Think Like an Anthropologist
8 April 2021
Anthropology is usually the subject within the HSPS tripos that no-one has studied at any point in their life- most students when they start the course have no idea what Anthropology even is.
You can definitely do well in first term Anthropology without doing any reading at all before starting the course but it’s really useful to have a slight understanding of what anthropology is, the schools of thought, methodology and interpretations. Because it’s such an obscure or somewhat unknown subject outside of Universities it is very daunting which is why I’d really recommend not only this book but any anthropology introduction books.
This book is particularly good because of how well structured it is. There is a chapter on each idea within a society (ie culture, civilisation, values, blood, reason). Each chapter is so valuable for developing understanding in your first year as it gives concise, easy to understand and simultaneously complex arguments from different schools and specific Anthropologists that form certain schools.
I always go back to this book if there’s something in a lecture I don’t understand, a key term I’ve forgotten or for revision purposes. It is such a handy little book to own and use. At the moment I’m re-reading a small section about the Anthropology of money which is super interesting.
‘As such a significant catalyst for cultural change, money is a natural focus for anthropology’
The history of money and its importance in moulding social relations is so varied across cultures with different levels of significance, different types of money etc. This book is really useful in that it begins to literally make you ‘think like an Anthropologist’ in that your lens widens away from just the typical thoughts and processes of the West (although many of the ‘traditional schools’ began in the U.K, Germany or U.S) and you’re able to explore these specific cultures and their individual rituals that are so dissimilar to the West’s way of doing things. It also helps you to criticise the views of some of the West’s traditional thinkers and ideas as you gain perspective from a much more global context. Engelke is really good at explaining both sides of this, and invites you to develop the criticisms that he outlines yourself through more research and reading.
It’s a great introduction to Anthropology as a discipline, introducing and somewhat exploring all the key ideas and thinkers as well as pointing to further reading, criticisms and helping you to understand the terminology of a subject that is not well known below degree level.