Anthropology’s Unique Selling Proposition

Inspired by Robert Moore’s “essay on the anthropology of brand”: I’ve been reading “U R a Brand!”: in order to make sure that in the years leading up to my tenure I find a sweet spot where me and a market opportunity meet.

To this end I recently undertook a self-brand audit using a SWOTs (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). One of the keys to establishing my value proposition, I found, was ‘choosing an enemy’. As the book explains,

Leonardo da Vinci positioned his younger rival Michelangelo as a mere sculptor who looked like a “baker” with white marble dust on his clothes, rather than an artist. Of course Leonardo’s branding attempt didn’t stick. Michelangelo went on to paint the ceilling of the Sistine Chapel. There was no doubt that Michelangelo’s brand footprint was quite big enough to encompass painter and sculpture.

In an attempt to build to develop an anti-leader position whose agile and responsive practices makes me stand out from the larger, more established industry leaders, I immediately visited the home page of “Andrew Strathern”:

As I was reading this prime example of how to be an incredibly successful anthropology, I was struck by the tag-line at the upper right hand side of Pitt’s antho department homepage: What makes us different is what makes us human.

What an incredible genius of a slogan — here, I realized, I had finally found anthropology’s Unique Selling Proposition. This was the anthropological mindset in a nut shell. “What makes us different is what makes us human”. It captures the academic-cum-moral sensibility that anthropology as a discipline cherishes. It is poetically compact and parallelistic. And best of all it completely fails to inform us what exactly it is that makes us both human and different. What could be more anthropological than this hesitancy to commit epistemologically?


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

2 thoughts on “Anthropology’s Unique Selling Proposition

  1. “And best of all it completely fails to inform us what exactly it is that makes us both human and different”

    Some say it’s the laughter that distincts us from the animals.
    I doubt this.

  2. You know, I saw a bunch of signs at AAA for the ‘anthropology re-branding project,’ but I failed to attend the event(s) they were advertising, which might suggest that the marketing expertise of the conveners leaves something to be desired (just kidding!).

    That is a rather catchy slogan they’ve got there at Pitt.

    Funny you should mention a book with the title U R a Brand — cause, as you know, I ‘work’ (lightly) on this subject, and I was actually struck by a link here at SM to a PowerPoint presentation that was basically a self-branding exercise in the mode of a serial presentation of (consumed) brands. The link is:

    But of course, for those of us who are ‘radical brandologists’ or something, ‘re-branding’ or ‘self-branding’ is what happens when we publish articles, books, edit journals, etc. The author function lives on, even after Foucault ™, even after radical intertextuality and all that, as a marketing exercise in the domain of the ideas!

    On the other hand: I get depressed when I think about such things as ‘the job market’ and whether or not I am ‘on’ it.

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