Episode 1 – Module 1: Anthropology 101 I – Conversation with anthropologists Part I


Gerhard: The best way to start defining anthropology
is perhaps by what it’s not. We are not, unfortunately perhaps, Indiana Jones-like figures finding
treasures in cowboy hats with whips attached, although we will catch up with two anthropologists
in Northern Queensland who wear the Australian equivalent of cowboy hats. We’re also not
generally concerned with dinosaurs and leave that for the paleontologists. Nor do we study
insects. That’s for the entomologists. Social or cultural anthropology is about people:
the environments they inhabit and the things they get up to. But I’m getting ahead of myself because we travelled across the US and Australia to ask some leading anthropologists about
their definitions. Here’s what they came up with to the question: “What is anthropology?” Paul Stoller: Anthropology is telling other people’s
stories so that we can understand human difference. In an increasingly globally interconnected
world, understanding human difference has become increasingly important. It’s really
very important for us to know how other people live, how other people—their passions, their desires, but also the conflicts in their lives, their issues basically. The more we know about
how other people live, the better we can live live ourselves. Daniel Goldstein: It’s not about lab work, at least
not the kind of anthropology that I do. It’s not about quantification, numbers and formulas
and things. It’s about going out into the world and talking to people and meeting them
as equals and getting to understand their lives and their worlds through the perspective
of people living those lives. That was fascinating to me when I was 19, and it still is today. Alex Golub: Anthropology is the modern science of
human behavioral variation. That’s the short version. Michael Jackson: It’s an exploration of the paradox
of human plurality. The fact is that all human beings are in some sense the same. We’re all
members of the same species. We have millions of years of evolution that has made us what
we are today. The period of our cultural evolution is relatively small by contrast. The period
in which we have become different culturally, ethnically in appearance is only a small part
of our evolutionary history. We are both, as it were, the same, as with all other human
beings, and every individual is absolutely different genetically and in character. I
think anthropology is possibly the most alluring and edifying way of exploring plurality. Jeff Juris: I think anthropology is, on the one hand, a perspective. It’s about valuing local knowledge. and learning about the world based
on how people understand the world and their place within it. It’s a perspective based
on meaning and everyday life. It’s also a method based on long-term participant observation.
Living with a group of people for a long time and realizing that if what we’re interested
in is meaning and culture and people’s everyday lives, then we have to live that. We have
to sort of experience the world as other people do. Gerhard: A short definition of anthropology,
the way you practice it, what would it be? Sarah Kendzior: I guess the study of traditions, beliefs,
and practices. I mean, I know that that sounds very broad. I think anthropology can be interpreted in a number of ways. Questions should be led by the subject. You can go in with your own
research question, and you’ll often end up, as an anthropologist, in a completely different
direction because you’re following the lead of the people you’re talking to. You’re finding
out what matters to them, what’s important to them. I don’t think that’s necessarily
unique to anthropology, but I do think it’s something that people strive for. It’s actually
thought of as a virtue and not a fault; not as a flawed research plan, but as a pragmatic
and accurate representation of what people are really experiencing. I support that. Alex Golub: When you’re in the field, you just feel
like you’re overwhelmed with experiences, sights, sounds, sensations, feelings. You
have to learn to take risks. You have to think inductively. You have to make connections.
You have to be willing to tinker. You have to accept failure, welcome it, and move on
in a healthy way. Those are all things that people actually do when they search for information. Philippe Bourgois: Anthropology is the study of humans
by any means necessary. Specifically, cultural anthropology that we do is very much influenced
by bringing the methods of participant observation ethnography to understanding what’s around
us, whether it’s where we live or somewhere far away. The crucial thing is that anthropology
has this insight it brings to understanding human society and human culture, which is
that everyone lives within their logics, that we’re creatures of logic in some sense. Nothing
is right or wrong. It just has a logic. Our duty, to put it that way, as anthropologists,
is to uncover the logic of the people that we want to understand or the setting that
we want to understand. In that sense, studying—I wasn’t going to
pass a moral judgment on being heroin addicted or selling crack or something. I’m just going
to understand, methodologically and practically, how they understood doing that. Gerhard: This question is about: how would
you describe anthropology in a nutshell? Rob Borofsky: Okay. What I’d like to say to you and to the
students: it’s not something that you just check off on a multiple-choice test. If you’re
given a question in this book or in some other test, what is anthropology and you only have
five choices, they’re all wrong. Gerhard: I can’t do that now for the students. Rob Borofsky: Well, you do what you want. That’s not
for me to say. I don’t want you to think it’s a definite thing. To be honest, I’m not always
sure what anthropology is. I work in the Pacific. History and anthropology totally overlap.
It overlaps with sociology, overlaps with politics and economics. One of the key points of anthropology, as
they say, that context shapes behavior. Anthropologists, to understand what may seem exotic behaviors,
understand the context in which people behave. This idea of understanding how people live
in their context, understanding the differences from us, what we can learn from them and what
they can learn from us, how we can help them and how they can help us, it really, in a
sense, is like a calling. It’s a passion that allows us to really enrich the lives of those
around us, as well as ourselves.