One of the downsides to Anthropology being a less well known field in schools (and communities) means that not a lot of people know what it actually is about other than maybe knowing it has something to do with humans and bones. I say communities because for every person in the British Asian community that I have spoken to that knows what Anthropology is, there has been at least 50 with no idea, and according to some of my Anth friends, this is the same for others too.
So then I get asked by those who want to know, what is Anthropology?
And then there is silence. I still haven’t mastered a proper answer (I really should and memorise it), I just sort of say that it’s an interdisciplinary field that studies humans in a broad context ranging from sociology to genetics to geography. It is both an art and a humanity that involves nearly every field. And then I throw in a few examples that usually gets them interested. Then I realise that this is a terrible answer and I am not doing the subject any justice at all. I just searched around the internet and dictionary (for probably the hundredth time) looking for a better and more succinct definition and couldn’t find the right one. It’s kind of like the word Anthropology being just like one of its analytical categories such as marriage – impossible to define when you really look into it.
So now I get all sorrowful and sad, not just by the fact that I can’t really put into words a description of a subject I am so “passionate” about, but by the fact that I am feeling like I need to find a proper definition, arguably so as to prove to people that yes I am studying a very important academic field that rivals the likes of Chemistry.
A little bit of me now doesn’t really want to find a proper definition. Selfish I know, but I just feel that if I attempt to convince people (note the word convince) of Anthropology who have it imbrained that only the Sciences and Maths are real subjects, I am belittling such a wonderful field. Anthropology doesn’t deserve that.
In hopefully my first proper interactive post, I ask YOU, What is Anthropology? How would you define it? I was going to have a proper poll/answer input but realised that this is for everyone’s benefit/interest so please comment below instead.
I am genuinely interested to see how ‘ordinary’ people would define it. If possible, please also state your relationship to Anthropology, i.e. whether you are just interested by it, whether you are a lecturer etc. You may even just put your favourite definition of what it is as said by someone else.
My personal favourite definition of Anthropology that sadly other people just don’t seem understand so I rarely orally repeat it is by Daniel Miller (an Anthropologist at UCL and author of “Stuff” – a great book, review shall come soon!):
An anthropologist is someone who seeks to demonstrate the consequences of the universal for the particular and of the particular for the universal by equal devotion to the empathetic understanding and encompassment of both.
Thank you in advance!