Anthropologists have it Rough

I’ve never left my home country before; this is the first time I have seen a place so unlike my home.  One thing that it has made me aware of is that anthropologists have pretty complex jobs.

Let’s think about the human brain for a second.  Done?  It’s a bit complicated.  We hardly know what the brain does on a specific level.  Various maps of activity can somewhat be matched to certain actions and thoughts at this point, but we’ve never managed to build a computer that can match the randomness and creativity of the human brain.  So there’s an ego booster right there.

Now let’s think about a group of people.  At this point you have brains communicating with other brains.  That make for some complex interactions, I’m sure.  Add onto that the effects of the environment, such as the temperature or layout…basically, we can assume that every meeting is unique.

As you get bigger, you have to start talking about things like culture, which is a word for a concept nobody can ever completely comprehend.  Take a community of people, with all of their interactions.  Those interactions are influenced not only by the environment, but also by the way the peoples have interacted in the past.  Did your parents teach you to speak and think a certain way?  I’m fairly sure they always do, perhaps unwittingly.
With this larger scale, subgroups of people also form.  Clubs, associations, families, churches…these further complicate the general culture by creating subcultures that outlive their members.

After thinking about all this, think about an entire country.

No matter how “globalized” we become, if you hop up from a random community in Florida and zip to another random community in Hong Kong, chances are that things will be different.

Essentially, then, the job of the anthropologist is very tough to describe.  At the very most, they can provide general insights, but the real, human learning can only take place by being in the environment.  Perhaps this is why we don’t disagree too much: we’re all human, after all.  Just walking down the street, if you see another person smile at you, you feel good.  That person is acknowledging your existence, and perhaps that is enough.


One thought on “Anthropologists have it Rough

  1. Hi Paul
    I’m Barbara I’m studying abroad in Thailand but I was thinking of making a trip to Hong Kong sometime in October! I think I’ll only have 5 days so I was wondering where are the best places to go in such a short amount of time. Let me know! you can email me at if it’s more convenient

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