Why Anthropology?

How do you answer prospective students, and/or their parents, when they ask the rationale for studying anthropology, and applied anthropology in particular?  Below are some talking points that go beyond the “anthropology is very interesting and important!” arguments, to both compel students and assure parents. Most of these can be relevant for both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Anthropology is flexible, holistic, and multidisciplinary.
Anthropology teaches us to consider multiple perspectives and points of view, and to understand the rationale for the various perspectives. The discipline is very broad and lessons can be applied in a number of contexts. In addition, we consider a number of ways of doing things across disciplines. Thus, the degree can be applied to performing well in a number of occupations, and thus bringing significant benefits to employers.

Anthropology is a great dual major.
Anthropology enhances the career prospects of most every other discipline by providing an edge in depth of reason, and understanding how societies and cultures work in the modern world. In any occupation that involved human interactions, the anthropologist can more quickly and accurately assess situations and consider options. A good example is the success found in combined degree programs at the graduate level between schools of anthropology and public health.

Anthropologists are local culture brokers.
There is value added in having an anthropologist on the team. In a diverse society, anthropologists are aware of variations in communication, values, approaches, and styles, which may be misinterpreted by others. This is applicable both at home and in far-flung locales.

Anthropologists are critical thinkers.
Anthropology teaches us to take nothing for granted, and to look beyond the façade for the underlying reasons for human behavior. This makes us good problem solvers, able to discern core issues that others might have missed.

Anthropologists can write.
Research, analysis, and writing are all concrete skills that are developed through anthropological curricula, particularly in graduate school. Most employers these days seek these skills for grant writing, analytical reports, marketing communications, etc. Course activities such as ethnographic writing and critical theory papers provide anthropology students these skills. (Thanks to U Memphis for this item!)

Anthropology is employable.
Job prospects are good.  According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs within the discipline will grow (albeit slightly) between 2016 and 2026. The Handbook also notes that median pay for anthropologists and archaeologists is about $62,000 annually, or about $30/hr. (Source: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/anthropologists-and-archeologists.htm, accessed June 2018) And this figure does not take into account the potential jobs outside of the discipline.

Anthropology is increasingly relevant.
As the world gets smaller, anthropologists will be needed more than ever to ensure interactions at international levels, in whatever contexts, go smoothly. This is not just in international development, but in international trade, logistics, policy negotiations, program development, and many other scenarios. Domestically, anthropologists are well placed to engage in diversity and inclusion, for example.

But What About Those Lists?

What do you tell people who cite various online reports or lists saying that an anthropology degree is useless? (Anthropology/Archaeology appeared on such a list in 2012 on The Daily Beast.)

First, review the lists and see what criteria they use to judge the majors. (Usually, such lists explore undergraduate majors.) Very often, the criteria are based simply on a specific economic value at a given point in time, and other very narrow factors. It is also fun to look at several lists over time, to see how subjective and inconsistent they are. Point this out to those who are concerned about such lists, and demonstrate how meaningless they actually can be.

Second, look at comments made in response to these lists (and they are numerous). Most articulate very broad rationales about why the lists are flawed. It does not take long to dispel the inaccurate and limited nature of such lists.

For a bit more reassurance, turn to the 2014 Huffington Post piece, “This is Irrefutable Evidence of the Value of a Humanities Education,” which notes the degrees of several successful individuals. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/28/the-unusual-college-major_n_4654757.html

And how about this:  For 2018, US News and World Report named anthropology and archaeology as the #4 and #5 top science jobs, respectively! https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/anthropologist  (“Anthropologist” falls to the #24 spot when comparing the broader STEM jobs, but that is still not bad. Another nice factoid: the unemployment rate for anthropologists is listed at 2.4%)

Are Employers Only Now Learning About Applied Anthropology?

Is the value of anthropology a new discovery for the “outside world”? Not really;  have a look at this article from USA Today, May 26,1999, which discusses, among other things, why all Xerox copiers have green “go” buttons, based on anthropological research  (hosted on the U California, Irvine website): http://eclectic.ss.uci.edu/~drwhite/center/news/USAToday5-25-99.htm.

Here are two more recent examples:

March 2014: “Here’s Why Companies are Desperate to Hire Anthropologists”
The title of this article from Business Insider speaks for itself: https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-why-companies-aredesperateto-hireanthropologists-2014-3

June 28, 2018:  “Anthropologists Help Drill Down on Company Culture”
From the public radio show Marketplace, another example of how anthropology is applied in business: https://www.marketplace.org/2018/06/28/business/anthropologists-help-drill-down-bias-corporations

You can find more items through a quick online search for anthropologists working in the private sector. You can also check out this page on the Minnesota State U at Moorhead website, http://web.mnstate.edu/robertsb/cultanthro.htm, which describes the value of a cultural anthropology degree.

What are other reasons to study anthropology, at either the undergraduate or graduate levels? Please submit your suggestions to NAPA at napacommunications@gmail.com, or via our contact us page. The authors of any reasons published will be acknowledged.

Welcome To NAPA

NAPA promotes human-centered work applied to practical problems by linking a network of professional anthropologists working across employment sectors.  We support all anthropologists in bringing real solutions to communities, organizations, and policymakers, by offering advocacy, information, networks, mentoring, and continuing education.

AnthroJobs Of The Week

AnthroJobs of the Week, 22 December 2021

Happy HolidaysReaders, we’re back! We have several interesting positions at North Range Behavioral Health, Tech Goes Home, The University of Oklahoma, and the University of North Texas. Check them out! 

Read More »