When I was in graduate school, plenty of people asked me the dreaded question every anthropology student hears: “What are you going to do with that?” The question is a good one. In 2012 Forbes ranked anthropology as the worst college major for getting a well-paying job. In 2011, Florida governor Rick Scott called cited anthropology as one of the more useless college majors, encouraging college students to go into STEM fields. In fact, his words were: “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”Read more
When I tell people I meet that I’m an anthropologist, I sometimes get a blank stare in return. Occasionally someone will ask if I’ve dug up any cool artifacts lately or if I’m like that lady on the TV show Bones. One acquaintance nicknamed me “Jane Goodall.” Another challenged me to name all of the dinosaurs ever discovered. Even people who do know a little about cultural anthropology are sometimes surprised when I tell them that I did my doctoral fieldwork among corporate executives on the island of Singapore, a global city, rather than studying the kava ceremony on the island of Tonga, for example.Read more
The first time I lived abroad, in Argentina, I wrote an excited letter to an old friend. “I am living in a place that is very similar to the States in most ways,” I told him, “and yet everything in daily life takes place in Spanish. More amazing altogether: while there are tons of things I don’t understand, I am able to function very well.”Read more
One morning during my fieldwork in Mexico, the dog dragged my freshly washed dress off the line and into the mud. I swore at him under my breath, and a member of the family I was staying with heard me but said nothing.Read more
When my friends in Mexico migrate within the country, they always go to places where they have family or townspeople. Even if they’ve heard that jobs are more plentiful elsewhere, it’s better to have a network. The community can get you a job, they tell me. In fact, the community is practically obligated to get you a job. The community is obligated to do anything within its power to support its members.Read more
About twelve years ago, a friend yelled at me for what he saw as constant interruptions. “You never let me finish talking,” he said.
I was confused. When had I ever interrupted him?
After much discussion, I finally figured it out. What he considered an interruption — saying “right” or “yes” while he was talking — was the only way I knew to listen politely. In my experience, remaining completely silent while someone else was speaking meant you were checked out.Read more