magazine submissions

What Anthropology Really Is (To Me)

By Sarah Riduan

I knew that I wanted to major in anthropology even before I received the post-TEE university offers. The funny thing is – although I have spent three years completing my undergrad degree with an additional year for Honours – I still struggle with explaining to people what anthropology really is.

“It’s about studying different cultures and…stuff, right?”  – Is often the response I get when I attempt to talk about what I have been up to all these years, drinking too much Red Bull during all-nighters and racking up a substantial student loan debt.

To me, anthropology is one of those disciplines that has a weirdly multi-faceted nature and is really tricky to define within a single sentence – which is understandable when you consider that its subject of study, humanity, is pretty overloaded with complexities, contradictions and underlying nuances. Although this makes articulating what it actually is a massive pain, I think anthropology needs to be difficult to define – it is this characteristic that makes it adaptable, humanistic, scientific and reflexive all at the same time, while also being compatible with other disciplines. In fact, whilst my recent honours thesis was grounded in anthropological theoretical frameworks and methodology, I was able to draw on museology, art history and postcolonial social theory as a way of supplementing the dissertation. For me, one of the biggest draws of studying anthropology is being able to incorporate a cross-disciplinary approach with other academic areas while still prioritising the relationships, practices and beliefs that make up the human experience.

In addition to this, although anthropology as my chosen field of study involved tackling several abstract social theories, I also gained practical skills that have been useful in my career within the museum sector. Studying anthropology did not just instil an appreciation and curiosity about the human experience, it also trained me to be able to effectively organise data, communicate findings and conduct research within set deadlines. This balance of cross-cultural understandings and applicable capabilities is one that is extremely sought after in the work place, especially in our globalised and increasingly interconnected world.

Studying anthropology at UWA has been a thought-provoking and rewarding experience – from the intense tutorial debates to writing papers on topics that I am actually passionate about. It has definitely taught me to look beyond the superficial, question established social practices and always (ALWAYS) take into account the contexts of various socio-cultural, lived experiences.

Ultimately, professing to study ‘humanity’ is admittedly a pretty big claim, but I think at the most basic level, anthropology encourages a wonderful mix of curiosity and self-reflexivity in looking at how we as human beings make sense of the world around us and relate to each other.

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