How We Can All Be Better Anthropologists How We Can All Be Better Anthropologists

How We Can All Be Better Anthropologists

by Grant McCracken

January 5, 2013

We are all anthropologists.  Strangers in our own increasingly strange land.  We are constantly noticing things, looking for patterns, detecting changes, and playing things back. 
The advantage of being a better anthropologist is that we get better at being social and cultural, and a little more human.  Now we can see where other people are "coming from."  Now we can see "where they are going with that." 
These metaphors are locational, because being a better anthropologist is about getting up out of what we thinking and relocating ourselves in the way others think.  We call this "empathy," but too often this is only feeling someone's pain.  What we also want to do is to see how they see the world. 
And this is the key to being a better anthropologist: always asking ourselves what would I have to think to think that, what else would I have to believe about myself and the world?  
We are inclined to dismiss what other people say and do as the expression of their limitations, irrationality, or essential flaws.  These feel good, but it is also a very good way of making ourselves prisoner of our own limitations.  Now we can't learn anything new.  Because we know it all.  The key then, is always struggling to get out of what we know into other worlds.
As I say, do this often and well, and every conversation, interaction, and project gets easier.  Oh, and there's that other small advantage: becoming more human. 
Further reading on the noticing anthropologist:


This is part of a series of posts examining the idea time and imagining our collective future. Tell us your wish for the future here and we'll bury it in a time capsule.

Top image via (cc) flickr user mysticpolitics
Recently on GOOD
Sign up to receive the best of GOOD delivered to your inbox each and every weekday
How We Can All Be Better Anthropologists