Anthropology

Carol Hendrickson

Anthropology is the study of humankind, of all people—ancient and modern—and their beliefs and ways of life. What holds anthropology together as a discipline (and in particular the cultural anthropology taught at Marlboro) is a history of theoretical approaches to cross-cultural understanding and field research as a common methodology. Anthropologists can therefore be found studying concepts of space and place among the Western Apache, questions of gender in Mexico City, sustainable development projects in Indonesia and tourist markets in West Africa. Historically, anthropologists have worked with small groups of people living in (to us) isolated places such as Amazonia and Papua New Guinea; however, today anthropological research is also being conducted in retirement communities in California, Turkish immigrant neighborhoods in Germany and bluefin tuna fishing ports and markets in Maine, Spain and Tokyo.

Three key skills that come into play in anthropology are reading, field research and writing. Anthropology students read abundantly to gain a sense of the history and fundamental ideas of the discipline, to familiarize themselves with different ethnographic studies and to prepare themselves to design their own research projects. As part of anthropology classes and Plan work, students do field research projects, which can be large or small, conducted over the course of a weekend at the college or over the course of a semester spent abroad. Finally, writing is central to anthropology and includes documenting ideas and observations as a part of research and then writing papers that argue for a particular understanding of a social situation or cultural meaning. The skills learned in anthropology encourage students to reflect on their own positions and voices in the world as well as appreciate the degree to which we come to know ourselves through others.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Cultural anthropology
  • Anthropology of art/material culture
  • Latin American studies (Mesoamerican studies)
  • Ethnographic writing
  • Field methods

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

INTRODUCTION TO ANTHROPOLOGY (SSC131)
The aim of this course is to provide a broad overview of sociocultural anthropology. We will start by considering two concepts that are central to the study: the idea of “culture” and the methods of data collection called “fieldwork.” Next we will examine some of the sub-fields of anthropology (language, ethnicity, gender, visual expression, etc.). All of this will be done with an eye to the history of the discipline and the theoretical perspectives of its practitioners. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

EVERYDAY LIFE IN LATIN AMERICA (SSC518)
Latin America appears in the U.S. news for topics such as presidential elections and coups, trade policies, immigration issues, drug trafficking, tourism and (recently) the Olympic site selection. But how do these issues and events relate to the everyday lives of the people who live there? This course focuses on peoples and cultures of Latin America and considers subjects such as ethnicity, race and gender; wealth, poverty and the challenges of making a living; growing up (childhood and rites of passage); and daily life in the context of broader political and economic events. Films will complement class readings. (Note: we will not always meet the two hours of this course slot; however, the extra time will allow for films shown in class.) Students will have the opportunity to do a final research project of their choosing. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

ETHNOBIOLOGY (CDS15, team taught)
This course includes three distinct but interrelated segments: (1) an examination of how people in different cultures classify plants and animals; (2) a study of contemporary and historical events in the Americas in which resource consumption, environmental destruction and native land rights are linked; and (3) a brief survey of medical anthropology, the study of medical belief systems within particular cultural contexts. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

ANTHROPOLOGICAL THOUGHT & THEORY (SSC128)
An overview of the dominant theories and issues that have shaped anthropological research and writing in the 20th century. Paradigms to be investigated include Boasian anthropology, functionalism, French structuralism, cultural materialism, sociobiology, interpretive anthropology, feminist anthropology, historical anthropology and reflexive anthropology. Prerequisite: background in social sciences or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

SEMINAR IN MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY (SSC524, team-taught)
People conceptualize health, illness and healing processes according to the cultural knowledge of the society in which they live. In this course we will examine a range of topics from the perspective of cultural anthropology including concepts of the body, the language of illness and health, systems of medical authority, religion and healing and pluralistic medical systems. The beginning weeks of the semester will focus on common readings while the latter part will be devoted to student research, class presentations and the preparation of a final project. Students will be selected on the basis of a statement of interest and proposal for research. Prerequisite: A proposal plus permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: Variable (2-3)

SENSES OF PLACE (SSC337)
Everyone lives some place, but how people conceive of where they live differs according to particular cultural senses of place. In this course we will use readings from a number of world areas to consider, for example, how people relate to different places (experientially and expressively), how they manipulate the material world (by building house or gardens) to create and/or express a particular sense of place, and how different places reflect and help create people’s identities. An integral part of the class will be student-conducted interviews with residents of the town of Marlboro on course-related topics. Prerequisite: Coursework in the social sciences or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

THINKING THROUGH THE BODY (CDS566, team-taught)
This course will explore how the body is experienced and used to make sense of the world. We will begin the semester considering a range of issues having to do with the body: the symbolic and metaphorical body, the body in motion, body senses, the gendered body, the body politic, the body at the beginning and end of life, body parts. The final several weeks will be devoted to a consideration of the body understood in ritual contexts. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

ANTHROPOLOGY PLAN WRITING SEMINAR (SSC472)
Whenever we write, we enter into a community of people sharing ideas. This seminar is intended to provide a space in which students on Plan in anthropology and related disciplines can come together to discuss their reading and writing. Prerequisite: Senior Plan work in anthropology or a related discipline     Advanced | Credits: 2

PLAN SEMINAR: READING AND WRITING CULTURE (SSC379)
In recent years, anthropologists have been experimenting with innovative forms of writing as a means to explore how they construct and represent people’s lives in words. In this seminar we will consider how to read and write ethnographies and, in doing so, will ask questions about narrative form, audience, argument, uses of field data, the place of the fieldworker/writer, and more. Students are expected to either have field materials with which they want to work or be willing to do a small field-based project as part of the seminar. This seminar would work well taken with “Designing Fieldwork.” Prerequisite: Course work in the social sciences or history     Intermediate | Credits: Variable

Good Foundation for Plan

Students who want to graduate with a degree field in anthropology should consider taking:

  1. Introduction to Anthropology or Introduction to Sociology
  2. Anthropological Thought and Theory or Classical Sociological Thought
  3. Additional anthropology courses
  4. Courses in other disciplines that relate to their interests in anthropology
  5. Designing Fieldwork
  6. A foreign language

Many anthropology students also spend a semester abroad (typically during their junior year). As is the case with preparations in any discipline, it is important for you to talk with faculty early and begin planning a course of study that will allow you to take the classes you need and thus enable you accomplish what you want to do on Plan.

Sample Tutorial Topics

  • Introduction to Medical Anthropology
  • Writing Ethnography
  • Building an Ethnography of Gender, Religion and Culture in the Bolivian Methodist Evangelical Church
  • Conservation through Cultural Lenses
  • Cree Culture: Natural Resources and Sustainability
  • Cross-Cultural Approaches to Childbirth
  • Embodied Field Work in Bolivia
  • Language and Identity in Bilingual Communities
  • Readings in Anthropological Ethnographies
  • The Everyday Life of Mexican Migration