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Why Major in Anthropology?

Anthropology is exceptionally useful both intellectually and practically. Like most liberal arts disciplines, it teaches students to think in a critical and comparative way, and it exposes them to a fundamental part of the Western intellectual tradition. But it also gives them a perspective on their position in a world of cultural and political diversity.

Anthropology has a distinctive view of the world, centered on the everyday, taken-forgranted aspects of social life – what people eat, whom they marry, how they understand themselves and the natural world – as well as the connection between politics, economics and social organization and these mundane practices. One way of making these takenfor-granted practices more visible in one’s own culture is by examining not one’s own society, but other, more distant ones, with an eye to understanding both human difference and similarity. Traditionally this concern for other ways of being human has been expressed in anthropology’s interest in non-Western societies. Nowadays, anthropologists have become interested in diasporic communities, transnational phenomena such as advertising and television, and both post-colonial and post-emancipation societies.

Anthropology is the place where undergraduates are exposed to the wide variety of human experience and to what social life in different societies can teach us about reciprocity, war and peace, social inequality and the close relationship between human beings and the natural environment. Several thousand distinct societies have existed in the history of the earth. To focus upon those of recent time in Europe and North America alone is to neglect the vast majority of forms society has taken. Indeed, most of human history has been lived by people born into hunting and gathering societies. To ignore these ways of life is to ignore humankind’s most common adaptations to the environment.

Anthropology also has important career applications. Undergraduate anthropology majors can go on to medical or law school, just as they do with backgrounds in biology or political science. The major can prepare students equally well for other graduate programs, but anthropology has particular relevance to students interested in the fields of foreign affairs, international business, development, social services, community affairs and public health.


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