Lecture 1, Jan. 06
1. Introduction toAnthropology
-children (dependents: a dog, a bird)
-education: all in Germany
-career: 2002/2003 doctoral research in Morocco, 2007 doctorate of the University of
Heidelberg, since July 2007 at Carleton
-first time I am teaching introduction (difficult since you have to present a whole
Discipline, in the case of anthropology one not familiar to everybody)
Why am I telling you this? Because some of it is deeply relevant to anthropology (not
everything in equal measure).
-Anthropology literally translated means “the science of man” or better: the “science of
humanity” (Greek: anthropos is “human being”, logos is “speech, reason, science”). One can see
at least two things from this etymology:
1. Anthropology is a very wide field; everything that pertains to human beings, their behavior
and their mental activities, but also the material products of their thinking, like for example tools
or houses, can become the subject of anthropological inquiry. This extreme diversity has lead in
the NorthAmerican context into a division of anthropology into four fields: archeology (Indiana
Jones); physical anthropology (“Bones”); linguistic anthropology and cultural anthropology. We
will be concerned only with the latter two in this course, especially with cultural anthropology.
2. Since it is concerned with human beings, anthropology is different from the natural
sciences. For example, it doesn’t matter whether the chemist doing research on crystals is 30 or
60 years old, is male or female, is married and has children or not, or from what country he is.
The results of his or her research are supposed to be independent of his or her identity; they are
1 supposed to be the same regardless whether they were conducted in Canada or in China; and they
are supposed to be understood in the same way by a Canadian or a Chinese chemist. This is
referred to as reliability in social science terminology.
(But: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Heisenberg’s Indeterminacy Principle throw some doubt
on this kind of universality; also, anthropological and sociological studies of the sciences show
that it is not arbitrary that most natural scientists are men, that this dominance has to do with
cultural notions of gender).
However, by and large such qualifications seem to be external to the natural sciences themselves
whose results are taken to be independent from who produces them.
In anthropology, this kind of notion is difficult to uphold. To understand why this is the case, we
got to get a little ahead of myself and explain what anthropology is.
Anthropology is trying to understand how other people live and how they experience the world
from their perspective. To achieve this, an anthropologist typically travels to a different country,
traditionally often far away from the one he or she comes from, lives with the people there,
learns their language, their modes of behavior, their values, their religion, etc.After staying
among these other people for a period of one to two, sometimes even longer, the anthropologist
returned home and analyzed his or her “data”. In the past, this scientific raw-material consisted
of texts containing a mixture of information (e.g. demographics), observations (e.g. of rituals, or
of everyday behaviors), transcripts of interviews, interpretations, etc. etc. Today, there is often
also a growing component of audio-visual materials (recordings of interviews and films) in what
anthropologists bring home from their trips. This was the kind of research typically carried out
by anthropologists, often by single individuals and it is called (long-term) fieldwork.
Indeed, this is how anthropology is still often defined: the discipline whose members do long-
term fieldwork and whose knowledge is based on first-hand experience gained in this manner.
Once home, they start to analyze their material in relation to the kinds of theories accepted in the
discipline and write an account of the other form of life, as they have understood it. This account
traditionally took on the format of a book and was, and still is, called an “ethnography” (this is
again Greek and means “the description of a people”, from ethnos, “people” and graphein,
2 After I have given you a rough idea what anthropology is, we can now return to why it is
important who the anthropologist is, understanding and describing the other culture in this
manner. The answer is quite simple: what the other culture is depends on one’s own culture, the
one to which the anthropologist himself or herself belongs.
Moroccan culture is not “other”, “foreign”, or “strange” to Moroccans, but only to non-
Moroccans. Moreover, it is other to different non-Moroccans in different ways and to different
degrees. For example, the main language in Morocco isArabic, and this is shared with a number
of other countries in NorthAfrica and the Middle East. Morocco may be “another culture” to an
Algerian anthropologist, but it will be other in a different way from how it is other to a German
anthropologist or a NorthAmerican anthropologist (who have to struggle to learn the indigenous
language and might never master it beyond a certain level).
We can very easily go further with this: Morocco is a Muslim country and so its reality will be
encountered and interpreted differently depending on whether the interpreter is Muslim or non-
Muslim, or more generally, whether he or she is religious or non-religious. Contemporary
political context can also interfere in how people understand or don’t understand each other and
how anthropologists determine what the other is. For example, it is difficult (not impossible;
nothing is impossible as far as humans are concerned) these days for Israeli anthropologists to do
research on Palestinians or vice versa.
To sum up: in anthropology it matters who the anthropologist is because the scientific object
changes. The crystal in chemistry remains the same; the “other culture” changes depending on
To return to my introduction of myself, how does my own identity - to the degree I have
disclosed it here – affect me as an anthropologist and, more specifically, in my role as the
instructor of ANTH 1001C, “Introduction toAnthropology”?
My age, for example, is relevant for the kinds of people I am able to do research with.As a
middle-aged individual, for example, it would be difficult for me to understand youths as they
understand themselves (and this is what anthropology is supposed to do: understand the other
culture as its members themselves understand it). This doesn’t mean that I can’t do research on
youth culture because of my age, and perhaps even good research, but my age has to be taken
3 into account, I have to reflect on it, consider it as a factor in my understanding. My research on
youth would always be “from the perspective of someone in their prime of life”.
The same applies to gender. I could not do research on women, whether here or abroad without
taking the fact into account that I am a man. It was actually impossible for me to do intensive
research on Moroccan women for that very reason. In studying a topic like domestic violence
against women, I would have to ask myself what the limitations of my understanding are since as
a man I am automatically positioned on the side of the perpetrators. The same obviously holds
true for studies of race.
I could go on with this and talk about, for example, how it is different to have girls as children
instead of boys, and how this affects your being an anthropologist, but I want to leave it that. It’s
not just the culture that matters, but personal identity as a whole. What is other, and what
interests you about the other is inevitably related to what you are yourself. Anthropology is an
academic discipline in which this relationality is not just a curious aside but a vital element of
the production of knowledge itself.
Now, regarding to my teaching of this course, what is most relevant is the fact that I am not
Canadian, not even North American, but German. This course will therefore be different than if it
had been taught by one of my colleagues, not just because a number of these colleagues are
female, or might not have children, but culturally different. I have never been an undergraduate
student in Canada, or a graduate student – for me you are an other culture and I look at this other
culture partially as an anthropologist.
This explains some of the features of the course. For example, that most of the examples of
anthropological research that you will be reading during this term refer to a NorthAmerican
context (examples: a dating guide, a MacLean’s article on student depression). However, it
would be a mistake to regard this just as a reflex of my own foreignness. I believe that
anthropology on the most fundamental level is a perspective and a way of seeing. It is way of
seeing not just the other culture through a lens of theories that allow one to understand the other
and make it more familiar, but at the same time a way of seeing oneself and one’s own culture as
other. In anthropology, the strange becomes familiar and the familiar strange – so goes a famous
saying in the discipline.
The concentration on one’s culture is also an effective antidote against one of the great problems
of anthropology, portraying of others as exotic, exoticism. If one concentrates only on aspects of
4 another way of life that appear spectacularly different from one’s own (for example: colorful
costumes, wild dances, violent trances), one reduces the other to an appendix of oneself, seeing
the other culture simply as what one’s own culture is not. Even worse – one tends to regard other
people as being subject to their culture, being controlled by it, following rules, practicing
superstitions, while oneself, as a Western sc