The Anthropology Major
Cultural anthropology provides students with the basic skills they will need to pursue a wide variety of careers in the global economy of the future. It is commonly said that every individual entering the job market today can expect to pursue seven different careers during their life. Anthropology's focus on treating everyday life as the subject of continuing empirical research is an ideal preparation for an unpredictable future. The following paragraphs outline some of the discrete skills students can take with them after graduation as they pursue any number of career paths.
Anthropological research is based on the principle of 'participant observation': when conducting fieldwork, anthropologists must be both subjective participants in the social life of the people they study, as well as being objective observers of it. While anthropologists often employ the objective quantitative methods used by the other social sciences, such as multiple choice questionnaires and statistical correlations of behaviors run on large samples, they rarely attempt to manipulate behavior in artificial laboratory settings. Instead, they spend a great deal of time talking to a small number of individuals in ordinary settings such as home, work and other social occasions like celebrations, rituals and voluntary associations.
Students are introduced to this approach to social research right from the beginning: most 100 level courses include at least an option to design and carry out your own research project. A required course for the major is 292, in which students design and carry out intensive, participantobservation studies. Students thus gain valuable experience in problem?solving and teamwork. Students in the department of anthropology are given a number of opportunities to collaborate with other students and with faculty in team research projects. For example, in Fall, 1996 Professor Emmett involved four undergraduates in her research project on the Presbyterian Church in Rochester: The Art of Faith and Healing. She trained them in techniques of interviewing, transcription and ethnographic analysis. The students then made a presentation of their findings to the department faculty and students as a whole. Anthropology majors in the class of 1997 presented their senior projects to the College as a whole in an exhibit displayed in Wilson Commons.
The results of anthropological research are presented primarily in the form of discursive monographs called 'ethnographies'. In these texts, anthropologists move back and forth between concrete descriptions of the particular times and places they conducted fieldwork and an abstract analysis of the underlying patterns of meaning contained in this material.
Learning how to interpret complex empirical materials in terms of underlying patterns is a central part of the anthropology curriculum. Students are taught to see how specific theoretical arguments shape the selection of the empirical materials presented. All of the courses taught in the department make use of full?length monographs or of edited collections of original research papers. These writings are treated as contributions to debates in progress. There is very little use of textbooks which treat knowledge as a set of established truths. Students are also expected to demonstrate their own ability to describe and analyze the ethnographies they read and the research projects they carry out themselves. All courses require students to write extended essays.
More specifically, the core courses in the major (202?205) concentrate on developing an understanding of the relationship between theory and evidence in social science, and how theoretical debates have driven the development of anthropology over time.
The subjective experience of deliberately exposing oneself to different forms of life is then used to view one's own form of life from the outside, to see it in comparative terms as just one possible form of life. This results in another principle of anthropology, 'cultural relativism'. This means that one must suspend judgment until one has understood other cultures from the inside and one's own from the outside. It does not mean that anthropologists view all forms of life as morally equivalent. To the contrary, only by going through a process of empathy with the other and estrangement from the self can one be in a position to have reasoned opinions about different forms of life.
All faculty teaching in the department have conducted research on cultures foreign to them as well as on their 'home' culture. Professor Carter conducted his doctoral research in India, and then studied American children in Rochester. Professor Emmett conducted her doctoral research here in Monroe County, and then returned to Israel to study the women's peace movement (her 'home' culture). She has now returned to the study of Western New York. Professor Foster conducted his doctoral research in Papua New Guinea, and has since begun a study of Niagara Falls. Professor Gibson conducted his doctoral research in the Philippines and has since done research in Indonesia and on the American 'patriot' movement.
This back and forth movement between 'foreign' and 'home' cultures is reflected in the curriculum, where anthropological accounts of non?Westem societies are balanced by accounts of American or Western society. This balance exists within many courses (101, 102, 103, 203, 204, 216, 218, 222, 226, 266), while others focus primarily on Western culture (104, 202, 207, 244, 245) or on non-Western cultures (205, 233, 243, 247, 253, 258, 263).
Familiarity with a wide variety of cultures, societies and social groups gives anthropologists a unique ability to cast a comparative light on the findings of other social scientists, often leading to the qualification or falsification of theories developed on the basis of modem western industrial societies. While much of anthropological research is conducted by single investigators, an increasing amount of research is conducted by teams with complementary specializations. Anthropologists are now routinely included on teams of economists working on development projects, of health?care providers treating culturally diverse populations, of educators teaching diverse student bodies, of marketers selling to global markets, of human?rights advocates defending ethnic minorities around the world, and of relief agencies dealing with refugee populations.
The faculty in the department have a wide range of experience in contributing anthropological expertise to larger organizations. Professor Ali has worked as a Human Rights Monitor for the UN. Professor Carter has served on the Experts Panel on Education and Fertility of the National Academy of Science and is currently serving as Chair of the Committee on Demography and Anthropology of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Populations. Professor Foster participated in the Visiting Professor Program of the Advertising Educational Foundation, and spent time at Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising in New York.
Many courses offered in the department use anthropological insights to comment on theories developed by other social scientists, for example, theories of nationalism developed by political scientists (222), of consumer behavior developed by economists (226), of population growth developed by demographers (218), of illness and healing developed by bio?medicine (102, 216), of globalization developed by geographers (266), of women's status developed by feminists (268), and of religion developed by theologians and Orientalists (263).
In summary, anthropology majors will be able to demonstrate to future employers or graduate programs an ability to conceive, design and carry out research projects, both individually and in teams; to collect new data through the use of surveys, interviews and participant observation; to read, analyze and summarize existing empirical data in written form and to make coherent oral presentations; and to provide a cross?cultural perspective on the hidden assumptions that exist within particular national or organizational cultures, opening the way to finding innovative solutions.