels were still around. In today’s anthropology we do not rank people in this hierarchy and we reject an idea that there can be an assignment of people as savage, as primitive, or as civilized. That’s an artifact of an old-fashioned way of thinking that doesn’t equate with what we have found over the years.

Four Fields Anthropology

Up to point number four. Let’s see. Point number one: anthropology studies the meaning of human life. Two: was how it was born during colonialism. Three: how we talked about culture as an explanation, as Boas and others developed academic anthropology in North America. The US, Canada, basically in these areas it became what is known as a four fields discipline. Lavenda and Schultz go through each of these fields. They’re the fields that we’ll be going through over the course of this class. In the UK and in France and in different parts of the world anthropology doesn’t necessarily have the same configuration, but in the US and in Canada, and most of North America, anthropology styles itself on being a four-field discipline. The first field that they talk about, and we’ll be talking about, is Biological Anthropology, what was once called physical anthropology. That’s an outmoded word as well, so we usually call it Biological Anthropology. This encompasses human evolution, it encompasses primatology, and it also encompasses the biological aspects of human beings. At Hartwick we have Professor Connie Anderson who teaches in Biological Anthropology, also does a very successful January term experience to South Africa, very famous here at Hartwick. She also teaches medical anthropology courses, so combines the biological with the cultural side. The next field that Lavenda and Schultz go into is what is called Cultural Anthropology. In some places, if you were more in the UK, it would be called Social Anthropology. Some people like to call it sociocultural anthropology. This is usually more the study of contemporary peoples. People who do fieldwork with another group or another society. I would consider myself to be a cultural anthropologist. My fieldwork was in the Andes in South America. Professor Mike Woost is also a cultural anthropologist, does his fieldwork in Sri Lanka, and teaches courses on the “Anthropology of Tourism,” the “Anthropology of War and Violence,” and teaches some of our capstone courses in anthropology.

A couple of you are interested in Linguistic Anthropology or the language aspect of things. Linguistic Anthropology is a highly complex subfield of anthropology. It’s probably the hardest to do. We don’t have at Hartwick someone who is specialized in Linguistic Anthropology. For many of us, we try to cover some language, some Linguistic Anthropology in the context of Cultural Anthropology and that’s what we’ll be doing in this class. It’s the smallest and most specialized of the subfields.

Then there’s archaeology, which a lot of people assume to be anthropology-in-general. Archaeology is one of the four fields of anthropology that deals with material culture: the artifacts, the stuff that people leave behind. It’s not simply about the past, it can also be anything that is concerned with material culture and stuff that people use their daily life. Here at Hartwick College we have Professor Namita Sugandhi who teaches archaeology courses, Fundamentals of Archaeology, and does fieldwork in India. We also have a fieldwork experience at Pine Lake that we try to do every other year in collaboration with SUNY-Oneonta. Pine Lake is actually a very good archaeological site for Native American groups at the time. In anthropology, these are different subgroups, sub-specialties that people have developed, and they each have their own way of doing things. In this class we’ll tackle Biological Anthropology first to cover human evolution and primatology; then we’ll go into archaeology to do some of the domestication of plants and animals and the rise of different state societies; then we’ll do culture and language at the end of, or near the end of things. That’s how we’re going to structure the class.

The Promise of Anthropology

In this chapter Lavenda and Schultz detail what anthropology is, but they also try to extend out a little bit into where anthropology is going. At the end of the chapter they talk about the “promise of anthropology.” I wanted to talk about this in the context of different ways in which anthropology has changed, different types of contemporary anthropology. One of the things that, as we saw before, that was hugely important especially in the United States, especially in a race-obsessed society like the United States, was the importance of separating what was the biological from the cultural. Anthropologists spent a lot of time trying to show how what your biology was and what your race assignment was *did not determine* your cultural capabilities or what language you spoke. This was a hugely important separation to make. It can also be seen in the separation that anthropologists have made between the idea of sex and gender. Sex refers to the biological differences that we see among human beings: hormones and physical characteristics. Gender refers to the social ideas, the expectations that we have, the social roles that we have, when we think we see someone of a particular sex. What anthropologists and others have done is to separate what is our biology, and biology is obviously important and real, from all the social and cultural expectations and ideas that we have about people because of how we assume their sex organs are. Anthropologists from early on were some of the people who most were able to survey different ideas about gender, different ideas about what a person should be: female, male, third gender, which comes up in many different societies. Third and fourth gender ideas were something that anthropologists have been surveying for a long time. However, in today’s world a number of anthropologists are trying to bring things back together. Not in order to say that our biology is determining, but to show us that sometimes when people say “oh, it’s just culture” they don’t understand that everything we do culturally also has a biological component to it. Racism is a cultural idea. We don’t get racism from our biology. However, it has biological implications: what school you go to; what healthcare you receive; where you’re able to live; all of these things are going to influence your biology as well. Anthropologists today often talk about “biocultural,” what Lavenda and Schultz called “biocultural approaches,” which is to say that these things are always together. You have to think of them together, not just separate. If you happen to be more in the UK, you might talk about this as “biosocial”: that biology and social aren’t separate. Again, this is not to say that, it’s not to bring back the idea of biological determinism–it’s simply to say that the things that we do socially and culturally have a biological effect. You are going to actually be a biological different type of person if you grow up eating termites as opposed to eating Big Macs all day. It has a biological effect on your on your development. Another thing that anthropologists have tried to think about is the idea of material culture. Partly because sometimes when we say the word “culture,” people talk about beliefs and ideas. We want to be clear that culture is very encompassing, and it extends to the stuff that people make and produce, as we talked about in archaeology, the artifacts that we have. The kinds of things that when we cram people into little desks and make them sit all day long, that has a biological effect. It’s part of our material culture, but it also has a biological effect as well.

Applying Anthropology

At the latter part of the chapter Lavenda and Schultz go into some things that we’ll see again at the very end of the course: the idea of applied anthropology, or how anthropology can be used outside of the academy, and the idea of medical anthropology.

Applied anthropology is trying to take things outside of the academy. At the very end of the chapter they cite the work of Jason De León. [This is] his book and this is the audio book cover. It’s more dramatic. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. De León was someone who took Archaeology and Biological Anthropology and Cultural Anthropology into fieldwork on the border, and talked to people crossing the border, and then did biological anthropology and even archaeology in this area, where people were attempting to cross the border into the United States.

Medical anthropology. Some of it has been fairly hot lately, even before the coronavirus, people were getting into medical anthropology. In part probably because health issues–health and illness and aging–are extremely important in our society. Here at Hartwick a lot of people combine nursing or health fields with an anthropological perspective. It’s also a way of combining the biological and the cultural. This has been a pretty large field recently, as the field of medical anthropology. The idea of development anthropology, which is how anthropologists tried to reach out and,

as they put it, improve the quality of life for marginal populations. Not just looking at how anthropologists could study with other people, but how their quality of life might be improved. Here Lavenda and Schultz say briefly, but I would emphasize a lot, the importance of sustainable technologies. The idea that we need to improve the quality of life without ruining the local and global environment. Trying to figure out ways to help people live sustainably as part of development anthropology, often drawing upon ideas of people who may have been left out or marginalized. They have often developed good ideas about sustainability, but we need to be able to incorporate that into the world.

Anthropology beyond the classroom

My fifth and final point is that if anthropology is going to mean something, it’s got to mean something outside of or beyond the academic sphere: the classroom, the university, the college. A lot of anthropologists have been saying this in various ways. I quoted Tim Ingold on the subject of anthropology as humanity unsliced. I used to assign his book, “Anthropology: Why It Matters.” The point is: How do we get people interested in, and what is the contribution of anthropology beyond simply studying others and talking, reading about it, and taking tests, and stuff like that? Some people have thought: “Well, the best way to make anthropology mean something beyond our sphere is to come up with sexy new topics like cyborg anthropology or the hybridization of people and their devices.” For me I guess I’m not completely persuaded by that. I was glad to see that none of you got into cyborg anthropology as well. Because I think what it does is simply reproduce that funky sexy academic sophistication without getting at the issues that are really motivating people and the reasons they might be interested in looking to anthropology. I find more convincing the idea that instead of studying people as if they were specimens or under a microscope, what anthropologists do is to study *with people*, to learn from other people, and to study with others as our guides. This is a concept that Ingold has actually developed quite a bit: how to take other people’s words seriously. How to listen to people. It comes up too in that little box by James Fernandez called “Anthropology as a Vocation,” or anthropology as a calling. The idea of listening to voices, that I would say is what is most important about anthropology, what I most hope that we get out of this class is *how to listen* in a radical holistic way to other people. To really try to understand where other people are coming from. A great quote from Fernandez, that I love as well, which is by listening carefully to others’ voices, and by trying to give voice to these voices, we act to “widen the horizons of human conviviality.” Obviously as you leave this class, in this course, you’re not going to turn into an anthropologist. But by listening to other people you can do what is most important, and more important than being an anthropologist, which is by listening to other people we can widen the horizons of human conviviality. I looked up the word conviviality, and conviviality in English has this definition of being friendly, happy, and welcoming. If you’re a good party host, you’ll be like “hey, that’s a very convivial person,” you’re a friendly person. But if you go back to the Latin, or those of you who are hispanohablantes, who speak some Spanish, the root word of conviviality is actually *convivir* which literally means: living together. So being able to live together with other people, which is more important than ever. I think we want to be friendly and welcoming and happy, but really we just need to be able to live together. That’s what’s probably most important here, and I think Fernandez probably was on to that. He did a lot of his own studies in Spain, and so maybe he was thinking about this deeper root idea of living together. Obviously we want to be friendly, happy, and welcoming, but sometimes you just need to be able to live together and get along.


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, follow on Twitter, watch on YouTube, or subscribe to e-mail list.

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