Anthropology, Ethnography, and Your Career
Majoring in Anthropology gives you knowledge, research methods, and skills that are in demand. In the past decade there has been an explosion of interest in anthropology's main methodology: ethnography, a way of learning about the world through participation and observation. Anthropologists developed ethnographic research techniques to give them a better understanding of social, cultural, and political realities on the ground, as they happen. These techniques help them to view cultural practices and social interactions with new eyes, find implicit patterns and meanings, and see the actual workings of groups and institutions in practice.
Employers in many fields hire ethnographers to help them solve problems, reach and understand new audiences, and make their services more relevant. This is because ethnography offers a powerful approach to understanding the experiential, social, and affective dimensions of people's encounters with anything from software to buildings to health care.
For anthropologists, however, ethnography is more than a tool: it is a practice that generates critical thinking and ethical awareness. Other skills developed by majoring in Anthropology—such as writing, analytical rigor, speaking, teamwork, and public engagement—are key assets that employers want. Our alumni have gone on to graduate and professional school and to careers in consulting, design, education, healthcare, higher education, human rights advocacy, information technology, international development, journalism, law, media, medicine, museums, nonprofits and NGOs, public administration and policy, venture capital and private equity, and many others.
The Anthropology major is intellectually stimulating and offers new insights for personal reflection and growth. But it also teaches a range of research and analysis skills that are broadly applicable in wide variety of settings. In an ever more interconnected and media-saturated world where cultural differences and human behaviors are often reduced to over-simplified sound bites or images, Anthropology offers a way to add nuance to understanding problems and planning for solutions.
Ethnography, cultural anthropology's signature set of research methods, is increasingly in demand in planning, policy, human services, educational research, technology and engineering, branding and marketing, and many other fields. People in these fields are recognizing what anthropologists have known all along: that a useable understanding of human motivation and experience cannot be based on superficial or purely quantitative data-gathering. Ethnographic tools like participant-observation, interviewing, spatial mapping, and media analysis enable researchers to craft in-depth reports and other products that can bring complexity to research and planning processes. At the same time, our holistic embrace of both scientific and interpretive modes of analysis and our long history of interpreting human cultural, social, and biological diversity give our tools a unique flexibility, rigor, and ethical awareness.
Although diversity and difference have historically been Anthropology's main focus and are still central to the work we do, we now approach the study of culture much more broadly. The differences we explore may now be within a society (for example, how do users' experiences of interacting with a government health care website compare with the visions of the software engineers who designed it?) as well as across more traditional cross-cultural lines. In almost any setting imaginable, anthropologists can apply the skills of listening carefully, reflecting critically, and responding clearly—not only through academic publication, but also through popular books, op-eds, videos, podcasts, or websites—to complex and changing realities in the lives of the people we study.