Sample Reading Reaction Paper The question on page 4 of Miller is really interesting; if you had a grant where would you go to conduct anthropological research and what would it be about? I remember thinking as an undergrad what I would do if I stepped of a plane in some county. How would I even pick the county? Can you pick any country? Do you decide on a place first, and then what you will research, or is it the other way around? I got to answer many of these questions in my training, but did not fully put it together till I did fieldwork.
I also learned there is no one answer to how, when, and where fieldwork is conducted. So many factors go into the process, there simply cannot be a universal fit for anthropologists. The summary of the four subfields of anthropology is pretty insightful and clear. Someone in class brought up whether the Garbage Project (or garbology as it’s often called) is really worthwhile. I confess I think statically data can tell us most of this. Further, with the limited number of resources available to archaeological I question if it’s a good use of time and money.
What about ancient civilizations and historically important sites we have not explored? However, a recent article in the New York Times Book Review made some insights I felt were applicable to this topic. Discussing literary criticism, the author said that the important part of academic research was that often the value of something was not obvious until much later. Something that does not have a lot of relevance today may be profoundly relevant down the road. Perhaps garbage archaeology is such a field.
Also, a piece I heard on NPR, with the anthropologist-in-residence with the New York Sanitation department, addressed the topic in a way I had not considered. The anthropologist was quite persuasive in the importance of understanding sanitation, its roll in modern society, and why some reflexivity on the matter is valuable. One of her major projects has been to set up a museum, which will house municipal documents on sanitation, including things like street sweeping, for the city. Given these two things, I might give garbology a little more leeway than I once did.
I was pleased by the section Miller included on applied anthropology, a subject we cover in great detail later on, as I feel it is very important. The reference to Paul Farmer, in a dialog box set apart from the rest of the text, is excellent. Farmer is an anthropologist whose work I did not become familiar with till graduate school. However, once I read his books I have been perpetually impressed by his style of anthropology. Farmer is both a medical doctor and an anthropologist.
He does not just go study people in faraway places; he goes to make their lives better. His passion and advocacy should serve as a guide for our whole field. Farmer’s honesty about the work we do, and the obligations we should have to the people we did research with, is not something I have come across in many places. Tracy Kidder’s book on Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, is a wonderful read. But Famer’s own books are even more powerful, if a little more academic. I do feel some things get rushed in the first chapter.
The section on the history of anthropology is very brief. While this is not a book, or a class for that matter, on the history of anthropological theory and method, a further development of the topic is instructive. The ideas we have today are distilled from ideas that we had in the past. Understanding that we have refined, and even abandoned some, ideas demonstrates the place of anthropology in the world. Plus, you do not need to reinvent the wheel. And, to carry the metaphor further, some wheels do not work. We look at past ideas so we can move on from them.