If by “gay” you mean “totally freaking awesome,” then yes, I guess it is pretty gay.
I guess it’s a bit cheating to pull in a quote by a fellow anthropologist, but it still holds strong relevance because as Kroeber aptly put it “anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities.”
I do however want to thank you for bringing this issue up because it is a long standing debate amongst many people in and outside the field on how much of a science anthropology is. It makes perfect sense why many people outside of the field would feel compelled to treat anthropology as such since popular culture tends to only portray the cultural anthropology portion (and even then it’s filtered and stereotyped with images of hippies and people traveling to foreign lands and watching people). As pop culture portrays it, anthropology would not be an actual science. Good job. Kudos to you.
However, that is also not what anthropology is. In fact, the way society portrays anthropology is everything that anthropology is actively trying to not do. Let’s continue talking about and going into detail about cultural anthropology. If you’ve bothered to pay attention to my blog, then you would probably have gleamed that I don’t really lean on the cultural anthropology side as much as I should (sorry cultural anthro folks for neglecting you — I promise to do better <3 ).
Cultural anthropology had a rocky start. Like, super rocky. It essentially started off because white, European men believed they were the pinnacle of human evolution and needed a way to understand these filthy, uncivilised people who weren’t white, European men like them. So, they observed and interpreted the behavior of these vermin. They totally deserve an award for being so open-minded and objective in their interpretations. They’re such wonderful people, I know. And that’s the abridged version anthropology’s roots. Now, as time progressed, something insane happened — ideas changed! Paradigms were shifted! God forbid even white women had their opinions considered. Dear god. It’s pretty hard to believe that all this happened, but trust me — it did.
Anthropology started shifting from a subjective field to being more objective. Forums debating objective ethnographic writings while still portraying the culture as humanistically and ethically as possible were convened. Actually, I lied — this discourse is very well still alive and ongoing. Just like any field of science, debates are constantly going on and methodologies are constantly improving.
Now, anthropology has done remarkably well in society. Cultural anthropologists have some of the coolest jobs out in the field. They can of course go the more traditional, academic route and conduct field studies on a particular population. But most cultural anthropologists end up doing more awesome fields. Cultural anthropologists are the reason why marketing companies are very efficient, they’re the reason why international delegates can understand and avoid offending each other, they’re who the military relies on both in domestic and foreign lands, they’re who the doctors call on to ensure their hospital is ethical and cultural misunderstandings are negated as much as possible, they’re the main driving force among many societal movement advocating for change and equality, they’re the reason why we know with scientific evidence that people in lower income neighborhoods are jipped in pretty much everything (good job society). Cultural anthropologists are fucking badass, okay. In our current day and age, the information they gather is more systematic, more efficient, more objective, more scientific. In my opinion, cultural anthropologists truly do walk the delicate line on humanities and science because they are both. They need both. Their subject allows them to be one of the most understanding and open minded people.
But granted, there are people out there in the world who consider themselves anthropologists but honestly are an affront to the entirety of anthropology. People who calls foreigners “savages,” people that believes they are the pinnacle of human evolution and don’t mean that facetiously, people whose goal is to go to a third world country and “fix” their society and culture. These people exist. They exist outside of anthropology and they exist within anthropology. But they are not true anthropologists and should not represent anthropology. These people are just assholes.
When you look at the papers written, the seminars presented, the current and past discourse, you see amazing things in anthropology. You actually see change happening. These studies aren’t just for the pursuit of knowledge. These studies are for the betterment of people. These studies have allowed us to recognize, and thereby start to plan strategies to fight inequality. These studies have allowed us to view our own culture in relation to others. Fuck that, these studies have allowed us to view our own culture and fully understand just how much our actions are dictated by it. Anthropology is fucking meta, man, fucking hardcore.
And this is JUST cultural anthropology. There’s also biological anthropology, forensic anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, primatology (yes I am so adding that here because anthropology has made amazing leaps in primatology), paleopathology, osteology, ece-ter-fucking-a. Without a doubt, I’m sure even the most hard headed person can agree that those are all pretty hardcore and scientific as fuck.
So yes, I will study a real science. I will continue studying the science I’ve been studying the last few years. I will continue studying the slides of rhesus macaques with and without hippocampal lesions. I will continue performing pretty fucking awesome tissue stains because watching those brain tissues change color with the right chemicals, my god I just can’t. I will continue conducting comparative neuroanatomical studies on different species of rodentia. I will continue making detailed notes on the behavior and training of all species of the great apes. I’m not doing that to understand cardiovascular illness in them or anything. Nah, I’m just fucking around and taking highly subjective notes on them and their behavior patterns. I’m able to do all of that because anthropology. I’m able to do all of that, study all of these “science stuff” because anthropology is fucking interdisciplinary. WHAT OTHER FIELD IS AS INTERDISCIPLINARY AS THAT. LIKE FUCK. I will study a real science. I will continue studying a real science. Because the science I do, I love it. It’s great. It’s amazing. It gets my heart racing.
But maybe one day, I can conduct a different kind of study. I can do a different kind of science. Maybe one day I can conduct a study on how pop cultural distorts and drives particular discourse on topics. Maybe I can study the effects of media distorting how people understand and view evolution. How people understand and view others. How they view and understand themselves. Because while you, pop culture, and most of society may not consider it science — it very much is. It follows the scientific method and its results has a wider, greater, and more impact on all of humanity than my current — arguably more “scientific” studies. Once you get the fuck out of your ivory tower and allow yourself to see the view from below and not just above, you will realise that there’s so much science out there, so much more than just a simple, narrow definition. We like to think things are simple. Hell, we like simple. It makes sense, it’s easy to understand. But many times, things aren’t simple. They’re layered, they’re on a spectrum. And refusing to view something because it doesn’t fit your worldview is detrimental to science. So rather than arguing semantics, let’s get the fuck out there and actually do stuff. Because quite honestly, prescriptivism isn’t the way to go.
Thank you, Anon, for opening the floor for this discussion.