You can take the Anthropologist out of the field but…

Wait. How’s that go?

So upon retweeting that ubiquitous quote from Ruth Benedict: “The purpose of Anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” (Yeah, the one that everyone quotes but no one actually knows where it’s from. Ahhh, the power of urban legend…)

Anyway, I thought, wow, it’s been ages since I’ve read Patterns of Culture. That’s a great book. It really shaped my thinking, and of course a whole School of Thought within the discipline of Anthropology. In just the first page of the book she states so eloquently what it means to be an Anthropologist, that calling to constantly step outside of one’s own culture (in as much as that is possible) and see all humans as equal creatures whose behavior is bound by their cultural customs and more importantly, to see that all cultures are equally important:

“To the Anthropologist, our customs and those of a New Guinea tribe are two possible social schemes for dealing with a common problem, and in so far as he remains an Anthropologist he is bound to avoid any weighing of one in favour of the other. He is interested in human behaviour, not as it is shaped by one tradition, our own, but as it has been shaped by any tradition whatsoever. He is interested in the great gamut of custom that is found in various cultures, and his object is to understand the way in which these cultures change and differentiate, the different forms through which they express themselves, and the manner in which the customs of any peoples function in the lives of the individuals who compose them…No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes. He sees it edited by a definite set of customs and institutions and ways of thinking. Even in his philosophical probings he cannot go behind these stereotypes; his very concepts of the true and false will still have reference to his particular customs.”

So I happily write fiction these days, but I guess I am always an Anthropologist at heart…


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