Why Anthropology Rocks

You Majored in What!?

Italian anthropologist Andrea Staid speaking out against racism

Usually, whenever you are in a social situation (party, get together, chess club, lunch hour, etc.) well-meaning people ask the dreaded question–what do you do for a living?

Nothing wrong with it. We are curious about others. And in our society, we are what we do.

Of course, this question is usually followed by a more dreaded question–what did you study in college? Whenever I answer I studied anthropology, the reactions go from, blank stares to the stereotypical “is that like Indiana Jones” to the frequent “you major in what????

Yes, I am an anthropologist. It was not an easy decision. I wanted to pursue other fields. Physics (I always wanted to be an astronaut), Spanish, education, biology, literature, philosophy, political science, and labor studies made compelling cases.

image: Definicion XYZ

What do you know at seventeen what you want to be or do for the rest of your life?

And yet, I chose anthropology. Moreover, if I was seventeen again, even knowing what I do know, I would choose it again. Am I crazy? Do I want to make money? Short answers: no and yes.

I am here to tell you anthropology rocks. Nothing against the other social sciences. Sociology, psychology, and political science rock too for different reasons. Anthropology is the most humane one (pun intended).

I told you before anthropology matters. I even gave some examples. Granted, I wrote that as a science fiction writer interested in anthropological science fiction and the intersection of anthropology and speculative fiction.

But what about those of us who are not science fiction writers? Should we study anthropology? Of course!

What Can You Do With That?

Argentinian archeologists excavating a mass grave

There is a very American mentality that if a particular subject is not profitable it is not worth pursuing.

As a matter of fact, our society looks down on liberal arts degrees but applauds technical and business degrees. Sadly, we fail to see the whole picture. Both are worth pursuing. Both are worth studying. Both have something to contribute to society.

Anthropology is the study of human beings. Us. Homo sapiens sapiens. With eight billion people living currently on this planet, I don’t see anthropologists running out of subjects of study anytime soon.

We study anthropology first and foremost because we care about people. We want to understand our world, society, and culture better. We want to understand our place on it. Moreover, we want to question and challenge our social constructions.

Who are we? Why we do what we do? Where are we going as a species? How we came to be how we are? How can we be different?

image: Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Anthropology is the only discipline that can draw from data from millions of years ago (archeology and paleontology) and hundreds of thousands of human cultures across time and space (ethnographies and written records) to give an answer to the human question and shine a light on the human condition.

Not even history can go as far back since by definition you cannot have history without written records.

And for the record, there is plenty you can do with an anthropology major. Not just working in academia or a museum. Indeed, anthropology and all social sciences become alive once they are applied to our daily lives. Theory must follow action.

Anthropologists belong out in the field, not just the classroom.

So Really, What Can You Do With That?

Among the hundreds of human cultures, there are the people from Papua New Guinea

I remember like today when my mother told me I would never do anything with an anthropology degree.

Sadly, mom was right.

I would never do anything with it because I can do anything.

What I mean is the skills anthropology teaches us, as well as most liberal arts degrees (take note), are skills that are not high on demand but transferable through different job positions.

For example, if you study accounting, you will most likely remain an accountant for the rest of your life. If you study medicine, you will be a doctor.

However, if you study anthropology (a behavioral social science whose subject is human beings themselves) you can work in government, policy, health assessments, social service management, forensics, historical preservation, interpreter, et cetera.

Anthropology teaches careful record-keeping, critical thinking, analytical reading, active observation, and listening skills, interpreting or translating, persuasive writing, problem-solving, social agility, interviewing people, social ease among different cultures and ethnic groups, and many other valuable and marketable skills.

These skills translate from one job position to another.

Khoisan family, Pinterest

Finally, modern anthropology is founded upon two principles we would do well to remember:
  1. Evolution – the process by which living organisms develop and diversify from earlier forms
  2. Cultural relativism – a person’s beliefs should be understood by others in terms of that individual’s own culture.

And no, we did not evolve from apes and monkeys (stop repeating that idiocy). We do share a common ancestor. And no, our culture is no better than other cultures and vice versa. Just stop.

In conclusion, it is easy to see why anthropology rocks; why anthropologists are needed in our modern world, and why we need more anthropologists? Furthermore, anthropology has a great deal to teach us. Even science fiction writers.

Reader, would you want to learn anthropology?

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February 2023