As a Floridian, as well as an Anthropologist, I feel like I need to comment on some of what Governor Rick Scott has said this week regarding anthropology in the state of Florida. Below is the quote:
“If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” Scott said. “So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state.”
“Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”
“Do you want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology? I don’t. I want to make sure that we spend our dollars where people can get jobs when they get out.” (The Florida Independent, 12 October 2011)
First, I think our Governor is laboring under some serious misconceptions about what we as anthropologists actually do, though it affects more than just our Governor, many people in the day-to-day world are clueless about what anthropology is and what purpose it serves. We are not Indiana Jones. We do not go spelunking in caves looking for lost relics of some ancient dynasty with mystical powers, we don’t run away from natives, and we don’t typically have adventures such as those depicted. It isn’t all about museums and archaeology. These are movies, not real life.
In the real world, anthropology serves many vital functions. Advances in Genetics, Forensics, Medicine, Urban Planning and Non-profit programs are tied to anthropology. Marketing, economics, history, geography, languages, culture, globalization, work production and labor forces – this is the stuff of anthropology. As one student put it in a recent email “it might do Facebook and Netflix some good to hire anthropologists to understand how people actually use their services” (pers. comm. 10/12/11). We study people, interactions, distribution of labor, power, hegemony or cultural domination, retail trends, capitalism and are champions of oppressed peoples everywhere. Without archaeologists, we wouldn’t have knowledge of our cultural history, where we have come from and what we have been through in our journey through time. Anthropological linguistics provides insights into languages and meaning, biological anthropology provides us with forensic science and genetics which are used every day to capture criminals and to set innocent people free of crimes they did not commit. Anthropology is a holistic science, meaning that we overlap our studies with that of many other fields, not all of them in the social sciences. Geology, Environmental Science, Politics, Biology, Ecology, all of these I have seen and used in my research in the discipline of Anthropology. Multiple perspectives can yield new insights.
Saying that we can’t get jobs is just foolish. We work in every field in the country, from engineering to medicine, from non-profits to the performing Arts. Anthropology provides insights into humanity and every day interaction that make us valuable employees. We are trained in the scientific method, and are open minded, detail oriented people who look beyond what is obvious for answers. What employer doesn’t want a person like that? The anthropological perspective is unique, and very useful.
It isn’t like the state of Florida is churning out Anthropology degrees anyway. According to the Florida Board of Governors, approximately 0.8 per cent of the 446,733 bachelor’s degrees awarded between 2001 and 2010 were for anthropology majors (http://flbog.org/resources/iud/degrees_search.php). That’s not a very large percentage. Sit in on a senior level anthropology class and count how many students are actually there. In my courses, the average is about 14.
Anthropology is a science, one of those STEM’s (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) that Gov. Scott likes to talk about. I’d like to see where he’d be without the insights that anthropology as a discipline have given him, apparently unbeknownst to him. Our contributions to the state, the country and the world continue to be felt on a daily basis in the most subtle of ways. That ad you saw that you can’t get out of your head? Chances are, it came as a result of anthropological research into people’s buying behaviors.
Is it of vital interest to the state of Florida to have more anthropologists? Absolutely.
Several people have brought up a very good point: Does Governor Scott think we are trying to get jobs with the specific label “anthropologist” ? Good luck, those can only be found in academia. No, most of us are not searching for that particular job title. We work where we feel we can do the most good, just like everyone else. We work in myriad fields under even more job titles, but the training is still the same. The applications of anthropology to the real world, and our job prospects, are only limited by our own imagination. Of course, we suffer the same during this economic downturn as everyone else. To make a blanket statement that we can’t get jobs with our degree is silly, however.
I have a feeling that Governor Rick Scott is going to be very well versed in what we as anthropologists do in the coming weeks. He has definitely stirred a hornet’s nest, and unlike some groups that might simper, whine or back down, we fight back. If the current buzz of the university is to be believed, he’ll be very well versed indeed. This has even stroked my ire, and I’m rarely one to get into a tete-a-tete with politics. It takes a lot to get me writing a poison pen letter to the editor, but I, like many of my fellow colleagues, feel the need to act. Expect to see a great deal of us in the media in some form or other. A call has been sent out to write letters to every newspaper, magazine, blog, and ezine that will take it. History says that the best way to deal with misconceptions is to educate, so that’s exactly what we will do.