February 6th, 2014

Teaching Business Anthropology, pt. III

Last fall I took a part-time teaching position and was helping to teach a Business Anthropology class. It was an interesting experience, the kind where you love and hate the experience at the same time.

I really enjoyed teaching; I enjoyed explaining concepts, answering questions, asking questions to students, when I could tell the students were beginning to understand what I was talking about.

I hated being asked the same questions that are answered in detail in the syllabus. Over. And over. And over, again. Having been a college student just recently enough, I probably should have expected that.

Being an anthropology class, the one thing that made teaching a challenge was trying to explain to the students how anthropology, and, really, any liberal arts class, could be and would be useful to them.

It’s not often that I don’t have to defend the value of the liberal arts and general education, answering questions like, “When will I ever use this?” or “What can you do with a degree in anthropology?”

Considering I have two anthropology degrees – and that social sciences are often considered liberal arts – it can be kind of annoying.

The important thing to take away from any anthropology course is that each culture has its own way of viewing and understanding the world and no one way of understanding the world is more correct than another. In anthropology, we believe that we should not judge other cultures by our own standards (“ethnocentrism”), but by their standards (“particularism”).

This is a basic tenet of anthropology: looking at the world from another’s point of view. It’s what we try to teach to students as part of their general education anthropology courses. It’s what we try to explain when we’re working outside of academia as practicing anthropologists.

In the grand scheme of things, general education courses, the liberal arts, and anthropology teach about having an open mind, having an intellectual discussion, and being able to work successfully with people who have different backgrounds than oneself.

So, the answer to the question, “How does this apply to me?” is: learning to see the world from another’s point of view can help you understand your brand/your company/your idea/a problem/a solution in a new way.

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