What is Anthropology to Anthropologists?

by 罗子禾

At a social event that took place not so long ago, I met a group of anthropologists, some of whom recently received their PhD’s. I have always thought that scientists are a strange bunch. They tend to not place so much value on monetary gains in life.

Instead, they spend their time digging up true and important assertions that further our understanding of the world around us and help us develop tech that makes life easier and more interesting.

However, they are exactly like the rest of us. They have coffee, go see their family, pay their bills, go hang out with friends, etc. I wanted to understand their life choices a little bit better. So, I asked them what anthropology was to each of them, and here are their answers…


The quiet and polite PhD candidate:
Whatever anthropology is, it’s attractive to me because of its depth. As a cultural anthropologist, I believe that everything, every behavior is reasonable or legitimate in its home environment. I’m not speaking of ethics here. I believe that stealing is morally wrong, but I get more attracted to the stories of why people do what they do. There’s always a reason, and that reason is almost always interesting to me.

The youngest PhD candidate at the table:
Anthropology taught me tolerance. The world is a big place and every one of us grows up only in a little corner of it. We are all accustomed to our own sets of traditions and norms, which are often regional. Anthropology is the thing that helps me rise above my own prejudices and faulty preconceptions.

The PhD graduate with a nice smile:
Anthropology is a way of thinking. It’s a set of rules and skills that helps me delve deeper when I think about things.

The extremely sociable PhD graduate:
Anthropology is a lifestyle. It’s a tool for me to understand other people better, including people around me. It’s that part of my life where I can unleash my passion for knowledge and scrutiny. As an anthropologist, I think critically about myself, especially about my values. Critical thinking at this level helps me jump out of traditions or social constructs and design my own way of life. Anthropology is my soul-searching journey.

The old professor:
When I was just starting my post-graduate education, I went against my sponsor’s wish and gave up economics to throw myself into anthropology. I did that because upon arriving in Japan, where I received my PhD, I was suddenly exposed to a whole new world. Unlike China at the time, a lot of people in Japan were bursting, no, imploding with original thought and the associated passion. Left wing extremists would hijack planes to go to North Korea and set up their resistance against the government. I just said to myself, how can I be an economist now that I’ve seen this? I want to understand it, explain it. Anthropology is what helps me understand and explain.

The poetic PhD candidate:
Anthropology is like a romantic partner. Don’t you guys think so? Anthropology, or rather, the idea of anthropology is quite romantic. There is an undeniable attraction between the field and the people studying it. Anthropology brings me ups and downs. It’s exactly like a life partner.

The new chair of the department:
Anthropology kind of became my identity at some point. Even though my job is 9 to 5, I don’t stop being an anthropologist after work. I may not have any work to do, but I’ll think about stuff. Once I started being an anthropologist, I became an anthropologist every second of every day. It’s an identity, or at least a lifestyle.

The composed PhD candidate:
Anthropology is a way to understand the world. It’s one of the fields of study that gives you fresh and interesting ways to think about the fundamental questions in life. Why am I here? What’s it all for? At the same time, anthropology, for me, is the platform that helps me get acquainted with other branches of science.

The happy PhD graduate:
Anthropology is that thing that helps me to come to terms with the coexistence of opposing thoughts and perspectives. What’s more, it’s also a path to change the public’s opinion or to convince people of things that I believe to be true or right.


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