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Why do we need anthropology?

Why do we need anthropology?

Week 1: Anthropology as “ruthless criticism”

Ryan Schram
ANTH 1002: Anthropology in the world
Monday, August 01, 2022

Slides available at https://anthro.rschram.org/1002/2022/1.1

Main reading: Marx ([1843] 1978)

Welcome to class

Before we begin, let’s get to know each other…

Get up out of your chair, look around.

Greet the people you see in the room.

If you are on Zoom, look at the people’s names and faces in the Zoom room. Say hello in the chat and introduce yourself.

Walk over to someone and introduce yourself.

What are the most important problems in the world right now?

Talk to the people you meet.

What are the biggest problems societies face today? Write some ideas down.

The biggest problems don’t have easy solutions—Obviously!

I would like to argue that anthropology—the study of how people live in all its diversity and complexity—has a lot to say about these kinds of big problems.

For any of the world’s big problems, there are already many, many people who say they have The Answer.

  • It’s usually an apparently simple answer.
  • It’s usually a one-size-fits-all answer.
  • It is tempting to embrace these kinds of answers, because they come from people who sound like experts.

Anthropologists are skeptical of big, easy, simple, one-size-fits-all answers. This does not mean that they believe there are no answers, though.

Anthropology teaches us to listen to perspectives that we would not otherwise know about, and learn to see complex problems from multiple points of view.

Anthropology also helps us to realize the limits of our own perspectives.

The mechanics of the class

The class is divided into four 3-week modules. Each focuses on one important topic in anthropology, but together these are just a small sample of the kinds of things that anthropologists study.

Each module is an example of how anthropologists think, and why anthropology matters to understanding the contemporary world.

  • The first week examines a big idea in anthropology.
  • The second week presents a single ethnographic case study, a qualitative description and analysis of a single situation or community in the real world.
  • The third week extends the investigation of the topic by asking how we can turn the lens of anthropology back on ourselves, and examine our own societies and backgrounds as one possibility among many.

Anthropology is never just the study of what other people do. It is always also a search for alternatives. The purpose of examining people’s lives is to rethink what we assume is natural and normal about our own lives.

How to get the assigned readings

Every week we will read work by anthropologists, and all of the selected works we we read are available through the library catalogue in one way or another.

To find the assigned readings, start on the page on the class Canvas site for the upcoming week.

Weekly writing assignments

To prepare for lecture and tutorial each week, you will submit your answer to an open question.

There are no right answers to these questions. They are not tests. You get a +1 if you submit them on time, by Sunday at 6 p.m. and simply make a genuine effort to answer the question with your own view.

Think of these weekly writing assignments as a warm-up exercise. They will help you collect your ideas about a topic before class so you can have something to contribute.

These writing assignments also help you think about the readings in preparation for your major writing assignments.

The weekly cycle

Each week in the class is a conversation: among students, and between each student and their tutor. We repeat the same cycle each week.

  • Read the required readings (and, if you want to know more, read recommended readings).
  • Think about what they say and what you think of them.
  • Write something about what you’ve read, and submit it to your tutor.
  • Eat some brain candy. Explore the topic of the week through new media, and see how the week’s issues enter into contemporary cultures.
  • Ask questions, discuss, and listen in lecture and tutorial.
  • Receive feedback from tutors about your ideas.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat…

References and further reading

Marx, Karl. (1843) 1978. “For a ruthless criticism of everything existing.” In The Marx-Engels reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, 12–15. New York: Norton. http://archive.org/details/marxengelsreader00tuck.

1002/2022/1.1.txt · Last modified: 2022/07/30 16:16 by Ryan Schram (admin)