Florida governor Rick Scott’s attack on anthropology in 2011 was nothing new, and should be taken seriously (but not taken to heart) by anthropologists. I myself often wonder about the impact of the things we do as professional social scientists. But anthropologist Rachel Newcomb (and Davidson alumna) perhaps best makes the case for what anthropology can do for Florida and everywhere else.
As part of a liberal arts education, it’s clear that anthropology’s greatest contribution is in teaching; developing skills in social analysis, exposing students to the diversity of cultures and ethnicities in our globalized world, and nurturing humane instincts in future leaders. Many of us are also involved in various issues, such as Rebecca Ruhlen. In a recent article in the Charlotte Observer, Ruhlen responds to a critique of breastfeeding advocacy. In brief, Ruhlen reminds readers that there are more costs and benefits involved in our everyday decisions than economistic determinants evaluate:
Ruhlen said it may be true that breast-feeding isn’t free, “But no form of infant care and nurture is free. Mothers who wean in order to work for pay earn more money than mothers who don’t,” Ruhlen said. “But they also have to pay for child care, formula and more doctor visits and medical care.” Ruhlen said a more beneficial and useful discussion to have in regard to breast-feeding would be how society can shift some of the costs of infant care and nurture off mothers without disrupting breast-feeding.
This article also highlights one of the problems that we as anthropologists face as a discipline: the reporter identified her primarily as an “advocate” and not as an anthropologist. It is not easy to demonstrate how a holistic, largely qualitative discipline shapes the perspectives and culturally-shaped instincts that inform how we think, which is why I believe anthropologists are often identified by other markers such as regional specialist or advocate.
For more on this issue, explore the American Anthropological Association’s new website that tries to re-introduce anthropology to the wider public.