The new School has enriched this anthropological core by broadening its faculty to include members from a wide range of other disciplines from the life sciences, social sciences and humanities in order to introduce and define revolutionary new approaches to long-standing questions that have never been more compelling. We see this significant step as important in transforming anthropology and its role in understanding today’s world and creating a better tomorrow.
As Rob Capriccioso reports, in this Inside Higher Ed piece, it is a radical solution to a long existing problem in the field: the demise of the traditional four-field anthropology department.
Many universities in recent years have dealt with fights between anthropologists more oriented toward culture and those more oriented toward physical sciences, and some of those fights have led to departmental splits. Arizona State, in contrast, is adding to the field — and taking anthropology out of the name.
I earlier wrote about how anthropology departments often end up reproducing the whole university within a single discipline, ASU’s approach seems to acknowledge that by turning a “department” into a “school.” But it does this with some risk.
Interdisciplinary departments at many schools can function in one of two ways: Some service other departments. Someone can be an anthropology or a history major and also take classes in women’s studies. While others attempt to assemble a new discipline. In a review conducted of two African American Studies programs at two major universities (I can’t say which), it was found that the students at the one which attempted to function autonomously did a much worse job of getting jobs for its graduates than the one which serviced traditional disciplines. The problem being that the former program failed to properly socialize its students into the traditions and practices of any particular discipline.
My feeling is that ASU will succeed by either retaining its anthropological core, or by working with students from other departments. If it tries to create an entirely new discipline it may end up making life very difficult for its graduates. In Capriccioso’s article he interviews Linda Wolfe, who expresses similar concerns about funding:
Linda Wolfe, the chair of anthropology at East Carolina University, who holds the biological seat on the anthropology association’s Executive Board, cautioned that winning grants may pose a challenge for some anthropology scholars at Arizona State’s restructured school. “Grants, like those at NSF — there are a few that can be awarded to interdisciplinary programs, but most of them are for mainline disciplines,” she said Tuesday.
Upon reviewing the mission of the school, Wolfe added: “This kind of program isn’t going to strengthen anthropology, it’s going to destroy anthropology.… I think their rankings will go down because it’s not an anthropology program anymore, it’s an interdisciplinary mish-mash.”
I’m all for tearing down the boundaries between disciplines, but it is a risky venture and it is the graduate students who are likely to bear the burden of such risks.
(Thanks to my anonymous tipster for the story.)