I don’t think I am the first to wave the flag of why we need anthropology and I certainly hope that I won’t be the last. But maybe if enough of us call out, our voices combined will convince the world that anthropology matters. And while it may not solve all our problems, it may provide some much-needed insight on what it means to be human, and maybe, just maybe, help us understand each other a little better.
The other day I got into a debate with my sister. While sitting around the fireplace with my family, I idly picked up a scarf and commentated that I may have to wear one if I go to work in Turkey. To which my sister responded with genuine surprise and opposition “Why on earth would you do that?! It’s a free country, you’re not even really Muslim.”
This got me to thinking, would my sister have said the same if she had taken a class in anthropology? I don’t want to villainize my sister, she is really one of the sweetest people you will ever meet. But I don’t agree with her opinion, as to me, it is slightly ethnocentric, but of course, she doesn’t know that.
One of my professors said that he believes that post-secondary institutions should make it compulsory that all students, regardless of their major take an introduction to anthropology class. I could not agree more. Humans seem to love to categorize things, themselves included. Boxes, categories, titles seem to give people some sense of security. When things don’t fit into these predefined boxes, all hell breaks loose. It seems we have lost sight of the fact that if strip away all superficial constructs, we are all the same. This, dear friends, is where anthropology comes in handy.
Every anthropology class I have ever taken starts with a definition of the term. The word is rooted in Greek. It breaks down into “Anthropos”, which means “human”, and “Logos”, which can roughly be equated with meaning “the study of”. Moving past definitions, anthropology teaches us about concepts like ethnocentrism (the belief that one’s view or culture is superior to someone else’s), cultural relativism (understanding one’s beliefs and practices from their perspective) and cultural appropriation (the adoption of certain attributes of a minority culture by a dominant culture). I know that some of these terms might seem like buzz words, but understanding even these three terms can help make us all better human beings.
In my opinion, it boils down to the fact that we live in a time of increased global connectivity. In addition to this increased interconnectivity, we also live in a time of marked social and economic disparity. It is so easy to see how everyone is different from everyone else and this is a scary thought.
If more people had a background in anthropology, then they would know that it is not an infringement on your personal freedom if when visiting a country like Turkey, an archaeologist such as myself, dresses more modestly or covers her head when entering a religious space. This is called being culturally relative, and even more simply, being a decent human being and respecting someone else’s culture.
Anthropology will not solve all our problems, and mind you we have quite of few of them. But at the very least, by reminding us what it means to be human, anthropology can teach people to be a little more empathetic. What a world that would be.
Now you may be wondering, what does this post have to do with my blog. I’ve toyed with the idea of opening a blog for a long time. But stalled because I always felt that it was slightly vain. Why is my voice any better than someone else’s? What do I have to say that hasn’t been said already? As you can see I changed my mind. I did so following a conversation I had with a professor of mine. Now this professor loves archaeology, he cares so much for the discipline and is truly distraught at the state that it is in today, but that is another article for another time. What he said one day resonated with me deeply. We are the stewards of the archaeological record. We are the link between our past and the present. We can provide much-needed insight on current events because we have access to a wealth of information that goes back thousands of years. Yet our discoveries and opinions are often limited to the realm of academia. Which then begs the question, why do what we do if it has no application in the real world. We can write books and articles till the cows come home, but if that knowledge never reaches anyone else outside of academia, then what is the point?
While I do not think my opinion is any better than someone else’s, it is just that, my opinion, an opinion informed by years of anthropology and archaeology classes. Maybe my blogs will open your eyes to something you had never considered before. Maybe you will find them amusing. Or maybe you will think that this Albanian archaeologist has terrible grammar and spelling and doesn’t know what she is saying. Maybe you will find it a little refreshing to have some alternative content by a female author out on the interwebs. Be it an anthropological opinion on current day events, or maybe just the ramblings of a nerdy archaeologist as she makes her way through grad school and digs up old things in foreign places.