? Student Perspectives - - Imponderabilia

Student Perspectives

Meadhbh McIvor London School of Economics

As an Anthropology and Law student, I get a lot of questions about my course - my own family don't even know the basics of my degree, and to be honest, sometimes I have trouble keeping track of it myself. After sixteen months of studying at the LSE, I've come up with an entry for the Dictionary of Anthropology, including the most FAQs:

Anthropology and Law, BA (an"thru-pol'u-je and lô, be a): noun. 1. University degree likely to be met with the following questions: (a). "Oh, that's a strange combination, isn't it?" (b). "Ah, and what do you do with that then?" (c). "...Rejected from an LLB degree, were you?"

1 (a). While my first few weeks at the LSE left me confused as to how the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and Durkheim's Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912) could possibly be connected, I've since learnt that more than a joint honours degree can link the disciplines of anthropology and law. The two are undeniably different subjects and have undeniably different requirements, but I've found that my degree gives me a unique perspective in both subjects; for example, I can see the conscience collective at work in defining what should be criminal under the law, and can compare the jurisprudential maxims common in UK law with phrases and moral codes recorded in ethnography.

1 (b). A degree in Anthropology and Law may not be vocational in the strictest sense, but it does allow students a route into law if they so choose. The degree allows students to combine what they've learnt from both subjects: past students have gone to work in NGOs, advising refugees and asylum seekers on their legal rights, promoting the legal definition of human rights, etc. Ideally, that's the kind of area I'd like to be in to put my degree to work.

1 (c). Contrary to popular belief, I chose this course because it looked interesting, not because I was desperate for a way into law! I find the practicality of law balances the undeniably vague or over interpretative areas of anthropology, while the 'socially rounded' aspects of anthropology act to counter the sometimes unjust edge of the law. The combination of anthropology and law may be unusual at first glance, but if you look below the specifics, they're a uniquely interesting match.

Tali Cassidy, University of Cape Town

I have the privilege of studying anthropology at a world-class institute. In buildings which have the status of 'national monument' we discuss social issues and concepts that never cease to stir debate and interest. South Africa, a society in a slow metamorphosis never fails to produce examples of structural violence. The challenge for me is the ever-present question: are we just part of this violence? Are we, the privileged, just making the awful contrasts between rich and poor more grotesque by finding 'case studies' amongst the impoverished millions that live so near? Do we sometimes forget, between abstract concepts and incomprehensible intellectual debate, that the millions living in shacks scattered all around our beautiful cities are real people?

It's often unsettling but always useful to keep these questions in mind. I'm grateful to live in a place where I can see that social science can have practical applications. More understanding is always needed in times of change, where equality needs re-examination. It's dangerous to think that people in academia can't afford to take time out to start practical projects in the real world. We can't afford not to.

Anna Hummel, University of California, Santa Barbara

What I truly enjoy about physical anthropology is that it strictly employs the logic of evolution, yet is flexible enough for creative ideas and innovative thought. Evolution by means of natural selection is the backbone of this field of study. The innovation in this field of biology lies in researching ways in which certain mechanisms, whether anatomical or psychological, fit into the puzzle of evolution. Physical anthropology asks the ultimate (evolutionary) questions about the unique mechanisms that make us human as well as the mechanisms we share with other species. My experience at UCSB has truly inspired me to further my education in graduate school in hopes of pursuing a career as a physical anthropology researcher.

Heather Bandenburg, University of Sussex

When I began to study anthropology, I felt disdain for it at first because we learnt of anthropology's imperialistic beginnings and, still lacking knowledge of contemporary literature and a basic grasp of concepts integral to current anthropology, I realised the limitations of general understandings of culture. This lead to many significant and uncomfortable questions about both my opinions on my own and other societies. Most people in the class got frustrated with the abstract concepts of Anthropological Theory, and found more practical fields such as Development Studies more interesting. Later, though, we learned about contemporary anthropology and people became more enthused. Perhaps it is now because I now feel challenged when my preconceptions are challenged, rather than uneasy. Yet predominantly for me, it was finding out how anthropology can help understand why there is 'injustice' (to use an arguably ethnocentric idea) in the world. More importantly, there are things that go on in the world we can't ignore, and anthropology widens our understanding of some of the problems caused by that inextricable essence of being human. I think anthropology is moving in the direction of discarding fusty armchair theories and focusing on how anthropology can make a difference in addressing inequality in the world. I've noticed that in Development Studies (which I also take,) I've started standing up for anthropology. I see people's perspectives and actions in everyday life in a way that recognises diverse points of view from a platform of equality, rather than being purely clinical and analytical. This manner of thinking seems to hold great value in the contemporary world, though sometimes it can be difficult to defend.

Lukasz W. Niparko UWC-USA

The United World College of the American West (UWC-USA) has students from 74 different countries all over the world and offers the two-year International Baccalaureate Program. Located in New Mexico, the mission statement of UWC-USA is "to make education a force to unite people". In my opinion, Social Anthropology responds to this mission the best among all 17 subjects offered by the school.

During classes, students share their personal experiences and observations from their countries. This allows us to overcome ethnocentrism in discussions and exposes us to world diversity. Students are ready to discuss every topic; however, they especially like to talk about socio-economic problems. "In anthropology I feel as if I can take the most advantage of our international classroom" says Inga Reichelt from Germany. They also conduct research at the school where people of different religions, opinions and backgrounds interact every day.

Every year, we also have an opportunity to discover the Native American culture in Taos Pueblo and during the POW-WOW dance festival in Albuquerque. As our Anthropology teacher Hilary Barshay says: "we focus our anthropological perspectives on giving voice and respect to all nations and people of the world".