So I don’t know how common anthropological knowledge is around the internet, but I’ll assume it’s not very much. Let’s just say anthropology is a weird and wonderful discipline with a terribly racist past and an identity complex. If anthropology were a person, they would be that radical social justice nerd with pastel hair, seven piercings and crippling self-esteem issues. A professor once said that if you have a problem with yourself, you go study psychology; if you have a problem with society, you go study sociology; and you only end up in anthropology if you have problems with both society and yourself.
So needless to say that studying anthropology can make you feel a bit kooky at times.
You’re constantly second-guessing everything. Society is a sham. You start struggling with object permanence. Sometimes you just need to meet over tea with your other student friends and laugh about that one guy who wrote an ethnography on beavers in the 1800s.
If you fear that you too might be suffering from Anthropo-syndrome, here are some symptoms I’ve compiled for you:
- You hiss every time you hear the word “primitive”. Seriously. People are not less advanced or evolved than other people. Stop using that word, society.
- Malinowski is a constant presence in your head and you just want it to stop. Bronislaw Malinowski, AKA this guy:
basically invented modern anthropology, in the sense that he had a really good PR campaign explaining why his way of interacting with natives was better than all the other ways. He was arguably right, of course, but that doesn’t really justify how omnipresent he is in modern-day classrooms. He was also pretty racist, but less so than most white people at the time, which is like… not much of an accomplishment.
- You start doubting your identity. If I am just the temporary culmination of thousands upon thousands of forces mixing together into a genetically random vessel, and if I change constantly to fit my environment and experiences, then who am I really?
- Should white people even be allowed to do this? How do you go around writing research papers on people that are still overwhelmingly people of colour without just speaking over them and reproducing the colonial dynamic the discipline has tried to distance itself from for a century by unknowingly injecting your own implicit biases into the text? For that matter, should men even be allowed to do this? Or straight people? Or able-bodied people? Or…
- No topic is off limits, and it’s scary. Want to learn to play the cello and justify it with university funding? Write a phenomenological ethnography about the world of an amateur cello player. Want to go to the beach? Write an ethnography about becoming a crustacean. I once handed in a research paper on Harry Potter fan behaviour on Tumblr, and my entire research was just reading lots and lots of fanfics. Trying to find a topic for a project (or worst, a thesis)? Welcome to the Void. Pray it doesn’t bite back.
- You laugh when you hear technical terminology used out of context. Someone just referred to their group of friends as a “tribe”? It’s funny, somehow. You laugh. People arguing about the proper meaning of “culture”? You break down sobbing.
- People keep asking you what anthropology even is. Just do what I do, and yell “Indiana Jones! I wanna be Indiana Jones!” even though archaeology isn’t even the branch of anthropology you’re studying and Indiana Jones was a terrible archaeologist anyways. At least they’ll sorta know what you’re talking about.