Anthropology is the study of human diversity in the distant past and the present and teaches us to recognize the remarkable array of circumstances in which human beings live their lives and make meaning from them. But anthropology is more than just a catalog of diversity. There is an oft-cited phrase that anthropology “makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar.” What does this mean? At the very least, it means stepping back and seeing ourselves the way others might see us – a shift in perspective that is foundational to human empathy and humility. Anthropology also invites deeper analysis of behaviors that we might think we fully understand but that have histories and complexities that only reveal themselves to careful investigation. We seek to understand the full context of people's actions and all that they impact. This is why we do long term field research in local languages, and excavate artifacts in their complicated contexts -- to understand social life in all its richness and depth. And finally, making the familiar strange demands an ethical and political accounting. It means not accepting the world as given. This might well be the heart of the discipline, its moral optimism: the conviction that things can be different and better -- and that knowledge about the world should be oriented towards greater empathy, solidarity, and equality.
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