Recently I have come to notice that anthropology as a discipline is very unpopular in Africa. In the so called liberalized market thinking world, many students especially the self sponsored students (popularly known as Module two ) opts to go for the supposedly marketable courses like economics engineering and medicine at the expense of Anthropology. they argue that no employer wants to employ an anthropologist. what do you as an Anthropologists in this site think is the main reason for the unpopularity, more so amongst the self sponsered students in African universities.

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Comment by John McCreery on November 11, 2011 at 3:34pm

Based on personal experience, I would say that the Module two students are right. Few employers look for anthropologists. In this respect, however, anthropology graduates are no worse off than graduates with other social science, humanities, or even many science degrees. How many employers look for entomologists or ichthyologists? That said, well-trained anthropologists should be able to use their anthropological skills to make themselves employable. Anthropologists are said to be especially good at understanding people with assumptions and habits radically different from their own. We are said to appreciate better than most the multisided biological, social and culture factors that shape human behavior and to notice things worth thinking about that others overlook. Who, then, should be better able, not only to discover what employers or customers want, build rapport with them, then notice and meet needs that others have failed to notice. Jobseekers who approach potential employers in the way anthropologists are taught to approach the people whose lives we share as we study them, with respect, with genuine curiosity about what they are trying to do, and a willingness to pitch in and help them achieve what they want are priceless pearls.

No anthropologist succeeds in the field by charging into a situation and saying, "I am an anthropologist, here is what I want to do." If we are any good as anthropologists, we learn as much as we can before we meet the people we hope to work with, we treat what they are trying to do as interesting and worth study and effort. We demonstrate a willingness to learn. If we happen to know a bit about the business they're in before we talk to them, that looks really good. Anthropologists! Don't sell yourselves short! Don't talk the talk, walk the walk. If there are jobs to be had, you will get them.

That's my two cents.

Comment by Keith Hart on October 26, 2011 at 6:13pm

Thanks for bringing this up! I will kick off by mentioning some of the usual answers. Anthropology was a handmaiden of imperialism in Africa. Nobody knows what it is and the people who teach it don't do a good job of helping the public to understand. It is in fact useless when conceived of as vocational training. The humanities in general are in trouble, so are most of the so-called social sciences. The anthropologists rely on a method (fieldwork) that anyone can use, including journalists, so it's not good enough to justify the discipline. Anthropology is an anti-discipline: you can do what you like and call it anthropology (which may be a plus).

All of this and more is true and would explain why many people consider anthropology to be irrelevant. The case for it has to be made more forcefully than it often is. Here is a great post on Savage Minds by Ryan Anderson, Anthropology, dialog and "intellectual reconstruction". My main counter-argument is that these people who reject anthropology aim for nothing more than to adapt to existing society as they perceive it. But who is to say that the public worth of economists will be same in ten years as it was ten years ago? The world is changing fast. What might someone need as a training to help them make a go of life in a different world? Anthropology touches on all the disciplines, so people educated in it have a better chance of learning how to be flexible in the face of change. More than anything, humanity needs to find ways of addressing common problems at the global level and society usually stops at the national level. What training better equips people to think comparatively about the whole world than anthropology?

I would say that the people you talk to are out of date. Anthropology has a better future than economics in the world of the 21st century that is opening up right now. Vocational trining in specialist disciplines is old hat. The promise of a lifetime job as an engineer or doctor is on the way out. Of course, if anthropologists are to do better, we too need to sort out our act. But I believe that anthropology's value to humanity is more in the future than now or in the past.


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