Why Filipinos Should Read: Anthropology, and Why Young Filipinos Should Consider a Degree in Anthropology

by Bryan Meniado

The “Basagan ng Trip” series with Leloy Claudio on YouTube is one of my favorites to binge-watch, and in my previous article, I mentioned the episode with Chiqui Agoncillo, the first female summa cum laude from the UP Department of History. In it, she shares why one should consider pursuing a degree in History. She is only one of the many guests that have shared insights on pursuing a degree in the liberal arts and social sciences.

I myself have a bachelor’s degree in social sciences—Anthropology, in particular. This is why in the Bibi Mangki Bookbed Library, one of the sections is dedicated to Anthropology readings, which Bibi Mangki’s friend Keela the Koala looks after.

But what is anthropology? What are the liberal arts and social sciences in the first place? What follows below is my version of answers, plus my thoughts on why we should read and consider a degree in Anthropology.

Anthropology is (sadly) not the study of ants

One of my most memorable trips to the dentist was when I had an encounter with a person who thought anthropology was the study of ants. I admit I still have a little laugh whenever I recall that, but I also know that it is a responsibility to clarify. But before we define what anthropology is, I first want to share about what anthropology is not, since we often hear misconceptions about the discipline.

Anthropology is not the study of ants, nor is it just the study of “tribo.” Anthropology is not just “hukay-hukay,” although some anthropologists do do that. Anthropology, and one of its subfields, archaeology, is not Indiana Jones adventures, nor is it just about visiting remote communities. (In fact, there are urban anthropologists.)

Anthropology is a social science, an offshoot of liberal arts which main studies are arts, humanities, and sciences. From the two Greek words, anthropos (human) and logos (to study), anthropology essentially means the study of human beings. It seeks to understand and explain what makes human, human, and covers the infinite curiosity of humanity by using holistic, comparative, and evolutionary approaches.

Holistic, because it studies aspects of humanity ranging from biology to culture. Comparative, because anthropology seeks to find similarities and differences across human populations. And evolutionary, because anthropology studies human beings across time and space.

Anthropology degree as a commodity choice

Some friends have asked me, “why did you take up Anthropology?” I wish I had a better answer, but back then, I was only looking for a degree that had the least mathematics involved because that was my weakest subject. The joke was on me because the curriculum had (still has) statistics and quantitative research methods! I thought about shifting out numerous times. “What to get from this (anthro)?” and “Is it a viable career path?” were not only questions people kept asking me, but ones I also kept asking myself.

Regardless of my philosophizing, I finished the degree. I heeded the challenge from our then-instructor (now assistant professor), Jessie Varquez Jr., when he said these to our General Anthropology class: “Take the path less travelled. That’s the challenge.”

And it’s a path worth receiving more travelers. In 2004, Dr. Maria Mangahas, a cultural anthropologist and professor from the University of the Philippines Diliman, did a research study titled ‘BA Anthropology as a commodity choice.’ She surveyed high school students in Davao that resulted a demand for an anthropology degree in UP Mindanao. Given the island’s history and cultural diversity, it made sense for the campus to have it. More universities continue to offer the program or its minors, such as UP Baguio, Ateneo de Manila University, Ateneo de Davao University, University of San Carlos, Silliman University, University of Southeastern Philippines – Mintal Campus, and Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan.

Anthropology may not be for everyone as it involves rigor in theorizing and research. But the anthropological sensibility is for everyone. We may not realize it but we may just be doing anthropology in our own ways, even every day.

Anthropology offers a wider range of skills and perspective

Some say that the weakness of anthropology is that it’s too broad of a study. I beg to disagree. I consider its vastness as strength. Doing field work in different communities, listening to people’s narratives, and learning with and from them about pakikisama, pakikipag-kapwa, and pakikipagpalagayang-loob are inherent in anthropological methods and they hone research, conversational, and interpersonal skills. Holism and open-mindedness are hallmarks of anthropology, traits that can empower and liberate.

Anthropology cares

Borrowing Chiqui Agoncillo’s words about history, anthropology also teaches us honesty, humility, and empathy. These should be intrinsic in any profession—transparency in doing one’s craft, acknowledging and accepting what more there is to learn, and understanding and sharing the lives of others.

Anthropology can be limitless

The knowledge, skills, and perspective gained from anthropology can be useful for life, in general, and not just to a practicing anthropologist. An Anthropology graduate can even opt not to be an anthropologist, and that would be perfectly okay! All lessons can still be applied to any future career or noble pursuits. I myself use valuable anthropological knowledge in my passion projects and advocacy in literacy and education, among others.

Liberal arts, social sciences, and anthropology therefore can be useful in other fields, may it be business, finance, engineering, health, resilience and development studies, policy, or governance. The primary material of anthropology are people’s narratives and experiences, after all, making the possibility limitless. The hope is using the knowledge in the right ways.

“The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.”

Ruth Benedict, American anthropologist and author

To more anthro in 2021! ☁️

☁️

Why Filipinos Should Read appears every last Friday of the month. Read more here.

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