What are the most pressing issues for anthropology to work on?

A couple of months ago I spent the evening at CSU Fresno with students and faculty and we had a wonderful wide ranging conversation about anthropology, ethics, war, peace and a few minutes on circumcision just for good measure.

One of the questions we asked ourselves was who is really working on the most pressing issues of the day? Do we really need another study on gender and identity as expressed among pre-schoolers when the ice cap is turning to a slushie? How is anthropology addressing the issues of global warming in a very tactical, practical way? I don’t mean yet another Marxist creed about how global warming is the fault of all us bastards that watch TV and shop in the local market. How can anthropology help policy makers understand why going green is a tough row to hoe for the average consumer, and how we can we make it easier?

What are the other big issues we are dealing with: recession, health care crisis, the public schools, elder care, oh and there is the whole war deal.

But anthropologists need to stop screeching about the evil doers, and actually get into the game.

Look, we can put the issues of the gender identity of pre-schoolers on the back burner for a few years. They don’t want to float away anymore than the rest of us.

6 thoughts on “What are the most pressing issues for anthropology to work on?

  1. Straw man alert, Mark–show me there there are no anthropologists doing this important work, and I’ll agree that we need to tell more of us to get on it.

    Just because some of us (and hey, not taking it personally or anything, but I work with kids, and yes, did talk about gender identity along with other “stuff” about living in Belfast, Northern Ireland) don’t do research about The Big Important Things (according to…?) doesn’t mean we’re completely irrelevant.

    And it also doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about Big Important Things in the classroom. As a teacher, I have raised the topics of the recession, health care, public school, elder care, and the war (to pick some topics at random). Don’t forget that not all of us do “just research.” Our publications are not our only, or even our most important, voice.

  2. Great response Donna… maybe you should do a post on it *hint*. I’ve never said there aren’t any anthropologists doing it. Enter anthropology and “global warming” in Google and you can see the evidence of some anthropologists thinking on the issue. What I want to know is why aren’t their more making it the defining issue of this generation of anthropologists? As far as relevance goes, you already know my opinion on that. I think as a discipline we are in real danger of becoming irrelevant in comparison to other areas of study that are picking up the methods of anthropology and pushing the envelope father than we are willing to go as a profession.

  3. Those of us in teaching always end up in trouble if we try to train for the issue du jour. What we can train students to do is think critically about cultural issues. Whether we do it by focusing on Iraq, global warming,USAID projects, or whatever, the skills are similar. The point is to teach our students to think critically so that when they are out there doing whatever they are doing they do it as well as possible.

    What is not similar are the big things missed in analysis. For decades (or longer), gender was missed as an analytical category. While individual studies may be silly or not, the fact of the matter is that ignoring gender created big holes in how we reason about culture and society. Have a look at Marx, Weber, or Durkheim. Gender as a social category is almost completely lacking. Big oops!

  4. I think that we are best teaching students about how to think critically about whatever future issues come up. In doing so, hopefully they will take into account a few core issues which we raise in our classes, like culture. I would also add issues of inequality, gender, ecoomic behavior, ethnicity, race, and language to the rather short list that will focus studnet concerns no matter what technical issues come up during the next 30 or 40 years they will be working and applying some of the skills they get from us.

    Certainly global warming is an issue which badly needs an anthropological perspective–right now it is too much dominated by what the engineers and economists have to say. I know that I will include it in my classes, but this will be as a current example, not as an underlying principle.

  5. The most critical issuefor Anthropologist in this time must be the unintended consequences of the global climate change.I think the anthropologist must engage in solving such problems because any matter that concerned with humans must be the focal issue for us

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