There’s been a bit of controversy making the rounds recently since the Governor of Florida started using Anthropology as an example of a degree program which that state’s universities could use a bit less of. Well, fortunately there is concerted and highly effective push-back on this notion. The American Anthropological Association issued a strongly worded, if rather generic, letter (PDF). The Chair of the Anthropology Department at University of South Florida was more eloquent:
Anthropologists at USF work side by side with civil and industrial engineers, cancer researchers, specialists in public health and medicine, chemists, biologists, and others in the science, technology, and engineering fields that the Governor so eagerly applauds. Our colleagues in the natural, engineering, and medical sciences view the anthropological collaboration as absolutely essential to the success of their research and encourage their students to take courses in anthropology to help make them better scientists.
In my introductory anthropology courses, I address the importance of anthropology to today’s college students at the beginning and the end of the semester. First and foremost, the focus of anthropology is on understanding yourself in relation to others. This may sound pretty simple, but it involves critically thinking about why you do what you do, why others do what they do, and what factors affect these actions: e.g., religion, economy, biology, politics, family structure, gender, ethnicity, etc. While we tend to deal with individuals in our line of work, we’re also interested in the community – the commonalities in experience at various scales.
Surely, part of the problem is getting the core message of Anthropology out in as explicit and well-supported a manner as we can, to as many people as possible. We’ll be talking more about that here, as time goes by: it’s a challenge which goes well beyond the borders of Florida.
But another problem may be the internal balkanization of Anthropology into sub-disciplines which may not always create a unified and coherent narrative. This is one of the reasons for the thematic approach at UVic which, by cross-cutting the traditional sub-disciplines of Bio-anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural anthropology and Linguistics, emphasizes the continuing relevance of a holistic approach to the human experience. While so far we’ve only implemented the thematic approach at the graduate level, we see great potential for strengthening undergraduate curricula here and elsewhere too. The establishment of themes actually could encourage a re-dedication to the holistic Anthropology which is the primary organizing principle at most North American universities. In so doing, the relevance of the discipline would also be made apparent to that most important of our audiences: our own students who will be the future practitioners and ambassadors of the discipline.
Edit: it seems Governor Scott’s own daughter has a degree in Anthropology: