The Future of Anthropology

The Future of Anthropology is exciting. The world that we live in is advancing rapidly both in its interconnectedness and it’s technological complexity. As these changes occur so too does the greater human ecology change with it, and with that change Anthropology will also advance with it. So many novel fields of study and potential avenues of application for our field of interest are developing. In fact, the utility and complexity of Anthropology has so much potential to grow that I might be willing to say that (with a few other good conditions) Anthropology is on the verge of a potential explosion of activity. One theoretical field that interests me greatly is avenues of Anthropology that will open up concerning Our interaction and integration with technology as it becomes more and more inseperable from our existence. These ties may even extend to technology become an integrated part of my anatomy, and I look forward to Anthropology expanding to explore and analyze this interaction. What other potential fields do you see opening up in Anthropology as the world and our species progress forward?

Actors or Subjects?

One thing that I have consistently struggled with when watching works of visual anthropology is how you can delineate between when the people you are filming are being treated (and behave) as actors or subjects, and perhaps which is more appropriate for the medium.  Early documentaries a anthropological documentaries had a tendency to reenact what the film maker felt were genuine cultural practices from the ethnic group they were filming. The major problem with this is that by having the people being filmed reenacting their own cultural practices corrupts how they would naturally perform those practices as they may seek to “put on a performance” for the camera. This also opens up avenues for the film maker to exaggerate and focus on certain customs and traits of cultural groups, unwittingly or perhaps consciously blowing them up for the benefit of the filmmaker and the film. Visual Anthropologists rebelled against this in the late 60’s by adopting long unedited shots and little to no presence of the film makers in the film. This helped add more genuine qualities to documentaries, but the presence of the camera still effects the behavior those being filmed and so this method must still be scrutinized and analyzed otherwise we may become to confident in it’s ability to communicate genuine depictions of human behavior. Another unfortunate product of this transition is the palatability of films to the general public. By treating those being filmed more as subjects as opposed to actors the films become much better tools for academic analysis but at the same time the films become less accessible and so somewhat limit their impact on the general public. So what is preferable, to accept that to some degree anyone being filmed and is aware of the camera is an actor, or to focus instead on capturing as realistic as possible a depiction of those being filmed by treating them as subjects?


Vik Muniz’s work in Brazil is inspiring in the social activist work documenting his efforts entitled “Wasteland.” Muniz himself is well versed in the poverty he captures in his art; he was born in one of the many slums in Rio De Janero and made it to America with less then 3 dollars to his name. Working in a department store, Muniz found he had a pashion for collecting the refuse that people threw out and making art with it. This unique approach to art got Muniz an immense popularity and following that rocketed him to high status in many art circles. Muniz took this fame with him to the trash heaps back in his native Brazil in an attempt to docuemnet the troubles faced by the residents there. I cannot say much on Wasteland past this point that wouldn’t spoil the amazing film, but I will leave this post with a great picture that shows the impressive scope of the social activist art that Muniz undertook. I highly encourage that anyone reading this post go and see this amazing film.


Ethnography and Anthropology in the Modern World/

Anthropology is presently in an identity crisis. The discipline has lost much of its voice in the academic sphere, and in the eyes of the wider public it appears as a subject that is increasingly irrelevant in today’s modern world. The problem of Anthropology’s growing silence is peculiar, as Anthropology has more potential than most social sciences to give us a greater understanding of the human ecology around us. Anthropology gives us the opportunity to look at ourselves and learn something, and more than most any other discipline it gives us an academic means to analyze the effects that the rapidly changing world around us has on our person by evaluating how cultures (and so, humans) cope across the world with increased globalism/interconnectedness and rapid technological development.

Part of the problem may be that the Anthropologist is seen by many as synonymous with the Ethnographer. Ethnography as a method of learning is a powerful tool, and in many ways acted as the gold standard for research in cultural anthropology for many years. However, the great utility of ethnographic methods has led to the term “ethnographic” being used by many other social sciences carelessly to describe their own research methods, hoping to add validity to their studies. Ethnographic research is now used to Positivist ends; a means to acquire data and facts about a certain group of interest. This goes against the very beauty of true Ethnography, as Ethnography performed correctly is not simply a way for a researcher to attain certain customs, traits, or data from specific groups.

Ethnography is most useful as a cooperative venture. One where the researcher and the subject participate together as humans to learn about the human condition. The twisiting of Ethnography is doubly damaging as it is assumed to represent Anthropology, which has pubically remained silent.

Limbo in Morocco

Sitting here in a coffee shop under one of the most prestigious libraries in the country, in one of the most prestigious universities on planet, I cannot even begin to fathom the hardships and motivations that drive the countless thousands of migrants that try each year to cross into Spanish holdings in Morocco. I try to think; five years of my life, each one spent doing something productive, each one filled with wonderful memories, each one a blessing. 5 years is a quarter of my life, and this is the same amount of time that many of the migrants trapped in Morocco spend waiting to eventually pass into Europe. Unlike my blissful 5 years, the time that these migrants endure is burdensome and rife with complications, both physical and psychological. It would be wrong for me to even attempt to express a shared experience on any ground with them, it would be wrong down to a fundamentally moral level.

It was heartbreaking to read the Crossing. As I went through the details surrounding the young men trapped in essentially bureaucratic purgatory I was given a taste of the sweet visions they had of life in Europe which allowed them to continue and endure. Many expressed a sincere belief that if they could just cross over and get into the EU, they could make new lives for themselves and their families. They believed that all that stood between them and success was a huge barbed wire fence. It was stories like that of Beni, a boy who is no older than one of my younger sisters, that really pulled at my heart strings. How is it possible that the international community can allow children to survive off garbage and loiter in an endless cycle of month-long malaise punctuated only with the occasional beatings from overzealous Moroccan police enforcers and daring runs for a fortified border that end for the majority in bruises and shame as they are returned back to the hidden camps they erected in the woods surrounding the Spanish holdings.

The story itself is very sad, and if it is read empathetically provides quite the proverbial punch to the reader. But for me what is sadder is not the state in which the migrants wait in limbo to enter the EU, what saddens me far more is the cold hard reality of what awaits them if they were to enter the Union. The Union is already beginning to buckle under the strain of the migrant crisis, and although it pains a humanitarian to say it there will have to come a point where the EU can no longer physically sustain such a heavy load of migrants. The economies of the EU are in decline, their manufacturing sectors having long been lost to the US and now increasingly eastern economies such as China. Without a strong manufacturing base, the EU is now largely a collection of service based economies, and while they may have grown in productivity in recent years they are increasingly shrinking in their need for actual labor as the digital age we enter increases outsourcing, efficiency, and automation of the workforce. This means that even the native European population now struggles to find work, and if the native population has difficulty acquiring jobs one can be certain that the prospects for work available to under skilled migrants are even less so.

Indeed, it could be argued that a savvy migrant’s best bet for productive employment would be to utilize the free travel offered in the Schengen agreement to head to Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, and find a niche they might be able to fill in what may be the economy with the most potential on the continent. But even there the situation is becoming increasingly tense. Despite Germany’s recent openness to immigrants, it has not been impervious to the reactionary movements that have spread across Europe in response to the perceived threat of globalism and terrorism many associate with the migrant crisis. Regardless of the validity of these claims, the voting and policy decisions of the people who are embracing them remain clear, The Alternative for Germany Party made significant gains in the 2017 federal elections over all other opposition on a populist platform of curbing immigration and increasing Euroscepticism. Such results in elections for local governments and even representitatives to the EU’s legislative body are becoming more and more common. If present trends continue moving forward into the coming decade I must pessimistically say that those trapped in Morocco such as Beni will increasingly find it harder and harder to enter their destination countries, and when they finally do they will find a Union that is far less receptive than it once was to their presence and less inclined to offering them the work and security they originally desired as they fled, partially out of an increasing xenophobia and partially from a very really drought of work already available to the current population. Perhaps even more depressing, I believe that the immigration communities in states bordering the EU will continue to grow as a combination of climate change and civil strife push ever more people to search for a better life in place which increasingly may become less willing and less able to offer it to them.

Judith MacDougall

Judith MacDougall graduated from the Ethnographic Film Program at UCLA, along with her husband who also went through the program, the two marrying shortly after their graduation at the end of the 1960’s. The two began producing ethnographic films together covering indigenous populations in both Africa and Australia. They utilize a particular style of documentary production, one which focuses on long shots taking in every aspect of the subjects lives they are recording. This style of documentary production is different from traditional documentary production, which aims for a more narrative and “cinematic” approach to documentation. This means that the pair’s documentaries are actually more closely regarded in visual anthropology circles than they are in strictly documentarian communities.

Lorang’s Way is a film made by the visual anthro power duo in 1979, following the story of Lorang of the Turkana in northwestern Kenya. The Turkana were a relatively isolated group of semi-nomadic pastoralists. An elder of the group, Lorang returns from a stint in the army, and is afforded the ability to see what his tribe looks like from an outside looking in perspective. Cognizant of the changing world around them, Lorang’s approach to his tribe’s future is explored in depth and in indigenous voices throughout the course of the film. The film is available in the music and media library at Emory, and a link to a digital version is provided on this post.

Together the pair made 20 ethnographic films, and they are considered to be some of the most prominent pioneers in visual anthropology today. Although the two are separated, they continue to work on new pieces of visual anthropology and also write books covering the subject and their documentaries.