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transcript of anthropology
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Welcome to the anthropologist on the Street podcast, where my guests and I explore all the different ways there are to be human. I'm dr Carey Little Hirsch and I am the anthropologist on the street. Welcome to the first episode of the anthropologist on the Street podcast. This podcast is designed to explore the fascinating work anthropologists do around the world and why their research and projects are at the heart of understanding today's most controversial issues. Anthropology is the study of what it means to be human, which means that anthropologists study well, pretty much everything, including politics, art, medicine, religion and our relationship with the environment. Some anthropologists take us into communities that are intensely different once we may not even know exist and help us understand them from the inside and other anthropologists use those same methods to get us to question the familiar, what feels normal to us and why doesn't it feel the same way to others. Each week on anthropologist on the street, I interview someone who uses anthropology to help us see everyday life in new and startling ways. In the next several podcasts will look at how new parents network with each other for social and economic support and how language around breast milk sharing revives some tired stereotypes about moms will investigate what it means to be a citizen from the perspective of residents who aren't citizens to the perspective of anarchists who don't want to be. We'll chat with an archaeologist who uses fiction to help him understand race relations on the trail of tears and we'll ask a bio archaeologist to explain what ancient skeletons can tell us about communities today. Along the way, we'll look at how anthropologists use their knowledge and insights in unexpected ways, whether by working in a hospital to help lower mortality rates or working in a church to help congregants find meaning in life. Clearly, anthropologists do a lot, anthropologists are committed to understanding all of human diversity and that research can take a lot of different forms, but that diversity makes it a little more challenging to describe what it is we actually do. To help me explain what anthropology is and why it's important. I've invited Dr Angela Jinx to do the hard work for me. Dr jenks is an anthropologist at the University of California Irvine and has been recognized this year by her University for Excellence in teaching. Her commitment to explaining anthropology and applying into everyday life is so noteworthy that she was recently appointed the teaching scholar in residence for the prestigious journal Cultural Anthropology. Thank you so much for joining us on the very first episode of anthropologists on the Street. Well, thank you for inviting me. I'm so happy to be here looking forward to hearing all of your other interviews. To As am I I am very excited to have you here today because not only are you an anthropologist and you do research, but you teach a lot and are very recognized for your teaching. And so I thought you might be one of the best people to talk to about understanding what exactly anthropology is. So, I was wondering if you could give me your own definition of what anthropology is. Sure. I always define anthropology as the study of what it means to be human. And you know, anthropologists are interested in everything about what that means. So just human diversity across time, the whole history of the human species. And even before we were our current cells um and across space, humans all over the globe and in outer space when we're there eventually multi planetary diversity right, at least on the space station right now. But but just this broad diversity of what what it is to be human and the vast variety of ways that people live and experience the world. But it's such an amazingly broad topic. I can think of a lot of other disciplines where they study some aspect of humanity. But what is it that makes anthropologists unique? What do anthropologists really actually do? You know, It's it's true that we overlap a lot with other fields. And students in classes often comment that like, oh, we talked kind of talked about this in my history class and we kind of talked about this in economics and oh, I learned about this in biology. Um, and yes, all of those things, you know, anthropology is probably the broadest of the fields. I think what's special about anthropology is that we try to to bring all of those things together. So we call it the holistic approach that we can't really understand human economics without also talking about religion or politics, or biology or the environment or our history or our language and the way we communicate that all of these things are interrelated. So we can't just look at one part without thinking about how it's affected by and interacting with all those other components. And certainly we all kind of specialist in one sub field or the next. And America, we have such a legacy From Franz Boas at the turn of the century back in the 20th century who really made American anthropology into a four sub field academic field. So what are those four sub fields? Yeah, he said that anthropologists and he's often called the father of american anthropology, who is really laying out his vision for the field um and said that anthropologists would look at four things biology And so biological anthropology is the field that really thinks about humans as biological creatures, as animals. Where did we, how did we evolve? We can look at the fossil record, who are our closest living relatives, looking at the non human primates. How do we vary biologically today? Why do we, how do we adapt to different environments? The second one is archaeology. So looking at history, looking at the study of the past, usually archaeologists work with like material remains. We tend to think, I think of archaeology is having looking at big buildings, big digging out the pyramids, things like that. But you know, a lot of archaeologists are really studying garbage, studying remains and what was left behind. I'm actually going to have a conversation and a few episodes with archaeologist Lance Green, who spent his entire dissertation work digging out an old kitchen and looking at what's excellent looking at what fell between the floorboards of a plantation, right at the trail of tears. Oh, how interesting. Yeah. I am one of those anthropologists who, who took my first anthro class because I loved indiana jones, right? Um, and then I promptly discovered that anthropology is actually nothing like that. In fact he's the anti archaeologist. Right. It can even be more interesting than that. So there's biological archaeology, linguistic anthropology, the study of language and communication, how the history of language, how languages have changed, studying the structure of languages and especially a lot around social relationships. So what does language use reveal about power relations? Who gets to talk? Who gets to talk in what ways? And then cultural anthropology, which is where I kind of place myself is the study of human, human culture in society. So a lot of religion, family, art, medicine, economics, politics, all of that kind of gets included under cultural and throw. So let's talk a little bit more about cultural anthropology. I am also a cultural anthropologist and a lot of people who I talked to, even if that's not their area of expertise, they still always sort of have an eye to how their work in biology or archaeology kind of relates to the cultural. So let's talk about what exactly is culture. So culture is that's a really good, it's really hard to define and its culture is is anthropologist concept. And so as a field we tend to claim it that this is, this is what one of the things that we've contributed to academic understandings. But you could ask any anthropologist and you would hear a different definition of what culture is. Um and that's always, that's always been true. I think at the most basic level we emphasize that culture is what is learned. So culture is not instinct, it's not, you know, whatever we think of as human nature, but culture is, is learned. We become in culture rated as we're growing up and throughout our whole lives. And it's also something that's shared. So it's also not individual personalities or individual quirks, but it's shared in a community. And I think those are the fundamental parts of culture. Yeah, I often hear people talk about culture kind of the way they talk about accents. Like I love your accent, but I don't have one, right? And I think that's where sometimes we talk about culture is just like beliefs and practices and I think that's the surface level where it's really easy to see cultural differences. So oh, this, this group of people, it's a different type of food than we eat over here. They were different types of clothing or they speak a different language and yes, all of that is cultural, but culture is much deeper than that. And it becomes very our own culture becomes invisible to us because it's just the way that we've we've learned to interpret the world around us to make sense of things that we observe. It's also everything that we think of as normal is something that's cultural and has learned. Yeah. Which sometimes doesn't really come out until you travel or you have an encounter with somebody even the most basic like physical activities. Um I often teach a lot. Marcel Mauss is work. He was actually a sociologist From the early 20th century who has this article called Techniques of the Body which developed out of his experiences in World War One where he left he was french but he was in the trenches with other allies and discovered that they would all sit in different ways. And the ways that some of the other soldiers sat were ways that he was incapable of doing just you know, the basic things that we think of as as human nature, all humans sleep and all humans sit and you know, we move our bodies in certain ways but the ways that we do it are always things that are learned and so it just culture even gets written into our biology. It definitely becomes hard to discern right? Because then it feels like something that's normal or natural. We don't even see the learning process there and it's hard to imagine how anybody else could do it differently right? Until you see it or ask somebody and try to try to communicate right? exactly. So going back to the question of sociology at what makes sociology different from anthropology? Oh, good, good question. That's always always a question that comes up in classes to. Um I think there are historical differences in the fields. Historically, sociology was really focused more on studying the West. Um So sociologists would be studying cities, they would study the United States in europe. Um And anthropology focused on sometimes talk about today is you know, the rest. Um It was anthropologists who were going to small villages somewhere else in the world studying non Western societies. I think today that distinction has broken down to a large extent. Lots of anthropologists study the United States in europe and and Westernized countries um And lots of sociologists study everywhere around the world. You and I both studied in the United States. Yes. The other big difference I think has been historically has been method that sociologists probably have have a bigger focus on quantitative methods on statistics. Demography is, you know, a field of sociology and anthropologists have been much more focused on what we call ethnography and it's this long term study of a society by taking part in it by participating in it. Again, that distinction today has broken down to some extent. There's lots of lots of sociologists do ethnography, lots of anthropologists do kind of mathematical work. But I think anthropology is still one of the fields that really focused early on on this idea that if you want to learn about people, go and live with them and talk to them and see what it's like to be there and to be part of another another society. Right, so tell me a little bit more about the ethnographic method and what is involved in that it's usually thought about in terms of what we call participant observation and those are the two parts of anthropology really. Um so, participating, if I want to know what it's like to be a member of your community, I'm going to go and live with you and live as a member of the community. I'm going to be a participant. I'm going to live in the ways that you live, eat what you eat. You know, work in the ways that you work contribute in the ways that I can contribute their. And the idea of that is you get an insider perspective and it's a different perspective than you might get from just interviewing someone and asking them about how they live by actually experiencing it for yourself. Um so that's the participants side, but then there's the observation side to that you're always kind of an outsider. There's the part of you that's always reflecting on what it is that you're experiencing through your participation, on comparing it perhaps to other experiences, but always always looking at it a little bit from the outside perspective. And this can be true no matter what kind of research you do. So I do research in the United States where, you know, I'm much more of a participant in my everyday life, but still trying to have that that outsider perspective, how would somebody else look at this? You know, these things that I take for granted what is it that perhaps unique about them or cultural about them? So it's both being inside and outside of the group, but also really reflecting not just on the group but on your own culture. Like what you bring to the table culturally. Yes, absolutely. I think that's where, you know, anthropologists talk a lot about anthropology makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange. That participant part is about making the strange familiar to take something that seems odd that seems unusual that seem strange to you and really understand it from an inside point of view. Why does this make sense? Why does it happen in this way but making the familiar strange is that the other side to take the things that are utterly taken for granted that I don't even notice that I don't even think about and look at them from an outsider perspective that the things that I do are also to somebody else would seem very strange and understand why they would seem strange. And I think that gives a lot of insight into the ways that all of our lives are always structured by big cultural norms. So have you ever had a moment like that where you something that you just sort of took for granted became really visible? Oh, that's a really good question. I'm going to put you on the spot. I think about like a really good example. Um yes, through travel and even things that I kind of know, like I'm perfectly aware of as cultural, sometimes you're I wasn't expecting the kind of visceral reaction that I would have to even very minor cultural things. And I'm thinking of once traveling with family and I was in Portugal, standing in line for something, I can't remember what we're standing in line for. It must have been a bathroom or something like that. And everybody was standing so close to me. And of course I understand that personal space is one of those things like that is one of those surface level cultural things that we understand is differs in different places. But to know that intellectually is very different than the kind of visceral feeling of why is everybody standing so close to me? Like I just need a little bit more space and recognizing just how physically uncomfortable I feel. And that's a, it's a very minor kind of example. But I think reflects, you know, the much bigger idea about culture shock that we talk about a feeling like out of place in a different environment when we are using participant observation to understand a group of people. What are some of the risks that we run in terms of talking about groups of people who share a particular culture? I think often we run the risk of talking about groups as if they're all the same. So as if you know the United there's there's one single US culture that everybody has or the bamboo do this or the amazon, they do that. And that was a very early way of doing anthropology, right. I think about Margaret very much meat and the culture and personality approach in the 1930s where they were so excited to incorporate Freudian research, they really wanted to know what made the personality of a Belgian versus the personality of a true Brean islander as absolutely as if the whole community were one person. Yeah. And it tends to, you know, there's a legacy of that too. So it's still the way that we, we informally talk about culture. So we'll talk about mexican culture and japanese culture as as if there are these kind of bounded groups. And I think there's a danger of talking about is if everybody is the same within those groups, as if there is no conflict. As there's always conflict everywhere. There's always different kinds of perspectives. There's always just different people in different social position. So to say that there is a single Japanese culture, but you know, Japan is very different to an 80 year old man than it is to, you know, a teenager. They're experiencing very different things and have different perspectives on the world. So anthropologists try to to look at the things that are shared within communities, but that doesn't mean that everybody is the same, that everybody agrees that there's only one single perspective which makes it very challenging then to talk about the community at all. Yes. Yeah. I think that one of the other dangers is sometimes forgetting that things are shared. I interviewed people once about how they were, how they were thinking about what culture was, and somebody told me that well, culture is what makes you unique. Um and from an anthropological point of view that's really that's the opposite of how we think about company. And I think you know if you think about the United States where it's often very obvious to people in the U. S. And I teach an anthropology of the U. S. Class where I often ask students to write down like what are the factors of american culture And they just have these huge lists. And most of them come to the conclusion that, well you can't say any one thing is american culture and that's the point of the assignment. It's like yes we can't. Um But it doesn't mean that there's nothing shared. So even if we disagree on a political issue for example some of the underlying factors of the conversation and how the debate is being framed basic assumptions about how the world works. Many of those things can be can be shared. Yeah, they're definitely trends or commonalities that stretch across a lot of diversity within the United States or within any other culture. You just can't really tie yourself to them as if that explains the entirety of the culture. Yeah. I think it's important to to get outside of the idea that culture is only about what individual people are doing, but culture also becomes structures Often we think of of individualism is like a defining part of american culture and society that doesn't only show up in our individual activities that we're doing is not just that I think individualistic lee because that's how I've been raised but you know, I work in an environment that set up according to certain norms that assume that people are kind of independent workers, that they're not focused on, just other other aspects of life. The way we organize our road system is set up around understandings of individualism, the way we would organize public transport, transportation, discussions around paid family leave, in the United States or health care. All of these things are inflected by underlying understandings about individuals, pulling them up by their bootstraps, responsible just for themselves, taking care of themselves. Um it's not just just people who think these things, but it becomes part of our institutions and so they get reproduced in that way as well. And it starts so young, right? We have crass crips in, right in your face, in a separate room and you've got strollers. Your you know, and I know some of that is changing, but still like you start with this notion of individual integrity very early and it goes on to individual desks in the classroom and individual cubicles and so on. I can't remember the name of the I blanked on her name of an anthropologist who studied child rearing, but I I saw a little video of her ones talking about while she was doing field work with her Children in the field and trying to get them to eat vegetables. Um and you know, negotiating with her kids like you can eat this vegetable or that vegetable, but you have to eat a vegetable. Um and the people she was living with just thought this was so strange and they're like, you know what your child needs just put it in their mouth and they would just feed their kids and and much older kids that we think about, you know, 789 year olds just like put the food in the kid's mouth. Um and you know, in the US this this idea of individualism and independent. So much of child rearing is focused on like making kids independent, feeding themselves, you know, using their own cups, making their own decisions. Um but to see that from an outside perspective, that was just ridiculous, Why would you expect your three year old to make a decision? Like clearly they don't have all the information you do. So do it. Yeah. It's so funny to think about it that way. I can see some stuff that I do in that lens all the time and I don't yeah, think about it. I have a 2.5 year old. So I was thinking about it recently when I was negotiating with her about vegetables. Yes, you're here. I'm doing it. And so these things that yes I'm doing it is I think it's one of the fascinating things about anthropology to think about all of these day to day things I'm doing I am doing because I've learned them and I wouldn't have said that well, you know, I'm trying to incorporate this american sense of independence and into my child, but of course you should feed herself. It just becomes normal to me well. And I don't know if all anthropologists go through this, but I feel like I had this sort of adjustment to anthropology. Like when I started, I was so fascinated by all of the possibilities of different cultures in different places. And then I found it sort of strangely disenchanted that everything I thought was natural and normal fell apart like, oh that's just cultural stuff I learned and there was this kind of depressive phase and then there was a cynical phase of why should I participate in that? It's all cultural. You know, like I remember I remember the chair of my department when I was an undergrad making a joke about how he was going to keep his graduation speech brief because even though we love to study rituals, we never want to participate in them, right? And so like after that though, and especially kind of engaging in everyday life having a family and things like that, I start to see like rituals are kind of awesome, like I could tweak this, I could make my own rituals that are meaningful and I can, you know, kind of come at it from a critical perspective but still really find a lot of meaning in it. Yeah, I think that's very true. I had a similar experience and I think it's it's part of you know, having been raised in the United States, like we think of ourselves as kind of separate individuals, making our own decisions, like I'm using my own mind to decide what I'm doing and then realizing that no, I'm not really deciding very much at all. Like I'm I'm following the rules even when I think I'm not and and we all are, and I think to some extent, you know, anthropology really focuses on this idea of taking what seems so normal or natural to us and really showing the ways that it's been built and constructed and it's cultural, but that's especially hard coming from a culture that focuses so much on the idea that it's all my own free will. I often get this in class when I talk about advertisements, you know, the idea that I don't I sort of tune out advertisements right? I'm not affected by them, right? But I'm too smart for that. I see what they're doing, right? And but there are a great cultural lens because they're so artificial. Um and they take things that already exist in culture and they tweak them and then they convince us of things like I don't think I ever ever thought about the color of my teeth before advertisements for teeth whitening products came out and you know and you learned that it was a problem and it because that boy won't talk to me if I can't. Right. Right. That's how early uh Listerine was sold to write. Listerine was first sold I think as for hygiene purposes and it totally failed. Nobody cared about that. But then they started selling it for bad breath and creating all of these issues around you know, all of the social effects of having bad breath and suddenly took off. It's so funny to me that you know those are those moments where we really get to see how powerful cultural ideas can be. They actually change the way that we think about ourselves on each other. Yeah. Um you know, non advertisement culture is far more pervasive and we're insidious, the kind of stories we grow up listening to as a child or the ways our parents react when we do something we find out we shouldn't have done the way that our peers treat us. We violate some rule we didn't know existed, right? Absolutely. And so oftentimes the way you learn about rules is by violating them and having some sort of recourse against that anthropology as a field also has all of these kind of specialist sub fields as you're describing it, so many different areas of interest are popping up. What are some of the specialist sub fields of anthropology? Sure. Well, I am a medical anthropologist. Um so that's that's one of the specialized sub fields. Um And medical anthropologist, we usually consider it part of mostly part of cultural anthro although some people are really heavily involved in biological and throw as well, but focused on healing practices. Both again in the United States, biomedicine, the practice that's dominant here, but other healing practices around the world. I'm going to talk to Beatrice raise Foster in the next wonderful or one of the next episodes and she's a medical anthropologist who does research on pure breast milk sharing among women. How interesting. And and so I'm very excited to talk more specifically about medical anthropology there. So what are some of the other areas? Uh there's there's legal anthropology that focuses a lot on the law, political anthropology, economic anthropology, science, technology studies overlaps. Sometimes it's a separate field, but it's increasingly a focus in anthropology, human ecology. We've divided into a lot of different sub fields and those are really those are the ones that I'm most familiar with as a cultural anthropologist. I think there are other sub fields in archaeology. Um I know there's a whole a whole field of really gender studies, both in cultural anthropology also in archaeology as well. So what kind of feminist archaeology? For a while? I was a legal anthropologist because I had a law degree and I was working on my dissertation at the same time, and it was impossible to describe to people easily what I did. So because I think laws, another one of those areas where people just think it stands on its own, it's not what does that have to do with culture? It's the law. I think Judge Posner had some recent article where he described it as simply a tool kit. You simply construct laws and then they operate as you want them to. And I think so many people who've had their identities affected by legal decisions would really strongly disagree with that. Right. Right? Absolutely. And we see how laws are contested and change over time. Yes. As social norms change. Indeed. Yeah. The very concept of law itself, what is it and how is it supposed to operate that didn't even exist in current form 150 years ago? I think it's similar with medical anthropology too, because we think of especially our medical system, the biomedical system as being scientific and neutral and objective. It's like, well, what could be, what could be cultural about that. But it's not only, you know, how, how people experience sickness and the way that we experience sickness is through our lives. We don't only experience what's happening in our bodies, but what's happening in our life because of something we're experiencing. But then also just the many of the basic assumptions of biomedicine, you know, emerged at a particular point in time. They were, they reflect other understandings of the world. One of my favorite articles to teach is Emily martin's work on the egg and the sperm where she looks at medical textbooks, talking about conception and fertilization and the way that eggs and sperm are defined and talked about. And she looks at how they talked about with really gender terms that eggs are kind of are always talked about in the passive voice. They are released from the ovary and they are swept along the fallopian tube and they're kind of presented as these ladies in waiting um just hanging out until the manly sperm comes to find them. Um and the sperm are these old cowboys who are swimmers and they're battling with each other and they're fighting this through this like hostile territory to get to that egg and to win and be the first one to arrive and penetrate the egg. And that's but that's, she argues that, you know, that understanding that we basically took understandings of what men and women should be like these cultural understandings, um, and put them onto the single cells that have no gender of course. And it actually prevented us from really understanding fertilization that the egg plays a really active role. But scientists didn't notice that for a long time because they just didn't look because eggs are passive and feminine and they were looking at what the sperm was doing and didn't notice that the egg was doing things until much later. And that really gets reinforced, you know, in the public imagery, all you have to do is google cartoons of eggs and sperm inevitably, you know, it's a sperm with a sword charging the the tower or whatever it is. Or even Viagra advertisement. Some of the early ones, there's one print advertisement that was this image of like a sperm blasting into space, like blasting a part of planet, Right? Like that is that's so odd. But it's obviously like they're really bringing together this idea that masculinity is about sex and a man's ability to have sex. And that is being put onto this image of the sperm. So that advertisement only works if you know the cultural ideas about what masculinity should be and these cultural understandings of sperm is masculine. There was a community episode where Chevy Chase like was saying that he didn't have any kids because he suffers from a rare condition called hyper virility, where his his sperm shoot through the egg destroying in the process. So that very notion of virility being so aggressive. Right. Right. It's a very gendered idea with all of these various ways of understanding humanity and all of these different approaches that anthropology takes, You would think that it would be in the public eye a bit more. Um and in fact it was who are some of the most well known anthropologists of the day. I mean, I think Margaret Mead is who you mentioned before is probably one of the, at a certain point of time, one of the most famous anthropologists. Um in fact, I've had family members who were confused about what I was doing when I majored in anthropology and then went on to get a PhD in it. But they knew Margaret mead. So a family member who referred to me once would try and explain to others that I was like the Margaret mead of medicine, which I'm not quite that. But there's still many, many people who really recognize Margaret mead and she was very active in not only academic work that she was doing and she published a lot of academic texts, but she also wrote for Red Book magazine. So for for popular culture magazines she worked I think she worked with DR spoke on some of his his work on some of the early childcare manuals. Um So she was really involved everywhere. I heard that the doctor spoke relationship was interesting because she brought a lot of her experiences from the south pacific to inform and and had a big impact on what became attachment theory and brought back these notions of baby wearing and of not being quite so hyper regulated with infants, right? And that really informed the way Dr speak, wrote about childbearing, which then of course impacted millions of families. Yes, she was a student of franz boaz is who we mentioned. One of the people we identify as one of the founders of an throw in the U. S. One of his other students. To Zora Neale hurston is both an anthropologist and folklorist, but she was also a novelist. But her fictional work really brought in a lot of anthropology. But fiction tends to be read much more widely than an anthropology. And so I think she's another person who really used anthropology to inform other types of work that she was doing. She is very famous for their eyes were watching God. And I know one of the things that she did both as an academic and a writer was too right in the dialect of the community she was working with I think was not a trend of the day, but francois has encouraged her to do that, both to kind of preserve the dialect itself, but also see the richness and the uniqueness of it. Yes. And it's a, it's another case of language is one of those cases where we tend to have ideas about the right and wrong way to do it, what's proper english and improper english. But anthropologists and folklorists and linguists would certainly say that there's there's no good or bad language. They're just different and there's different ways of communicating. And there are things that you can communicate in informal vernacular dialects that you can't say in the same ways in other dialects. And I think she captures that really well. Absolutely. And she was also relatively unique in the early history of anthropology for doing what you might define as native anthropology or native. Yes, yeah. So she was doing work in the United States. She's african american was doing work in african american communities. Um and I think in several communities that were close to where she had grown up herself, although she did, I remember reading about how she said that coming back to those communities as an academic meant that she was no longer native. So she had to kind of re establish herself as a fancy city woman where you know, she she could have lied back into her same cultural role. Yeah. I think that's part of how you know, there is no single culture but also none of us is 100% insider or an outsider everywhere. All of these other other dynamics come into play. Yeah. Is there anybody else you think of as particularly significant either in impacting your understanding of anthropology or just somebody who is more public? I think today paul farmer is probably one of the people I would highlight, especially as a medical anthropologist. He has a medical anthropologist and he's also a physician and he has done quite a bit of work both in public anthropology in the way of writing outside of just, not only writing for anthropologists, but he has also been involved in forming non profit organizations that actually intervene in trying to address health disparities and health needs in various places around the world. He has worked with the World Health Organization and international health organizations. He's advised health policy in the United States and he's somebody is really bringing together both his his experience as a physician treating disease, but then also his understanding as an anthropologist of what's causing that disease in the first place and what's causing inequities and what might be due to address them. Right. And he works a lot in Haiti, is that right? Yes. Yes. And I think his first dissertation work was in Haiti and remind me his organization's name, Partners in health that works now all over the world. And so as you're saying, he's not only looking at the medical issues facing people around the world, but how those cultural frameworks, whether their laws or issues of racism or economic inequality, exactly how those make some populations more vulnerable to certain health issues than others. Yes. You know, we've talked a little bit about anthropology, is that started out in America a little more than a 100 years ago. But how does anthropology look different today? I think today on the one hand, there is a lot more subdivision today, so we have a lot more specialties. Um, there's a lot more anthropologist specialising in kind of finer areas. I think it's rarer today to find people who are really very well trained in all four of the sub fields. Most of us get some exposure to all of them, but then we really specialize early on one of the other big changes. We definitely see more anthropologist studying their own societies, so more american anthropologist studying the United States. Um You also see more anthropologists who are not american or who are not Western themselves. Um And I think that's added a really important perspective. I think there's also a lot more focused. We don't tend to focus on, you know, that idea of what is the culture of the trump brand islands like or the culture of Samoa like but much more focused on global interconnections around the world. So why did you end up becoming an anthropologist? I discovered anthropology in college. I started I intended to go to medical school. Um I was like I was a math and science person. I thought of myself that way. My least favorite subject in high school was social studies. Um And it tended to be like lots of names, lots of dates, lots of stuff to memorize and fill into worksheets and I found it completely boring. So I wanted to go to medical school do math and science. And my very first semester of college actually the first college class I walked into was introduction to archaeology and I had signed up because I had to do a history G. E. General education requirement and I hated history and social studies. So I was trying to find the least painful way to do fulfill this requirement. And I really liked indiana jones. I thought well archaeology sounds like it would be fun and it turned out to be completely different than indiana jones but fascinating. Just completely fascinating. And I signed up for another anthropology class and then another one. And the next thing I knew I was a major, then I discovered medical anthropology. That that was an area where I could really combine the interest that I had in medicine and health care with this anthropological approach and yeah, the rest of this kind of kind of history. I had a lot of support from, from a fellowship program that really helped me learn what graduate school was. So I had a lot of support in applying for graduate school and then in the beginning the PhD program. But I think for most people, you know, anthropology isn't one of those things that you grow up thinking like I'm going to be an anthropologist when I grow up, I think a lot of us kind of discover it and find and discover that this is this is what I was looking for. I didn't even know it was out there. What was it about that first class that really captured you? I think it was that it wasn't only about memorizing, you know, this civilization lived at this time in this place, but it was about people and about thinking about what it would have been like to live in that time in that place and what what everyday life would have been like and what what people would have experienced. And that kind of approach was was different than how I had even thought about history before. And I know that there are there are a lot of historians to really focus on taking that that kind of approach. But it wasn't really something that I had been exposed to very much before. The particular professor who taught that class too often taught it with a series of guest lectures from other anthropologists in the department. So they would come in and if they're what they researched or they were interested in overlapping with the weekly theme, they would come in and talk about what they were doing. And I think I also got a sense of just this breath of anthropology that look at all of the different types of issues and questions and places in the world that people were studying in this field. It sounds like an amazing class. It was it was a great class and I, you know, I ended up not being an archaeologist, so it wasn't that I went into that particular sub field, but it just introduced me to this idea of what what anthropology could be, right. And so, you know, you mentioned that that you didn't really have exposure to anthropology before that class. And I would say the same thing to myself. And I've gotten a lot of really weird comments from people or a lot of confusion over what anthropology is. I've had people conflate it with the Peace Corps. I've had people conflate it. Uh I remember um Peter Metcalf at Uva used to tell a story about a neighbor of his who when he told his neighbor that he did anthropology, his neighbours solemnly nodded and said, well that's good. We need to know more about ants. So, you know, and when I have definitely gotten dinosaurs, dinosaurs. Yes. Yeah. Well, when I used to tell people, I was a legal anthropologist. The first response, which I got multiple times was what do you do defend bones? Which yes, I defend bones in a court of law. That seems like a useful, useful spending of time. So why is it important that we talk about anthropology or that we know what anthropology is? I think that that anthropology has a lot to contribute to actually addressing issues that we're concerned about the the idea that we've kind of talked about, about just challenging ideas about what we think of as normal. Um, and what we think of as human nature, like that's so important just in thinking about other solutions to issues that we're experiencing, that the issues that we see as problems today are, on the one hand, perhaps human created and very often they're human created. And so we can reflect on our own society and see how these these issues came about. Um, but also think about how it's organized differently somewhere else. And we often have this idea that certain ways of life, if you think about the debates over same sex marriage in the United States, you'll often hear people saying things that, you know, all human societies have been based on marriage is between one man and one woman. And as an anthropologist, you can say that is not true. Um, and there's dozens and dozens of cases of how different societies have arranged sexual relationships or marriages or gender identities, Third genders, fourth genders, fifth genders, there is much more beyond just a to gender heterosexual relationship system and recognizing that I think is a really important part of that discussion. Absolutely. So it sounds like you kind of answered the question, then, why is it relevant to daily life? Can you think of any example in addition to what you've stated already about where anthropology is critical to understanding and possibly solving a social problem? Well, I I study a lot about race, race, and racism. Um and I think that's another place where anthropologists make significant contributions and from from across the fields, you know, biological anthropologists are focused on human diversity, on understanding, you know, why human bodies look different in different places around the world, how it's linked in with other with evolutionary histories or environmental histories or adaptation to particular environments. But anthropologists are also really focused on on, I think trying to make the point that although human diversity exists and yes, we look different in different ways, racist, something that we've learned to see and its cultural and it's not obvious to everybody around the world. People notice that yes, skin colors are different, but lots of other things are different about us. The fact that we notice skin color in a way that we don't notice lots of other variations is cultural and has learned, but it's become so naturalist that it's hard for us not to notice. Like it's we can't just kind of ignore it, but we tend to think of it as something that of course these differences, I would notice these differences and they must matter. But anthropologists know that one that's not inevitable and that they don't really matter in any fundamental sense, but they matter very much because that cultural idea has become part of our institutions and the social structures that we live in. And so trying to this is where I think the breadth of anthropology becomes really important that we're talking about biological variation that is given a cultural meaning, and then that cultural meaning ends up affecting where it is that we can live and where we go to school and how people react to us when they meet us, it comes back to our biology. All of those effects end up affecting our health. If you're discriminated against you're more likely to have higher rates of heart disease. And so these things are all intertwined and interrelated and really complex ways. And I think anthropology is one of the main fields that can really start to tease that out and start to combat racism and discrimination and all of the really negative effects. So why is anthropology awesome? I worked with the anthropologist Laura Nader at U. C. Berkeley who said that anthropology is different from other fields because of two things. She said it was scope and attitude and I think I agree with that. You know the scope of this breath of anthropology is really something that you don't get another academic fields. Um And that I think is really important to understanding human life and human existence. But then anthropology is also an attitude. It's a way of looking at difference, of valuing difference, not just tolerating it, but really valuing it for all of the different ways that various humans around the planet and throughout time have contributed to the species and to our existence. And just looking at the vast ways that we can organize our lives and understand the world is amazing. And I think that attitude that anthropology brings to understanding these these issues is is one of the things that really makes it awesome. Thank you so much for joining me today. It has been absolutely wonderful to hear your expertise and your opinions on what I think is such a valuable field. Clearly because I'm doing an entire podcast about it. Thank you so much for having me and I can't wait to listen to the other episodes. Well, thank you join me next week as I talk with medical anthropologist Beatrice Reyes Foster, a professor at the University of central florida who studies why and how women share breast milk to feed their babies. It may be true that breast is best, but as dr Reyes Foster discusses, it is not always easiest, particularly where women are struggling with overwork and lack of social support. Thank you so much for listening to today's podcast. For more information on each episode, as well as upcoming podcast release dates, visit www dot anthropologist on the street dot com. Sign up for email notifications or find links there to follow along on facebook, twitter instagram or google plus you can also check out my blog relevant dot com. That's R E L A V A N T H dot com. Where you can find links articles and original essays about what anthropology is and why it's relevant to everyday life. Did you enjoy this episode? Help make the next one by making a donation or becoming a sustaining member through Patreon? Find fantastic rewards. Cool gear. An amazing original art. When you join the anthropologist on the street community, find the link through anthropologist on the street dot com and help bring a little more anthropology into the world. Original music was composed and performed by matt Hirsch. References to specific products and services on this podcast do not constitute or imply an endorsement and the views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily state or reflect those of either anthropologist on the street or dr Hirsch. Thanks for joining me today. I'm dr Carey Little Hirsch and I am the anthropologist on the street. Mhm.
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