Who Majors in Anthropology? An Infographic and a Request


A little irked by the tone and skepticism with which some ask the question, “What can you do with a degree in anthropology,” I’ve decided to address the quandary with an infographic. Often, I’m confronted with the assumption that after finishing my Bachelor’s in Anthropology, I would find myself behind a bar or waiting tables. From my perspective, my question is “What can’t you do with a degree in anthropology?” I’ve taken at stab at answering this question here (after the jump), but I want help from Savage Minds’ readers to find lesser-known examples of influential former-anthropology students.

Of course, the debunking of the uselessness of an anthropology degree has already been undertaken in a number of ways. Notably, the textbook publisher Pearson Higher Ed developed a poster (“Leave your mark. Major in Anthropology.”) that lists the job titles that (implied by the use of the imperative “Major”) one can obtain with only a Bachelor’s. It leaves out the caveat that many of those careers require a Master’s degree, and probably in something other than anthropology.


A couple years ago, the American Anthropological Association developed the website, “This is Anthropology” – a portal through which anthropologists can introduce themselves and their work to the public. I’ve certainly found it useful for professional networking, but I wonder how many high school juniors, seniors, and college freshman reach out. (Really, is there any data?)

I don’t mean to suggest that either of these efforts is in vain – they weren’t designed to withstand the tides of your Governor Rick Scotts and your FIRST Act of 2014s alone. No, these projects, others (e.g. BOAS Network), and many more in the future must weave a web that stands at the interface of anthropology proper and skeptical tax- and tuition-payers. This infographic (and the one that hopefully follows) is my contribution to that web.

What I want to do is use this infographic to dispel any notion that no one studies or uses anthropology aside from academics. It is designed to be easily shared, read, and even altered. This image features 24 people with degrees in (or at least very strong ties to) the field of anthropology – some you know (i.e. Kurt Vonnegut) and maybe some you don’t (i.e. Hugh Laurie). While those represented in this list are well-known people – actors, actresses, musicians, authors – I’d like to develop a second list of lesser-known, high-impact people – politicians, lobbyists, philanthropists, journalists, inventors, CEOs, television producers. And this is where you come in. If you are or someone you know is one of these people, please email me at richard.powis@gmail.com. Thank you!

Here’s the whole thing:

wma infographic SM
Dick Powis

Dick Powis is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His research interests include men and childbirth, prenatal screening technologies, and reproductive health in urban settings in Senegal. Read more at dickpowis.com.

63 thoughts on “Who Majors in Anthropology? An Infographic and a Request

  1. Dr. Paul Farmer applies his anthropological training to medicine and working as a physician. He uses this lens to write about his experiences in Haiti as well as how colonialism shaped the country’s social-political landscape.

  2. @Pablo

    In today’s marketplace, to pursue a career in anthropology requires genuine passion, a commitment to work, network, and engage in politics in full realization that nothing you may do guarantees success. Welcome to the world that artists, actors, musicians, indeed all of us who work in other culture industries, outside the ivory tower, have always had to deal with.

    And, besides, if you think anthropologists have problems, imagine having a degree in medieval history or analytic philosophy. From personal experience, I know that when I was looking for work in the early 1980s, neither my Ph.D. in anthropology nor my language skills (Chinese and Japanese) were particularly attractive to potential employers. The one offer that came that way was from the CIA. It was having spent a year in a research program in artificial intelligence and knowing more than most people did about computing, back in those days when personal computers were just appearing on the market, that got me my first job in Japan.

    The good news is that businesses have, since the 1980s, been interested in hiring anthropologists, who mostly do qualitative research related to product development or cross-cultural management. Tom Kelley, the founder and CEO of IDEO, one of the world’s most famous industrial design firms, explains why in his Ten Faces of Innovation.

    “The Anthropologist is rarely stationary. Rather, this is the person who ventures into the field to observe how people interact with products, services, and experiences in order to come up with new innovations. The Anthropologist is extremely good at reframing a problem in a new way, humanizing the scientific method to apply it to daily life. Anthropologists share such distinguishing characteristics as the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind; empathy; intuition; the ability to “see” things that have gone unnoticed; a tendency to keep running lists of innovative concepts worth emulating and problems that need solving; and a way of seeking inspiration in unusual places.”

    Anthropology may not get you a job. But it can, as many of the famous names assembled here demonstrate, help you do a better job of the job you wind up doing. Of course, if you see working for business as selling out, if the word “corporate” makes you nauseous, you may be, as the old saying goes, be “up sh*t’s creek without a paddle.” But that’s your call.

  3. Well I majored in social anthropology went into social work and did an ethnography of social workers for my PhD. That seemed a useful application of anthropology.Having retired at sixty I am now contemplating a second career.
    Also, Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom, reportedly has an anthropology degree; I’m not sure what sort of advertisement for the discipline he is.

  4. Elinor Slomba (College of William & Mary 1993) Majored in Anthropology with a secondary concentration in Fine Art. Her business, Arts Interstices, connects the arts and start-up worlds.

  5. My work, very much inspired by that of Paul Farmer, went the standard path with a twist — I have been teaching as a sessional lecturer (Canada’s equivalent to adjuncts, but unionized), wrote a few articles, now I am working on a novel — very much inspired by the work I did in the field two decades ago. I am sharing this with the many students (now graduated) who have stayed in touch. Hope they will weigh in, I cannot keep track of all of the interesting jobs they are doing!
    Deidre Rose, Ph.D. Socio-cultural/medical anthropology.

  6. A BA in Anthropology combined with a MA degree in Architecture is a very useful combination. It is specially useful when it comes to citizen involvement and design of urban space

  7. I have a master’s in social anthropology plus an MBA. My career has been in business-side roles in the tech/internet and software industry. Job titles have included Management Consultant, Project Manager, Program Manager, Customer Support, Client Services, Sales, Marketing, Organizational Development and others, at the individual contributor level up to Director/VP responsible for several dozen employees. My anthro background is not the primary factor that gets me hired, but it does differentiate me and is part of personal brand re: work style / how I perceive issues and address them.

  8. It is nice to see our field promoted, yet it is sort of striking that all these people are employed not because of their anthropology degree but rather their other skills. Having a NFL player on the list of “what to do with your anthropology degree” seems rather idiotic, I strongly doubt that his BA will be the thing that puts food on the table. It might just be me, but I find the stuff presented in the blogpost more depressing than positive. The comments before mine is much better at shedding light on what anthropology can be used for. Anthropology and architecture – hell yea! Anthropology and MBA – yes please.

  9. Great discussion! Speaking as someone who is now employed as a government anthropologist, I had to practice anthropology for a long time in various venues without getting caught. Even so, it was my foundation in my ability to listen, to analyze issues, and to get information I needed to figure out what was going on. Nowadays I find that people are respecting it more.

  10. Amund. You missed the point. Its not the content of anthropology per se that can lead to careers in these other fields of endeavor. Rather, it’s the mindset and worldview that anthropologists develop, and most important of all, the wide range of functional/transferable skills that get developed and exercised during an anthropology major. Many people are grossly confused about what the term “skill” means. People say things like, “I have play writing skills.” They say things like, “I have real estate skills.” That is NOT what skills are. Go to the famous book entitled “What Color Is Your Parachute?” by Charles Nelson Bolles and learn what skills really are.

    Anthropology is also all about writing. Anthropology majors and graduate students tend write their butts off in school like English and journalism majors do. Really good anthropologists tend to be really good communicators. I see business leaders complaining up one side and down the other these days about colleges sending them students who cannot write or otherwise communicate. Quit complaining and go hire an anthropology major with a 3.8 or better overall GPA. You will not regret it.

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