Anthropologist with BA

Centro de Estudios Regionales TJA (cerdet@UAJMS.BO)
Wed, 1 Mar 1995 16:31:02 PST

Centro de Estudios Regionales Tarija
Hello everyone,

<This is a long one>

Ive been just lurking on the whole BA anthropology thing,
but I think its time I came out of the shadows.

I am the strange and elusive beast - A PERSON WITH A BS

I have no idea what in the world I am supposed to acheive (or
which letters I should strive to get behind my name) in order
to be a "real anthropologist". In any event, when I got my BS
degree I headed for Bolivia (where I am now living) to look
for a job in anthropology. I should make it clear that I
already knew Bolivia as an exchange student in high school,
and had the advantage of many friends and people to support my
efforts. Nonetheless, I looked for a job on the open market,
and advertised myself as an anthropologist. Not an
anthropologist wanna be, or half an anthropologist, but the
real thing. I soon got a job, where I have been working for
about a year and a half as the staff anthropologist.

First let me note, all of you with your PHDs and MAs I
look up to you. You have acheived things that I have not, and
I recognize your work and your education. At the same time, I
think it is unfair if we expect everyone who has a BA in
anthro to either go to grad school or give up anthropology. I
realize that my (relative) lack of education is a limitation.
I do not attempt to publish papers and do not expect to be a
key speaker at any upcoming conferences on Andean
Anthropology. Yet, 4 years of undergraduate study taught me a
few things. I have the ability to contribute to the work that
is done in the NGO where I am employed. The work produced by
this ONG has the touch of an anthropologist, and I think it

In the end, I think being an anthropologist is about a
way of doing things, a way of observing the world, an outlook
that values certain things in the world. What I have brought
to my job as a "BS Anthropologist" is something that would not
be here if I had not come. A sensitivity to issues regarding
culture, a strong emphasis in basing decision making on data
gathered through participant observation, and many other
things that I gleaned from the text I read and the professors
I learned from. The education I received in my undergrad
classes is now applied directly to my work.

People who have their BA in anthropology have learned
something along the way, and can make a valuable contribution
to the field. There are several things that should be done to
make sure that this contribution is valued and maximized:

The base concept is this:


I had a special opportunity because I live in a place where
there are few anthropogists. If I was back home in the US
there would be few in any opportunities for me. The BA degree
in anthro should mean that a person has learned a sufficient
amount about anthropology in order to be prepared to make a
reasonable contribution to the field. How do we do this?
Focus the undergraduate degree on preparing a person to BE an
anthropologist. Right now, it seems that we are preparing
students to prepare to be anthropologists. That is, either
you go on to grad school where you start your "real" education
or you forget about anthropology. We need to prepare young,
BA level anthropologists, to do young BA level work. I
recognize that what I do for a living is not as great a
contribution to the field as what most of you who have
acheived a higher level of education can contribute. But I
also know I contribute a hell of a lot more that someone who
had no anthropology background could. I contribute, and so
can anyone else who has been adaquetely prepared with a BA.
This preparation should include (for cultural anthropology):

a. a critical survey of current or specifically important
b. a course on fieldwork methods
c. a course on data analysis and interpretation
d. a course on the history of anthropology
e. a course on theoretical currents shaping anthropology
f. an undergraduate thesis. This ought to be the coming of
age of a young BA.

It must be HARD to get a BA in anthopology. People
should not flunk out of engineering and then decide to go with
anthropology. They ought to flunk out of anthropology and
decide to take it easy with a little nuclear physics. When we
get tough on young students, not just to be tough, but with
the goal of producing true anthropological talent with a solid
educational base and ready to deal with the world, we will
have a smaller but better pool of young people with BAs. And
a smaller and better pool will be taken more seriously by you
"big guys" with the higher degrees, and we will be more able
to make solid contributions.

Now, about the fieldwork problem. If we teach students
how to do fieldwork, and give them at least a minimum of
practice doing it (even on a very short term basis), I say LET
THEM LOOSE! Again, this is based on creating a small but GOOD
pool of BA level anthropologists. When you study engineering,
no one says you must build a bridge before you are an
engineer. You build a bridge once you learn how to build
bridges in school and once you already are an engineer. What
if all of our young anthros screw up? Well, that is why we
better be damn sure we are teaching them well. Every engineer
has to build his first bridge and the cost of screwing up is
pretty high there too. Every anthropologist takes his or her
first stab at fieldwork one day, and no matter whether the
letters after your name begin with a P, M, or B you are pretty
much the same strange looking outsider feeling like an idiot,
and I can assure you that many of us at every level have had
both great and disasterous fieldwork experiences.
To sum up:
1. make the BA level education really mean something
2. do this by making the undergraduate programs more rigorous
and expect anthropologists to come out of them (not people
ready to start studying anthropology)
3. fieldwork is something everyone does for the first time
sooner or later. The key is preparing people at the BA level
the best we can.

Andrew Turner

P.S. Any of you out there interested in what I am actually
doing or how I started doing it, feel free to get in touch!