What is the best structure to intro for an anthropology class?

Answer by Lisa L. Watts:

I have done some teaching related to anthropology, and here is what I would suggest.

– Start with an introduction to the BIG concepts that drive anthropological thinking, like culture, context and situation, as well as emic/etic or inside out or outside in approaches.  Also, thick description, deep hanging out, establishing camaraderie, subjectivity, observer effects, etc. I'd also cover social science more broadly and how it differs from 'hard' or physical science (I come from the socio-cultural perspective mainly).  Also, core areas of focus like kinship and social networks, etc.  Being an anthropologist is a lot about the scientific world-view we support, so getting students into the right epistemic frame for understanding the anthropological perspective is really important.
– Defining the various branches of anthropology – socio-cultural, physical, archaeology, paleontology, evolutionary biology, cyborg anthropology, food anthropology, medical anthropology, applied anthropology, primate studies, linguistics, etc. and discussing some of the merits/challenges of each.
– Coverage of the core methods used by anthropologists (ethnography, virtual ethnography, visual ethnography, participant observation, qualitative research, quantitative research, etc.).  Modern examples are great as these methods are constantly evolving.
– Evaluation of some case studies of anthropological approaches used in academic work, commercial work, etc.  I would start with contemporary projects rather than diving too deep into the projects that fueled anthropological roots.  Cover the Proctor and Gamble project that led to the Swiffer, ethnographies of progress, social change fueled by fieldwork, modern paleontological discoveries, etc.  Sorry, but some of the old stuff is so, so dry and really out of date (especially the fossil record, primate studies, colonial nostalgia, etc).
– Finally, I would cover the history of anthropology.  I think too many courses start with that stuff, and while useful context, I think it's better to start with 'how is anthropology useful and utilized today?'.  I also think the driving concepts can be de-coupled from the anthropologists that pioneered them, at least in the beginning.  Once the concepts are internalized, the history and specific work (and responses to the work) of say, Malinowski and Mead, are better understood.

In short, get them hooked rather than putting them to sleep. 🙂

Some really great, recent articles:

An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar…
To Understand Consumer Data, Think Like an Anthropologist

What is the best structure to intro for an anthropology class?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s