send anthropology’s wayward street walking child home!

Tony Waters of CSU Chico has kindly posted a response to “Circling the Wagons is not the solution.” Thanks for adding to the conversation Tony!

Mark, Mark, Mark! I think you miss Cindy’s point which is that culture [editor note: Cindy thinks this is a typo and Tony means Anthropology has a special role and made me add this… shes mean to me.] has a special role as the parent of culture. The same could be said of writing for English, government for political science, calculus for math, and the past for history. Writing, government, and the past are of course relevant to many disciplines. But, the classroom where their very nature is best evaluated, mulled, and debated effectively are staffed by people trained in those disciplines.

During the last twenty years, culture (but not anthropology) moved to the center of many university curricula in response to very real political, cultural, and economic concerns. As a result, culture is part of many university general education programs in the same way that writing, mathematics, history, government, etc., have long been. What is different is that English, math, history, and political science departments colonized their subjects years ago, and received money to hire trained people to teach their subjects. As a result, generations of college graduates write essays as taught in English classes, believe that calculus is synonymous with college math, and have shared knowledge about the nature of American history and government.

None of this is a bad thing—I think a history course is best taught by someone trained in history, calculus courses by people trained in math, etc. Rather, the point is that the same thing could have happened with culture and anthropology, but didn’t. Instead, as Cindy writes, culture is now an academic streetwalker without an academic home. As a result, unlike similar English, math, government, and history requirements in the undergraduate curriculum, “cultural literacy” requirements are satisfied by taking courses offered by departments ranging from English to business. But, is it really legitimate to assert a student is proficient in “culture” because they have taken marketing from the Bennetton executive who developed a “many colors” campaign in the Caribbean? I think not. I see nothing wrong with the Bennetton executive teaching marketing in a business school—indeed such a person would make a fascinating colleague and good guest speaker in an anthropology class. But I have a problem when a marketing class is used to meet a university’s general education cross-cultural requirements.

A university that purports to require students be culturally literate should fund anthropology departments to teach culture. The academy needs to send anthropology’s wayward street walking child home. And faculty budgets need to reflect this.

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