To celebrate World Anthropology Day on Feb. 16, the Department of Anthropology in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences will partner with the University of Pennsylvania’s Anthropology Department to host a discussion looking at current events through anthropologists’ eyes.
At the event, set for 5 p.m. in the Center for Automation Technology, Room 61, Drexel associate professor Rachel Reynolds, PhD, will speak about immigrant communities and what it feels like to be an immigrant in the United States at this moment in time. She will also discuss instances in the past when immigrants received increased attention, such as in the aftermath of 9/11. Penn assistant professor Megan Kassabaum, PhD, will present on cultural resource management and native land rights — a topic sure to cover the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Drexel visiting assistant professor Amber Reed, PhD, and Penn assistant professor Nikil Anand, PhD, will also speak at the event.
DrexelNow spoke with Reynolds and Wesley Shumar, PhD, head of the Department of Anthropology, about why World Anthropology Day matters and what to expect from Thursday’s event.
Q: What is World Anthropology Day?
Shumar: If you ask the average high school graduate what is anthropology, they say they don’t know, or they say Indiana Jones. That’s really the goal of World Anthropology Day: to talk more about who anthropologists are and what they do and their impact on the world.
Q: What are some of the current areas of focus in the anthropology world?
Shumar: Anthropology has four subfields: cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology and what used to be called physical anthropology and is now called biological anthropology. Cultural anthropology is very wide-ranging. There’s a very well-known anthropologist named Karen Ho who did an analysis of Wall Street and had this really good understanding of why the meltdown in 2008 happened and had a sophisticated understanding of the practices that led to that kind of financial problem. A lot of people are doing work on immigration and the movement of people around the globe, even before the Trump administration. You’ve got all of these hotspots where people are struggling, but you also have a lot of people, for example, leaving the Philippines to get trained in China to do work in Saudia Arabia, so you’ve got a lot of cultural dislocation and movement around the globe that’s really important for understanding what’s going on with different groups of people.
Q: What are you hoping people take away from the event?
Shumar: I’m hoping that people have a greater awareness of anthropology as a field of study. We framed the event around contemporary issues. One of the things I notice with my students is there’s an aversion to problems — problems are a bummer. I have a lot of students who will say talking about problems is depressing. But problems are there and we can’t help but having to deal with them. They can be really interesting things to work on and think about and deal with.
Reynolds: I hope people walk away with a greater appreciation for the central method of anthropology: field work and participant observation. It’s the one kind of research where you can really join into and become part of a community. That is an enriching and rewarding experience, but it also gives you the kind of data that other fields can’t see. They can’t see what the everyday human experience is.
Shumar: A lot of folks are turning to anthropologists to make sense of their situation. What we’re capable of doing is getting a sense of what these things mean to actors, what people are doing on the ground and what kind of effect that has.