July 16, 2010

The Second Question

The first question people always ask me when I tell them that I am working on a PhD in anthropology is, "What IS anthropology again?" That's such a common response that I think I have developed a stock answer along the lines of "It's about humanity in all times and all places." I know, I should probably revise this auto-response, but sometimes it's not easy.

Anyway, the SECOND question that inevitably follows is "Well, how are you going to make any money with that?" And that's the one that really bites into my soul, because it's actually a really good question. A lot of people give me a consoling look, and they tell me that it's a good time to be in grad school right now since the market is so bad.

This "second question" is certainly something to think about. I have plenty of friends who are jobless, and who aren't having much luck finding any prospects. There are a lot of people out there with PhD's in anthropology--but how many job possibilities actually exist? Throw in all of the freshly minted graduates with shining new degrees and titles who come out each year, and, well, it's certainly not like it was back in A.L. Kroeber's day, is it?

When used to ask me a utilitarian or practical question like "What the hell are you going to do with anthropology?" I used to cringe and get a little irritated. Of course anthropology is useful and valid, I thought to myself. But the more I think about it, the more it is an important question to really think through. What exactly am I going to do with this knowledge, and with this training? What is the plan?

Anthropology is what anthropologists make of it, myself included. There is no reason to assume that it has automatic intrinsic value to anyone--and this comes across pretty clear when about 90% of people that I meet have a very limited understanding about what it is that contemporary anthropologists ACTUALLY DO. And whose fault is that?

For me, anthropology has immense value and potential. The goal, then, is to put that value to use in various ways. I'd ALSO like to be able to actually find a way to make a living, but maybe that's asking too much. When I get done with this PhD (someday), I will have to keep a pretty open mind. Yes, I love teaching. I really do. In fact, I think that the classroom is one place where applied anthropology really comes into play. Teaching is applied anthropology, as I see it.

When it comes to teaching, I have to keep my options open. I am definitely not just going to count on getting some university position. I would be perfectly happy teaching in a community college, especially since I learned so much from my local community college (including photography, archaeology, and an introduction to anthropology). And that's why I am looking at several directions that I could take this whole thing--a mix of anthropology, photography, and journalism is another possible route. But I need to keep developing these options, because I have a feeling that the wonderful job market isn't going to get any more wonderful in the coming years. Hopefully it will, but I'm not going to plan on it.

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