College of Liberal Arts
Long before it was fashionable to talk about “celebrating difference” or about “cultural diversity,” anthropologists sought to explain the complex ways of being that make up human societies. From an anthropological perspective, “culture” is far more than the ethnic foods, music or linguistic habits that we have come to see as indicators of diversity in the United States. A culture is a whole way of life, including everyday activities as well as language, religion and government. The first objective of this course is to provide an introduction to some of the ways anthropologists approach the study of cultures. Anthropology is, however, more than an attempt to catalogue all the cultures on the planet. One purpose of cultural anthropology is to produce explanations of the ways of thinking and behaving that characterize different societies. Ethnographic analysis (the primary product of anthropological research) can also form the basis for critical thinking about the anthropologist's own society. While anthropologists have long engaged in such cultural critique, in recent years ethnographic research has begun to find its way into both policy debates and the business world. The second goal of this course will be to show how anthropological methods and data can be used outside of academia. This course is designed to shake up your assumptions about the world. You must enter it with an open mind. You will learn to define and think critically and cross-culturally about concepts like culture, family, religion, politics and science. You will learn to read, evaluate and explain ethnography and you will develop a basic understanding of anthropological methods. By the end of the semester, you will be better prepared to evaluate the cultural assumptions and arguments made by politicians, scientists and cultural critics. When we are done, you should have more questions about the world than when we started. This class is about learning about what kinds of questions to ask.
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