anthropology and student debt

Student debt is everywhere.  It seems like everyone is going into debt.  It’s unstoppable, endless, ubiquitous.  We’re all in debt.  We’re all drowning in numbers and compound interest.  All from an attempt at “getting ahead” and going to school.  Ya, something’s not right about all this.  You know this.  More and more seem to fall into the debt trap each day.  This includes a lot of anthropology students–graduate and undergraduate.  I am pretty sure none of you out there started studying anthropology in order to get trapped in debt.  I sure didn’t.  Did you?  I doubt it.

So what happened?

The subject of student debt sort of ebbs and flows.  Sometimes it comes up more than others.  I was hearing about it a lot when all the Occupy Wall Street stuff was going on last year, and when this book, and this one, were published.  That was about the time that I first heard about the project on student debt.  Lately though I haven’t heard too much about this issue…but it’s not like it has gone away.  It’s still here.  And we’re all still in debt (well, not all of us, but far too many).

This past week a few different people sent me some different links about student debt.  One was this short video of Suze Orman talking about some of the traps of student loans.  She makes good point.  It turns out there’s really good money in handing out loans with 6 or more percent interest to students who need to find a way to pay for their college educations.  Imagine that.  Student debt is a moneymaker.  It’s also a major economic bubble, kind of like the housing market a few years back.  We all know it, and I think a lot of us are just wondering when the crash is going to take place.*  I don’t see how it can last much longer without some major collapse of some sort.  Lots of people are, for a lack of a better way of putting it, “underwater” when it comes to their education and student loan debt.  Maybe that’s when more people will really sit down and look at this seriously.  But another point that Orman raises is the fact that student loan cannot be discharged in bankruptcy: you’re stuck with it.

Someone also sent me this quote by Noam Chomsky:

Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society, Chomsky suggested. “When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think.” Tuition fee increases are a “disciplinary technique,” and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the “disciplinarian culture.” This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.

That one has been passed around quite a lot.  Love him or hate him, Chomsky has a point.  This is something to really think about: what are the actual effects of all these loans, of this avalanche of debt that slides over so many of us?  When students get overburdened with debt, how does this affect their decisions and actions once they graduate?  What happens to goals and ideals and future plans when graduates are really only able to think about getting out of debt?  What’s the point, really, of studying anthropology or [enter your field of study here] when, after you graduate, all you have time for is finding some job, any job, to pay your debts?  I ask this question all the time.  It completely defeats the purpose of studying a field like anthropology only to end up hamstrung by excessive debt and unable to put that knowledge to use.

In a certain sense, a strong belief in the possibilities of anthropology–despite actual experiences and practices in academia–is what keeps people pushing forward.  I think people are willing to go into debt, in part, because they still hold out hope, a belief in the possibilities of anthropology.  This idealism is what draws in undergraduate students and keeps graduate students from dropping out.  Student loans are like life rafts for many of these people–and I am one of them.  And, like that old Talking Heads song, sometimes I ask myself, well, how did I get here?

It’s good when people send me links, notes, and bits of news that get me thinking.  Now I am thinking, once again, about student debt–and what this means for anthropology.  Or, more specifically, how anthropology might be marshaled in order to really take this student debt thing apart and do something about it.  I suppose we could all just sit back and lament the current state of academia…or we could do something else entirely.  I am leaning toward the “let’s do something” option.  On that note, here’s the conclusion from Brian McKenna’s piece on Counterpunch about student debt back in 2011:

Anthropologists must reflect hard on Henry Giroux’s challenge to “take back higher education.”  The discipline cannot fall into the neoliberal trap, laid out by Florida Governor Richard Scott, of justifying anthropology in terms of its value in market terms. Indeed, too many jobs serve the very pernicious social order that is driving the public sphere and social state into ruin.

And yet, a job is life.

Clearly then, many questions are left unanswered about the job/loan dialectic for de Jesus and platoons of other anthropology students across the country. And for us all. I asked a recent undergraduate anthropology class of 32 students and found that about 70% expected debts over $20,000. This included two students anticipating debts over $30,000 and one over $40,000. We do not have a good accounting of the total debt load within anthropology. We need it.

We must fight to release students and professors (how many are still in deep debt?) from this  burden. Tamara Draut, author of Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30- Somethings Can’t Get Ahead (Draut 2006) asks, “How can the government justify charging students nearly 7 percent while it charges the banks nothing (Draut 2011)?”

Universities were once viewed as laboratories for free inquiry and debate. Today they are under siege from privatizers, ideologues, anxious college administrators…and the banks.

It’s time to return universities to faculty. And it’s time to provide our youth with a fresh start in life, unburdened by debt peonage to Wall Street.

Read the rest here.  Then ask yourself: Did you get into anthropology to get bludgeoned by debt?  Ya, me neither.  So now what?  Well, I think we might be able to marshal this anthropology thing to find some answers.  But more about that later.  For now, comments and stories welcome.

 

*One good thing: I am pretty sure nobody will be able to board up my mind and foreclose my education.  Not yet.

Ryan Anderson is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Kentucky. He is currently writing up his dissertation, which is about the politics of development in Baja California Sur, Mexico. You can reach him at ethnografix AT gmail dot com or @publicanthro on twitter.

31 thoughts on “anthropology and student debt

  1. I too have watched the student loan crisis, and was struck during the Occupy movement that certain disciplines do not necessarily seem “in tune” with the hierarchical structure of the current education system. Maybe it was too many general assembly meetings but I found myself wondering how much validation I really needed for my education, and to call myself an Anthropologist. I spent $21,000 essentially learning to read, write, and form questions and posit hypotheses about the world around me. I know how to go out and find sources and ask questions, and frame debates – why do I need a few measly letters after my name in order to contribute to the discipline? Excepting of course that my non-student/non-professional status bars me from accessing many publications. This is one of the reasons I read this blog – to stay “current” when I can’t afford membership to the AAA, AAPA, AAFS, etc. and why I support open access.

    I received my degree in Anthropology from a small, little known state liberal arts school in CO. It was a fabulous education and I couldn’t have asked for better professors who pushed me to ask new questions and reframe old debates. I am however saddled with 21k in student loan debt – and that is CHEAP! compared to many of my friends. I also have wanted to continue my education in graduate school – upon whose applications I have spent another $2,000 (four months rent for my tiny mountain town) – and not having been accepted yet that is an “un-returnable investment”. Personal struggles aside, it has been difficult to motivate myself to continue my studies because of this cost – particularly having been trained already to question sociological and cultural motives for education and its value.

    When a high school diploma is no longer serves an “entry level” purpose; any kind of college degree is required to sling coffee and pastries, and we begin to loose trade schools in favor of a MA in “constructional techniques” over an apprenticeship with a carpenter the questions of credentials raised by Governor Scott about anthropology apply in a much more broader scope – if in a less confrontational and offensive manner – to higher education as a whole. As many anthropologists were quick to point out, I have many friends with “real degrees” – in hard sciences and business who cannot get jobs in their field, and serve coffee, or wait tables. I’ve also gloried in the irony of having had parents push me to get a “real degree” (meaning something scholastic) instead of pursuing education/training and a career in dance. This problem is also unique to current and future “student generations” as my father, were he my age today, would not be able to get the job he had at my age (a union carpenter building grocery stores) without a college degree if not an upper level college degree. It is also sad to me, that people are no longer seeking apprenticeships in this manner – as he is a highly accomplished and well recognized furniture and cabinet maker now, using techniques that are not employed in todays modern/mechanized/IKEA superstores. I myself am still employed in the job I had throughout college as a hotel front desk agent and am routinely harassed by guests regarding my educational status (“did you even graduate high school”) – never knowing that I have two degrees and graduated at the top of my class both times.

    I think Anthropology as a discipline is in a unique position to question both the hierarchy, and the value of education, particularly as the community has already been exploring some of these ideas through things like open access journals and social media, plus the long history of questioning cultural values and the uses of power within society. I look forward to future posts about this topic, and thank you for writing in the first place.

    P.S. I didn’t get into anthropology to get bludgeoned by debt, but I didn’t necessarily get into it to make oodles of money either, I chose this discipline because humans are fascinating creatures and I want to know more about us.

  2. Anthropologists should ask themselves: now that I know about the neanderthals, the dance of the gypsies, the commodification of women, etc., what can I do with them and how can society benefit from what I know?

    If you have no answer, then Gov. Scott is right. It is inhumane to cancer patients if a cancer research in the molecular biology department cannot move on to the next phase due to lack of funding while the anthropology department is wasting funds on teaching and doing useless stuff.

    Seriously, what can you do with Postmodernism and how can society benefit from the works of Latour? It is also unfair to students who have all these loans because of the kind of education that has no concrete application in the real world. It does not even help when one applies at Starbucks.

    Let’s stop massaging our egos. Anthropology, in its current form or as it is being taught today, is a waste of money.

  3. @the virtual patriot:

    There’s no shortage of value and potential in anthropology. For me, that’s not the problem at all. The main issue, as I see it, is that most of the training is geared toward staying within academia, rather than communicating and applying anthropology in other venues. I think anthropology is far from useless, and I also think there’s a lot more to the discipline than ‘postmodernism’ and Bruno Latour. But, what I think we need is a renewed effort at pushing anthropology outside of the academy. Some anthros already do this really well, and we need more of that. The other problem is debt–and this is an issue that applies to graduates of anthropology, mathematics, biology, med school, etc. It’s not just an anthropology problem.

  4. @Jessica:

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing some of your experiences. I hear you about not getting into anthro to make oodles of money. Same for me. But I also didn’t expect to get into oodles of debt–it happened along the way since I was going full-time and trying to get finish as quickly and efficiently as possible. Looking back, I would have done a few things differently (hindsight and all). Your story about customers giving you grief about your education reminds me of some experiences I had when I was waiting tables during grad school. Sometimes people treat others pretty terribly–and make a lot of assumptions about folks. I spent about 15 years working in restaurant on and off, so I have my share of stories. I think my interest in human behavior may have started when I was working as a bartender and wondering “why do people do this night after night?” all the time! Anyway, thanks again for the comment. I plan to write more about this student debt stuff soon.

  5. Yes, anthropology has a potential value in marketing, but do you study marketing in anthropology? Potential value is imaginary. Why not make that real? Why not create a course in marketing anthropology or let anthropology students take classes in marketing instead of linguistic anthropology or archaeology or myths and rituals, if they want to work for manufacturing companies in the future? If there is such a thing called marketing anthropology, do you think those companies won’t welcome anthropologists to fill marketing positions? Again, interdisciplinarization of anthropology is the key. We also need to change the image of “the anthropologist”. That image makeover should start in the academe. Encourage your students to study Wall Street or US military camps instead of remote communities in the Amazon or Papua New Guinea .

  6. To illustrate my point:

    “Susan Van Brackle
    Marketing Anthropology
    B.S., June 2006,
    CUNY Pipeline Fellowship
    Dean’s List

    Susan Van Brackle is an entrepreneur who went back to college after 9/11 had a devastating effect on her small business. She had opened a niche cosmetics brand in 1997, ultimately gaining distribution in boutiques and department stores. She later opened her own store in Harlem after obtaining a $100,000 government sponsored small business loan. Before opening her business and before jobs in the marketing arena, she studied retail marketing at Rochester Institute of Technology from 1979-82 and fashion buying and merchandising at Fashion Institute of Technology from 1982-89.

    In the CUNY Baccalaureate Program, Van Brackle designed the unique area of concentration Marketing Anthropology with the support of her two mentors, both of whom are at York College: Profs. Linda Perry, Accounting and Business and William Divale, Social Science. Her marketing courses were taken at Brooklyn and York Colleges. Her Anthropology courses, all taken at York, included “Techniques of Cross Cultural Research, Medical Anthropology, Anthropology of Sex, The Caribbean” and “Alcohol and Obesity.” She used sociology methods courses to pull the two disciplines together. She states that “the ethnographic research methods used to gain understanding of a culture can be similarly applied to consumer research. Moreover, the seeds of marketing were sown through a series of evolutionary cultural experiences.” For each of her courses, she has explained how the two disciples throw light on each other as, for example, in studying medical anthropology, she examined how shamans in Peru “marketed” their healing powers, how competition among healers produces an “ideology of consumerism.’” Van Brackle published a commentary on her unique “major” in The Society for Applied Anthropology’s August 2005 Newsletter; she is a CUNY Graduate Center Pipeline Fellow who recently presented her senior thesis at the Graduate Center: “Psychographics and It’s Impact on 21st Century Asian Market Consumerism.” CUNY Pipeline prepares minority students for the professorate. Van Brackle has applied to MA, MBA and Ph.D. programs.”

    http://cunyba.gc.cuny.edu/blog/susan-van-brackle-marketing-culture/

  7. @virtual patriot:

    “Yes, anthropology has a potential value in marketing, but do you study marketing in anthropology? Potential value is imaginary. Why not make that real?”

    That’s not what I wrote. I wrote that anthropology “has no shortage of value and potential.” Which is different than saying it has potential value (but I think it has plenty of that as well, which is to say that I think anthropology has a lot of unrealized value too). I think the value of anthropology is quite real–I already find plenty of value in anthropological concepts, methods, teaching, research, etc. The main problem is that anthropologists here in the US haven’t been all that good at communicating anthropology outside of academia. Hence the reason why so many folks outside universities don’t know much about what contemporary anthropologists do.

    “We also need to change the image of “the anthropologist”. That image makeover should start in the academe.”

    I agree with you on this one.

    “Encourage your students to study Wall Street or US military camps instead of remote communities in the Amazon or Papua New Guinea.”

    I agree that we should have more anthros studying subjects like Wall Street, etc. I am a big proponent of studying local (ie doing anthropology in your own community) and studying up/sideways. That’s the kind of anthropology I personally prefer. But I also think there’s plenty of value in anthropology that focuses on communities around the world. I see no reason why anthropology can’t be about studying at home and abroad.

  8. Ryan, I was too quick to go into the particular. Okay I will say it again. Yes, there’s no shortage of value and potential in anthropology. I hear that all the time. There are anthropologists who say anthropology is valuable in neuroscience or has a potential to extend neuroscience to the study of culture. The question: how many universities offer Neuroanthropology? Can anthropology students even register for Neuroscience courses? Do they have to take introductory Biology courses because Physical Anthro courses won’t satisfy the biology prerequisites?

    Do you think manufacturing or financial companies will hire anthropologists because anthropology has perceived value and potential in marketing or finance? Some CEO’s don’t even know what anthropology is. What I’m saying is that anthropology departments have to be creative in training their students and making them employable. Marketing Anthropology, Business Anthropology, and Financial Anthropology are better than these UCLA Anthro courses: Archaeology of Ancient China, Primate Behavior, and Talk and the Body, as far as making anthropology students skilled and employable is concerned.

    Also, who hire Papua New Guinea experts here in the US besides universities? Employability here is important. Anthropologists who have loans need good jobs to pay them off.

  9. Isn’t it more to the point to say that anthropology students have to be creative in training themselves and thinking about what the future may hold? The ghost of Jack Roberts speaks to me again. I had gone to ask him what I should take in my first semester as a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell. “John,” he said, “the whole point of being a graduate student is to stop being a student.” By “being a student” he meant waiting for someone else to take care of you and tell you what to do.

  10. I note, too, the dated stereotype that equates anthropologists with experts on Papua New Guinea and that the tacit assumption that you will find a job back home in Europe or the USA. I’ve got a lot of respect for Rex and other Oceanists, but I note that one nice thing about doing research in East Asia is that linguistic and cultural competence in China, Japan or Korea opens up all sorts of interesting opportunities in the places we study. And, if you are smart enough to be in graduate school, picking up the basics of finance or marketing is trivial, compared to learning an Asian language.

  11. “Also, who hire Papua New Guinea experts here in the US besides universities?”

    The statement above is the continuation of this previous statement:

    “We also need to change the image of “the anthropologist”. That image makeover should start in the academe. Encourage your students to study Wall Street or US military camps instead of remote communities in the Amazon or Papua New Guinea.”

    Also, the idea is not only to learn about marketing, but to make it known to the public or to let those marketing companies know that there are anthropologists who formally study marketing in anthropology. If one applies for a marketing job, “marketing anthropology” as his educational background sounds better than “social anthropology” or “anthropology”. How can he write such a background if his department offers no marketing anthropology?

  12. It’s an interesting thought, but it’s not news. There are people who do this already. The involvement of anthropologists in business goes back to the 1930s.

    See, for example, Rita Denny and Patricia Sunderland’s _Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research_, the website for the EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Corporations) conferences, the open-access online Journal of Business Anthropology or the AnthroDesign Yahoo! Group, to which several thousand members belong.

    Not saying that people whose academic programs don’t mention these kinds of resources don’t have a legitimate gripe. But in this day and age, all it takes is a Google search for “anthropology business” to find out what’s going on. “We do it all for you” is a slogan for McDonald’s, not for an academic department.

  13. I don’t want to sound too harsh here. But when the discussion is focused on what anthropology departments should do in a world where the China Daily news runs a whole special edition on the surplus of university-trained graduates worldwide in all sorts of fields, the democratic myth that higher education equals upward mobility is dying, and, like the old coal mine song says, “Sixteen tons and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt” is increasingly as true of the middle class as it was of sweat labor in the past, I can’t help noticing how narrow and self-centered the discussion becomes. As far as I can make out, the only sensible path for anyone these days is a combination of looking out for yourself as well as you can and becoming politically active in pursuit of a juster world. Complaining about how the monastery is run, while the world is falling apart outside the walls, doesn’t seem like the road to salvation for anyone.

  14. I think my Susan Van Brackle example above is clear. I’m talking about formalizing the offering of interdisciplinary programs in anthropology departments, where students can choose marketing anthropology, molecular anthropology, biomedical anthropology–fields that are more valuable and in demand compared to political anthropology or anthropology of religion.

    Do you know any graduate program in Business Anthropology or Molecular Anthropology or any “new anthropology”? It is good to know that a university in New York offers MS in Biomedical Anthropology. We need more specialized programs like that in anthropology departments.

    http://www2.binghamton.edu/anthropology/about-us/biological-anthropology/biomed-program.html

  15. The idea that formalizing programs in anthropology [or history or sociology or philosophy....or whatever] departments will result in improved job prospects for graduates is one that our masters of critique should examine closely. As far as I can make out, the Susan van Brackle example is an anecdote about a woman who made a series of wise decisions with good results for her own career. Will trying to formalize her path as a program work for anyone else?

    Is there any evidence here to counter the proposition that what this proposal amounts to is shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic?

  16. From another blog,

    “Sukie points to an opinion piece that highlights problems in biomedical research in the US. Is the current system sustainable? The problems are similar to those in many other areas of science.

    from the abstract

    ‘The biomedical research enterprise in the US has become unsustainable and urgent action is needed to address a variety of problems, including a lack of innovation, an over-reliance on soft money for faculty salaries, the use of graduate students as a source of cheap labour, and a ‘holding tank’ full of talented postdocs with limited career opportunities.’”

  17. In response to John and Virtual Patriot, much of this depends on whether you look at anthropology as a collection of skills, or as a broader discipline. Speaking from my own experience, the anthro classes that were the most helpful in securing employment for me were the skills classes – field methods (interview and survey methods, especially) and quantitative analysis for social scientists.

    If you’re looking for work as you come out of school, employers are more interested in what you can do rather than what you know.

    If anthropology wants to stay relevant it needs to be able to successfully get its students into the job market (ideally before they’ve given up on the discipline).

    Here’s the problem: If there are less and less positions open for anthropologists in academia, what’s the value of a PhD? The average anthro PhD takes nine years to complete, and in most professional circles a MA and three years of experience (or a BA and 5 years of experience) is considered to be equivalent (from a hiring standpoint, at least). An MA with three years of experience is also likely to have a wider range of contacts outside of academia, and more credibility in the eyes of most professional non-academics (there’s not much appreciation for academic writing outside of academia).

    So what’s the point?

  18. Ixak, thanks for you comments. We do, indeed, write from different perspectives.

    In my case, after my one shot at tenure track in academia, I never got a job as an anthropologist. What got me in the door for my first job in Japan in 1980 was being a competent writer who knew more about computers than most writers did back then. The company that hired me had a daily translation account with IBM and needed an editor. What got me in the door at the Japanese ad agency where I spent thirteen years as a copywriter and creative director was the experience at the first company (I had wound up writing and editing a publication called the Sony Marketing Hotline) and lunch with a friend with whom I shared a mutual interest in personal computing. What gave me a place to go when I left the agency was being married to one of the smartest women I know, who had in the meantime established herself as one of the best Japanese-English translators in the world and founded our company back in 1984.

    Does this mean that the anthropology I studied was wasted effort? Not at all. As I wrote in the conclusion to a paper that I will be giving in Shanghai in May (because some Chinese friends think that I know something about business anthropology),

    “What, then, can anthropology of business contribute to anthropology in or with business? The answer is simple: perspective.

    Working in advertising, I was used to short-term projects with tight deadlines and highly specific objectives. At first, I often found myself confused and frustrated, especially when my proposals were brushed aside as uninspired and old-fashioned. But as time went on and one project followed another, I began to be able to distinguish between routine or repetitious and genuinely new ideas. I slowly came to understand my clients’ and colleagues’ perspectives and how to take them into account in offering my own proposals. And what I had learned about doing ethnography from Victor Turner became increasingly valuable.

    As Moeran points out in A Japanese Advertising Agency, every competitive pitch is a tournament of value (1996:92-96). My understanding the structure of the field on which the tournament occurs, the dynamics of the social drama as the tournament unfolds, the talents, strengths and weaknesses of the various players, became increasingly valuable. Being attuned to the multiple meanings of words and visual symbols and the ability to highlight those most relevant to the client sold a lot of advertising.”

    Anthropology never got me a job. It made me a lot more effective at the job I did get, and combined with lucky break of following my wife to Japan just before the bubble economy of the late 1980s took off has made for a pretty comfortable as well as interesting life.

    This is the experience on the basis of which I remain skeptical of programs oriented to skills in current demand versus general knowledge with a strong tech component, the street smarts I only acquired after being kicked out of academia, and the versatility on top of resilience required to be what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls antifragile.

    I wish I had more to offer. Folks like Matt and Ryan, who have done so much for us all while facing their own uphill battles deserve the highest respect and all the support we can give them.

  19. @the virtual patriot:

    “Do you think manufacturing or financial companies will hire anthropologists because anthropology has perceived value and potential in marketing or finance?”

    Definitely not.

    “Some CEO’s don’t even know what anthropology is.”

    You’re right about that. CEO’s and plenty of others have no idea what contemporary anthropology is all about. And that’s not their fault, it’s ours.

    “What I’m saying is that anthropology departments have to be creative in training their students and making them employable.”

    I agree with you that departments need to rethink training (not that any departments around the US care what I think). Right now, most of them are geared toward producing more academics. The obvious problem though is that there aren’t enough academic jobs for all these graduates. But, no matter, all these departments keep accepting new students and training them as if everything is juuuuust fine.

    “Marketing Anthropology, Business Anthropology, and Financial Anthropology are better than these UCLA Anthro courses: Archaeology of Ancient China, Primate Behavior, and Talk and the Body, as far as making anthropology students skilled and employable is concerned.”

    Depends on what you’re doing or what you want to do. Robert Sapolsky is a neuroscientist who works with primates (baboons) to better understand human stress. I’m sure he’d tell you that primate behavior classes can be quite valuable. I think his work is incredibly interesting–and certainly meaningful outside of academia. Again, I find a lot of value in anthropology, including courses about archaeology in ancient China. I think anthropology adds layers to our understanding of humanity that don’t exactly get covered in mandatory education (high school, etc). These added layers may not always translate directly to jobs, but I think they matter. I think specialization is fine, sure, but I also think we add a lot with a broad training in anthropology–to me that’s part of what adds the unique perspective to something like “business anthropology” or economic anthropology.

    “Also, who hire Papua New Guinea experts here in the US besides universities? Employability here is important. Anthropologists who have loans need good jobs to pay them off.”

    Again, it depends. I agree with you that getting jobs matters. Of course it does. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to turn anthropology into something that’s only concerned with appealing to the demands of the current job market. That should be part of the equation, sure, but education is about more than just getting jobs. BUT, and this is very important, if students are going bankrupt in the process then it’s basically self-defeating. What’s the point of learning critical thinking if you just end up in massive debt? That’s why we need to deal with the debt issue sooner rather than later. It takes a bad situation and makes it a lot worse.

    @John:

    “As far as I can make out, the only sensible path for anyone these days is a combination of looking out for yourself as well as you can and becoming politically active in pursuit of a juster world. Complaining about how the monastery is run, while the world is falling apart outside the walls, doesn’t seem like the road to salvation for anyone.”

    I think you’re right that people need to look out for themselves. And maybe it is fairly useless to complain about how the monastery runs itself. As I see it, if they don’t change, they are just going to run aground. Maybe the best thing to do would be to break away from the monastery as soon as possible and seek out new paths. Hmmm. I know this: I am not putting all of my eggs in the [academic] antho basket, that’s for sure.

    “Is there any evidence here to counter the proposition that what this proposal amounts to is shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic?”

    It probably is just that. I already said that student loans are like life rafts above…and since those aren’t really working, well, we must really be in trouble.

    @Ixak:

    “Here’s the problem: If there are less and less positions open for anthropologists in academia, what’s the value of a PhD? The average anthro PhD takes nine years to complete, and in most professional circles a MA and three years of experience (or a BA and 5 years of experience) is considered to be equivalent (from a hiring standpoint, at least). An MA with three years of experience is also likely to have a wider range of contacts outside of academia, and more credibility in the eyes of most professional non-academics (there’s not much appreciation for academic writing outside of academia) … So what’s the point?”

    Ouch. This is depressingly accurate. You have nailed it. My solution is to rethink training and maybe retool the PhD so grads have more options. I am not sure how much interest departments around the US really have in this sort of thing. But if they don’t, and they keep training more and more academic anthropologists, well, things will only get worse. And as I wrote above, the whole debt thing just compounds everything (literally, with interest).

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

  20. From the anthropology department’s website of the university where I did my undergrad (translated by me)

    “[...] professional anthropologists are not all in academic institutions. The humanistic, versatile and multidisciplinary intellectual training of anthropologists, combined with the scientific discipline, is a good combination to work in several areas where the clientele targeted is quite heterogeneous. In addition to teaching and academic research, anthropologists can work, for example, in the following fields/posts :

    - project manager
    - reasearcher (government, institutions, NGOs, etc.)
    - coordinator for a militant organisation (?!)
    - program coordinator (social/humanitarian)
    - museum curator
    - recruitment coordinator (or anything HR)
    - community manager/director
    - Social worker (really?)
    - assitant or coordinator to reasearch projects
    - interpretor
    - political analyst
    - liaison officer”

    I actually cut some items out of the list because they were quite redundant (research professional and research assistant?). There were also alot of references to community based organisations, NGOs, government, supranational instutitons, but NOTHING related to business or commerce (except indirectly for “recruitment coordinator”).

    I’m guessing that faculty won’t be adding any “marketting anthropology” courses any time soon ;).

  21. I have to feel like there is an element of pretending we hold our own fate in our hands in endlessly critiquing what anthropology departments could do better. Isn’t part of this the unreasonable expectation on the part of so many employers that new hires come already trained to the task?

  22. Yes, but….

    Anyone smart enough to be in graduate school and studying a discipline that prides itself on understanding the impact of material, social and cultural factors on human lives looks pretty lame if, Ph.D. in hand, he or she hasn’t taken proactive steps in whatever direction they want to go.

    I am talking from personal experience, having been a totally clueless turkey when the axe fell.

  23. – Anyone smart enough to be in graduate school and studying a discipline that prides itself on understanding the impact of material, social and cultural factors on human lives looks pretty lame if, Ph.D. in hand, he or she hasn’t taken proactive steps in whatever direction they want to go. –

    No denying that. But I think that is independent of the fact that employers tend to look for new hires with some very specific skills who they can plug and play rather than new hires with solid general skills (the ability to create accurate and legible prose, to do statistical analysis, etc.) and promise who need a few weeks of training for the task at hand.

  24. When I was in a similar position, a friend told me about his dad. An employer asked him if he knew how to program a computer. He said, “Can do,” went home and taught himself assembler. Became a successful software engineer. In less technical fields, e.g., advertising and marketing, there are lots of things you can read to brush up on the basics and learn to talk the jargon. Even free online courses.

  25. Let me add that I am all too familiar with the feelings of utter hopelessness that ending an academic career and having no immediately salable skills can induce. And, yes, I know that sometimes, specific credentials are important; my Marine Corps major, MBA son-in-law didn’t get one very tasty looking consulting job because the company had promised its client a team all of whose members would be “Lean Six-Sigma Blackbelts,” and, while eminently qualified in other respects, he didn’t have one. On the other hand, I have also been on the hiring side and know how rarely employers find the perfect candidate they are looking for. Think of the difference between someone who when asked, “Do you have qualification X?” just says “No” and gets a defeated expression on their face, and someone who says, “Could you tell me a bit more about the job you need done?”, looks interested and excited by what he or she is told, and then says something that demonstrates some knowledge of the business.

  26. Thanks for the link, Matthew. Reminds me of another story I read yesterday. Turns out that corporations are getting cold feet about tax reform. Why? They stand to lose more by having their tax loopholes closed than by by having the corporate tax rate reduced uniformly by 10%. Two key texts here are Robert Reich’s _The Work of Nations_ and _James Galbraith’s _Created Unequal_. There is also that bit about getting a camel through a needle when the rich young man asks Jesus how he can get into heaven. That people want first to protect what they have and only then to share with others is as old as humanity. How to work around that and advance the cause of justice is a wicked problem.

  27. Am late to the discussion, apologies. Grad students need to join the National Association of Professional Anthropologists as a grad student? Or SfAA, an applied organization founded by Margaret Mead, and others? Even undergrads should start making these connections because anthropologists are working in diverse settings.

    The interesting thing here is that Applied Anthropology has been around since anthropology. The largest employer is the U.S. government followed by Microsoft. Apple, Nokia, are among others in the hi tech field doing so.

    A small entrepreneural marketing group in Baltimore was founded by young grads with Ph.Ds. The Atlantic ran a recent article of a similar group doing contextual market research using participant observation and interviews of how young people party with booze to see how people relate to it as part of social praxis, for example. .

    Medical anthropology is one area in which applied work is essential and hiring happens, for example. Linguistic anthropologists do important work in language revitalization programs, for another.

    WAPA (the DC area associaton of applied anthropologists) has a long history, with members contracting to do important work in international projects-among others.

    One of my undergrads, as a result of a small ethnography of a soup kitchen and study of food scarcity in the US, found work in refugee resettlement.

    I encourage all of my undergraduate students to joint the professional organizations, as well as the AAA, to develop a network of professionals early.

    We don’t have to re-invent the horse…it’s there. We just need to develop connections. I fear that we suffer from history, when as a result of political events in the mid-20th C, many theoretical anthropologists withdrew into the academy and the applied arena was looked down upon. It’s time to get back to focusing on the value of applied work.

    I’m an East Asianist and see opportunity everywhere for students.

  28. I think that part of the problem that academics of any type, including anthropology, feel completely hopeless at the idea of having to shift careers or end careers as anthropologists …and feel as if they don’t have sale-able skillsets is because (a) they have difficulties identifying the skills that they do have, (b) they underrate how the skill-sets that they do have can be redeployed in outside the academy, (c) they don’t like hte idea that perhaps they may to do any retraining of any sort that’s not anthropological and familiar in nature to what they know how to do already, and (d) they don’t want to be perceived as a “failure” for not having got a tenured job. This last one is the most important one I think. …but the tragedy is that there aren’t enough positions for the numbers of propel who graduate with PhDs in each department for the tenured jobs that are advertised and do exist.

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