Prompt
Imagine you are an anthropologist. How would you explain to a general public:

  1. the value of anthropology towards understanding people and cultures in a diverse and global context
  2. how anthropologists are in a critical position of contributing to a broader public, and possibly prevent human suffering.

Provide at least four examples from your readings to answer the question.

Response
Anthropology is of the utmost importance in the movement toward a greater understanding of humanity, particularly as a social creature – physiologically and psychologically; here and there; past, present, and future – that is, as entities in social space-time, as it were (Turner). It is a grand synthesis of human macrobiology, history, linguistics, psychology, sociology, and to some extent and in some way, all other social sciences and humanities. This is because it seeks answers to major practical and philosophical questions about humanity at large, a pursuit that requires a holistic approach. Thus, one particular culture (inasmuch as one distinct culture with defined edges can exist – as Carole Nagengast elegantly puts it, “‘a’ culture is not a thing, […] but an always fragmented and changing product of negotiation and struggle”) is studied not merely as a collection of idiosyncrasies, but as a whole, as an outgrowth of its own past, and as a player in global culture; and compared with other cultures.

This extensive knowledge of the broad, chaotic nature of humanity in all its elements puts participants in the field of anthropology in a rather unique position to affect the conditions in which we all live. Franz Boas, for example, combining cultural and physical anthropology, neatly demonstrated the falsity of the common racist theories of the time, proving to many the equality of other races and cultures regardless of their differences (Borofsky). This is but one example, however; there are myriad ways in which anthropologists can prevent human rights violations, and suffering in general. Anthropologists, as participant-observers often have exclusive inside views into other cultures, giving them the important opportunity to expose any harmful practices, but gently – that is, explaining the cultural context in which they occur, so that they can be dealt with appropriately and constructively. Or, perhaps, they could help two conflicting cultures to “get along” better by helping them to understand each other’s contexts and worldviews. This particular approach has been helpful in the American medical system, enabling medical practitioners and members of outside cultures to reach an understanding on what needs to be done and how in each particular situation, by means of the LEARN framework – Listen, Explain, Acknowledge, Recommend, Negotiate (Berlin and Fowkes).