Teaching Anthropology in 2018

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Recently, a colleague contacted me with a very interesting and specific question. At the time, I was on the road and too busy to address his inquiry. I asked him to hold on until I had time to think about how to approach the question. After some thought, I decided to respond by penning this opinion piece to express my ideas. It seems that everything around us these days are changing, so the interest of academicians in wanting to “open up” to possible new approaches to the discipline is refreshing.  These are some of the main subjects that, in my opinion, would be interesting to those wanting to study the discipline.



To be honest, I have been working on a “formal” college textbook about the culture of Brazil for several years. One reason it has taken so long is the depth of the society and its underlying layers of cultural significance. It seems each time I near the end of one layer another layer presents itself and in turn a new series of investigations and research commences. Another difficulty is when writing for an academic audience, certain prescribed rules and considerations apply that do not necessary apply when writing strictly free-lance or from the field. Still, it is an attempt to be more formal and scientific. Also, any serious research involves a certain amount of information that must be read in the native language. This results in the usual difficulties in translations from one language to another. In this case, Brazilian intellectuals such as João Baldo Ribeiro, Costa Pinto, Fernandes, Freye and daMotta (just to name a few) in the language of Brazilian Portuguese is essential. Also, consideration must be given to the writing of the soc-called North American “Brazilianist” such as Skidmore, Telles and Wagley.


Drawing from my personal living experience over the past ten years in Brazil, I found that matters such as family and kinship, conjugal relations, racial composition, religion, settlement, immigration and urbanization are all important topics to the people. When we consider economic concerns, salaries, purchasing power, consumer behavior, commodities, employment and unemployment, the formal and informal economies are central to any serious discussion. Also, I have found of interest to many Brazilians topics concerning education, parenting, paternity, crime, violence and especially political corruption as paramount issues of interest. Of course, all of these topics are important to attempt to capture the essence of a people but I venture to point out that “method of delivery” should take a more important role than traditional techniques particularly during a time of such high technology. What I am referring to is the use of Internet Communication Technologies (ICTs) for delivery and engagement and Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) which allows for the creation of new internet application and content development.


For so long, print media has dominated our profession in the academy and in the field. However, in no way am I suggesting abandoning our tried and tested methodologies for dissemination or the contributions of decades of some of the best anthropologists or anthropological research in the world. And although some of these techniques have appeared before in the work of various anthropologists in the past (e.g., William Hallam Rivers Rivers and his early use of the motion picture camera), print seems to always dominate. What I am suggesting is the “inclusion” of other types of communicative techniques – particularly internet communication.


Perhaps the time has come for more emphasis on the delivery of information in order to reach a wider spectrum of interested people – students, readers, buffs, professionals and those of us in the field. This should incorporate methods for electronic digital discussion and debate for more collective, public engagement. There are at least two anthropologists that I follow for inspiration and new ideas – British anthropologist Keith Hart (the Open Anthropology Cooperative and its contributors) and Australian anthropologist Jennifer Biddle and her ideas concerning visual anthropology. The incorporation of a variety of disciplines should merge to make this possible. In addition to literature, we should use more visual techniques – photography, music, cinematography. Not to say that these techniques have not been used in the past, only that today’s technology makes it much easier to incorporate them than ever before.

[Professor Roberto Jarry Richardson sent me this excellent question:

I am a Brazilian professor with a Ph.D. in International Development Education at Stanford University. Brazil is lacking a recent textbook in Anthropology and a social science editor asked me to update a textbook written in 1985: Antropologia. Uma Introdução by Zelia Maria Neves Presotto and Marina de Andrade Marconi. I’ve been following your blog and I dare to ask: In 2018, what would be the main subjects to include in an anthropology textbook for undergraduates and graduate students in social sciences?]

 

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