Well now that my neck is more or less getting better (I still have to stand or walk most of the day), I can more or less function like a human. Nothing makes you more appreciative that you are a human with a body than when it is not functioning correctly. Which also makes you realize how stupid it was to evolve and have spines and to put so many important bits in that sensitive and vulnerable neck-head area. Which also happens to make you think a lot about anthropology. Logical progression, am I right?
Anthropology is on my mind – my pulsing, migrained mind. Now and again I am home sick, but constantly I am starved for anthropology. Time for grad school. And why not, I’m growing use to dull, incessant pain in the skull region.
As of late, I’ve has several instance where I’ve been tasked to explain anthropology, both when I say in English and Japanese that I studied it. Each time I am awestruck because in both languages I can’t do any better than “it’s the study of people and culture.” Admittedly it is my smart-ass answer and never meant to be sincere. That joke has become reality, though. I’m stuck in that answer, unable to move from its cynicism and shortness. It’s shameful, really.
In my most recent attempt, I gave a shot at an earnest answer. I did my best to mimic what I’ve been taught, what I’ve interpreted, and what I believe about anthropology. Once again, it was shameful how much I struggled to describe something I would consider fundamental to me. Before living in Hokkaido, I was surrounded by folks who were just as indoctrinated in the same speak and same hopes. The safe bubble of my own existence. A bit of the ivory tower as well. That has been severed for the past year and I’ve been isolated from an anchor point of my identity: the one that goes to grad school for anthropology. Dislocation. A significant part of my own place-making was having that group of individuals who were anthropologists or proto-anthropologists or anthropologically inclined. Even being on the anthropology department floor, murmuring with lectures, students, phone calls, babies, dogs, and carts of bones being wheeled down the hall – all aspects of the human experience – was enough to maintain my self, my place. Dare I go as sentimental to say it inspired me? Yes. Yes, I dare. Now with that cut, how easy it is to lose focus. Or how easy it was to pretend to be focused when planted in that environment.
Now as self-indulgent as this is, I must barrel on down this road because with confidence and a clear mind I can state how important anthropology is to everyone. All people and cultures. Everyone wants to believe what they are doing is meaningful or helpful. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is not. Anthropology, for the most part, is. Foundationally, anthropology seeks to broaden understandings of all people. It hasn’t always done it right, but it is driven by folks aware of the nuances found in cultural processes, the dynamism of social landscapes, and the constant flow of people through history. Most importantly it is self aware of action and consequence; that values are embedded in our institutions and to reshape, change or end those institutions requires meaningful action. Now before I sound too idealistic, I do know there are many flaws and many bureaucratic downsides to anthropology. But it keeps its hold on me because practicing anthropology always maintains this aspect of self-criticism, to know these flaws, and see what we produce in our bias. I might as well try and I’m in a privileged position to do so.
It is time to get my hands dirty in anthropology and learn how to turn this from indulgence into meaningful act. I’ve been researching schools and soon I’ll be contacting the folks who supported me and encouraged me when I didn’t believe they had any reason to do so. Hello confidence. It’s nice to gain you.
A little extra something:
In my time of researching grad schools and other opportunities, I have to post some of my favorite quotes and definitions of anthropology. The majority are from the mission statements of departmental programs. You can learn quite a lot about each school from how they describe anthropology. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it can be hard to give someone a definition of anthropology. It is fundamentally open and ever changing, much like the subjects it studies. And how do you uncomplicate a subject that is keenly bent on complicating the world?
From the blog savageminds.org
As anthropologists, we know that our job in the classroom is precisely to make students feel uncomfortable. Learning happens when people are uncomfortable. Not too uncomfortable, but uncomfortable enough to realize that the answers they currently have aren’t correct, or need to be improved — or that the questions they respond to are not the most important questions to answer.
This is a general point about education, but it’s also a specific point about anthropology. Our call to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar is fundamentally about instilling discomfort in students so that they can grow into people with larger comfort zones. But for their comfort zone to grow, students must first leave it.
Sociocultural anthropology, which we understand to include linguistic anthropology, is concerned with the problem of difference and similarity within and between human populations. The discipline arose concomitantly with the expansion of European colonial empires, and its practices and theories have been questioned and reformulated along with processes of decolonization. Such issues have re-emerged as transnational processes have challenged the centrality of the nation-state to theorizations about culture and power. New challenges have emerged as public debates about multiculturalism, and the increasing use of the culture concept outside of the academy and among peoples studied by anthropology. These are not “business-as-usual” times in the academy, in anthropology, or in the world, if ever there were such times.
Anthropology brings a global comparative perspective to the study of human beings, across both time and space.
The Princeton University Department of Anthropology takes an interpretive approach to contemporary realities and to the social worlds that people create and inhabit. We are interested in the comparative study of cultures, their interplay and relation to the past.
Cultural anthropology today is marked by the dynamism of the times. No longer just the study of remote societies, the field explores how people produce, inhabit and make sense of all corners and aspects of today’s globalized world… studying the politics of culture, power, and history and the complex questions of theory, method, and interpretation that this project demands.
Boas… Boas… Boas.
I may have taken some creative liberties with that last one.