The part of this course that I enjoyed most, I think, was how we were always discussing basic human differences and similarities throughout each week. Obviously, a lot of anthropology is simply understanding these differences, but for an introductory course, I picked up a lot more than I expected.
We started week 1 with the basics of anthropology. The MIT video, “Doing Anthropology” was really important and crucial for my understanding personally, because it’s very straightforward about what the field actually consists of. We learn about participant observation, and also the large underlying theme of this course, i.e. the relationship between culture, environment, and society.
Understanding stuructures of difference became really important in week 2, where we were asked to analyze and observe systems of differences of our own. This is where we read Christen Smith’s essay (2.2) about the “citizenship’ of black people in both America and Brazil, and how centuries of these social constructs have ultimately divided black people from most others when it comes to social justice, or lack thereof. This is where I truly understood the us vs. them paradigm, and how much more dimensional it was than I had initially presumed.
In Week 3, we look at languages in particular, and the video we watched, “Languages Lost and Found”, there’s a deeper look at how languages have obviously not only divided different races and cultures, but how there has been division and classification on an even deeper level, within these subcultures and subdivisions of race and ethnicity. I also thought this video was interesting because it brings up the idea of using not only the human verbal language, but other forms of communication as well.
Systems of difference really came full-circle for me though, in Week 6. Both “Life and Debt” and “The Gods of Rice” were very important fixtures in this course. It really illustrated how systems of difference have changed over time, but things like racism, socioeconomic classes (and respective levels of poverty and income gaps) are still a very real thing of the present. They’ve morphed over time, but how countries choose to even define poverty and wealth has actually remained pretty static. This goes pretty hand in hand with a lot of the stuff tha we saw in Week 5 as well, with “To the Light: Chinese Miners” about how circumstance and opportunity had created arbitrary measures of success and possibility.
Overall though, I can confidently say that this course has opened my eyes to the ingrained systems of differences both within American culture, as well as the world community. Globalization and cultural diffusion have played big roles in changing how we define these structures, but they are very much still existent.