Off the top of my head, there are a few answers (which, frankly speaking, are pretty related to each other).
Baggage | Anthropology’s troubled past and its roots in colonialism might have led to several decades of soul- searching and identity crisis within the discipline. In that same time that anthropologists have spent trying to get their confidence back and stand up again, other social sciences have long made their impact on the popular consciousness, which eventually filters down the generations as received wisdom or general knowledge).
Academic barriers to entry | To become what one might call “an anthropologist”, it is pretty understood that one needs to go through the long, expensive process of obtaining an undergraduate degree, then a Masters degree, and eventually a PhD. Therein lie several barriers to be overcome, most of them pragmatic, and most of those who even get started on it at all tend to come from backgrounds that can afford the risks that come with attempting to overcome aforementioned barriers. Who could risk graduating with a non- professional degree that doesn’t even grant you enough knowledge or experience to be given much respect from people within your discipline (much less people from without), unless you took on even more risks by spending another ten years to get to the basic stage of academic recognition? More doors close between anthropology and the rest of the world — the vicious cycle continues.
Methodological barriers to entry I Participant observation takes too long, it’s hard to get published, and nobody actually really wants to read ethnographies (at least, not in the way they have been written for a large part of the history of anthropology). Since it’s hard to get published, you make sure you write in a way that will be well -received by the people who will read it, because it is they who affirm your status and credibility as an anthropologist. So nobody from the “outside world” really reads anything that anthropologists write, unless your name is Gillian Tett.
So that’s why anthropology isn’t more popular. I’m sure there are other reasons as well, which my lack of contextual knowledge (having not actually been an anthropologist before myself) will indubitably cause me to overlook, but from where I stand, the answer is simple: perhaps, anthropology just takes itself as an academic discipline way too seriously.
First posted on The Participant Observatory