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You know how the saying goes “if I had nickel for every time someone asked me what do you actually do?” Of course, I’d be rich.
The short answer is cultural anthropologists explore, document and design cultures. Now, let’s break it down.
How do they do that?
Exploring a culture can be made by consuming first or second hand materials. For example, for first hand materials, they go out and participate in the life of people they are studying. They live next to them even for years in order to understand how they think, what they believe in and how they are spending their daily lives. For second hand materials, they read or listen to information that has already been documented and continue their research regarding that by reading books, ethnographic studies, biographies and any related materials.
Documenting a culture is essential for solid research. It might involve journaling, taking interviews, having observational notes or any kind of raw material that can be used as evidence in supporting a further theory. This might seem easy with access to all the technology nowadays, but keep in mind that anthropologists thrive for genuine connection, so when taking an interview they will not put a laptop in between the subject and themselves as it will affect the interaction. This documentation process has to be very slick, done in the most non intrusive way possible, with the technology that the people you are spending time with are familiar with, in order not to disturb them.
Designing culture can be a little bit more trickier, because it involves a lot of exploration, documentation, strategy and means of engagement. You must have heard about company cultures by now. They all have values and code of conduct, but they also have a spirit and an attitude that can not be defined by any written agreement. So changing company cultures it’s a complex set of strategies, planning, implementation and evaluation. You can have all the processes and procedures in place, but must back it up with the human side of supporting this change. Culture design can be made from corporations to governmental level, from local to global.
Anthropologists view cultures as living beings, so they refer and approach it accordingly. They get born, reach maturity, transform and die in a spectacular way that offers us a rich variety of human experiences in different forms. Exploring cultures lets us know and become more than we could ever achieve in a single individual life. It gives us access to a world that is so much more familiar rather than different from our own.
One of key activities for cultural anthropologists is to draw human universals, patterns of beliefs, behavior and mentalities throughout cultures, such as love, hate, happiness, hope, death and many more. By examining the same subject across cultures enriches our perspectives, often leading to a better understanding and practicability on solving related issues.
So there it is, hope I have answered some of your questions. Leave a comment or message me for more.