Thursday, November 25, 2010

Curtains for anthropology?

Colleagues in my department circulated two articles reporting on the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). In particular, the reports focused on the bleakness of the present and future state of anthropology – which made me wonder whether or not StraightMan and I had attended the AAA in an alternative reality. Tis true that the job market has reached the depths of suckitude. Yet, the amount of engagement seems as high as ever. At the same time, anthropologists seem to be taking to heart the notion that they ought to demonstrating and communicating the relevance of what we do.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported primarily on that old chestnut in American anthropology: The four fields of anthropology (archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology) are so divided that it is threatening the discipline. Presented as Exhibit A of the embattled and embittering state of anthropology: A session featuring graduate students (which no doubt contributes to the sense of embattlement and embitterment…) commenting on the intensity of specialization within the subfields, i.e., how and why archaeologists and linguistic anthropologists cannot understand each other’s jargon.

Inside Higher Ed reported:

It is no secret that these are hard times for anthropology. The discipline claims little more than one-half of 1 percent of undergraduate degrees conferred, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Anthropology departments across the country have been rebranded or threatened with being merged or scrapped; jobs have been targeted.

Hard times for anthropology? As far as I know, the number of undergraduate degrees in anthropology is itself not in decline. Combined departments of anthropology and sociology have been more the rule than the exception at colleges and universities. Unfortunately, it is not only anthropology programs and positions being scrapped or targeted, but to cite the particular example of the University at Albany, classics, foreign languages, and theater. It is not only hard times for anthropology, but in fact, hard times for the liberal arts and for anything that smacks of any intellectual life.

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