The kidnapping of anthropology

In this article I present the thesis of the kidnapping of anthropology by the Academy. The paper maintains that anthropology is, mainly in the Ibero-American context, too focused on departmental interests. And it advocates a change.
I don´t detract from the long trajectory of academic anthropology, which is the history of discipline in general. I assume that the acquisition of strong theoretical and methodological bases is a prerequisite for tomorrow’s anthropology. I hope you enjoy this article.



Ancient Greek myths tell that Ganymede was a Trojan prince, son of the powerful Laodemonte. Ganymede´s beauty was legendary, reason why he attracted the attention of Zeus, the great king of kings of Hellenic Olimpo. Without thinking it twice, Zeus, who, as we know, had a weakness for trans-speciesism, transformed himself into an eagle and kidnapped Ganymede at the feet of Mount Ida. Ganymede served as a cupbearer of the gods until they found him a spot among the stars. The constellation of Aquarius, the cupbearer, keeps his memory.

This story could be irrelevant if it did not keep a sinister resemblance to the current situation of anthropology. The thesis of this article is that, like Ganymede, anthropology has been kidnapped by a divinized and all-powerful entity: the Academy.

Abduction of Ganymede
Abduction of Ganymede, 1650. Eustache Sueur

It is undeniable that at present most of the ethnographic studies and field experiences come from academia. The University is the sun that warms the discipline, which orbits hardly in the galaxies of journal impact factor (JIF). This fact is repeated in the multiple national realities where anthropology has a presence, but is especially accentuated in the Spanish-speaking contexts. Whether in Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador or Spain, anthropological practice is the hegemonic field of universities.

This reality is not viable in the long term. The kidnapping of anthropology by the universities makes the discipline invisible to the rest of society, which greatly reduces the possibilities of professionalizing it. While the students dont find work or didn’t know what to do with their discipline when they finished university, teachers are dedicated to impact journals and practice that kind of departmental Game of Thrones so rooted in the university micro-universe.

I am often called exaggerated when I expose the seriousness of this matter. Therefore, in an attempt to demonstrate this reality and contribute to its change, I expose at least 4 relevant facts that defend the thesis of the kidnapping of anthropology. I hope, therefore, to contribute in some way to the liberation of Ganymede, exhausted already by his long stay in the ivory tower.

Teachers curriculums

The first aspect that I would like to refer to is the scarce presence of extra-university research in the curriculums of anthropology teachers. One might think that this falls within “normality,” but as anthropologists we must assume that this “normality” is merely the consequence of an established model, and that we have all the power to question it.

The relationship between the departments of anthropology and the “extra-university labor market” is almost testimonial, something that becomes very evident in the short programs of practices. The consequence of this is that a great part of the teachers do not know the areas and methodologies demands for the labor reality, which on the other hand is full of opportunities for the anthropology of XXI century. This issue was presented honestly at one of the AIBR 2017 symposiums, where I came up with a verbatim sentence from one of the speakers: “teachers don´t know where their students could work on future.” To reinforce this argument, I propose you to carry out a brief investigation on the curricular experience of your teachers. Recall that Zeus is a god, and that the gods do not sow the fields, but observe, sometimes amused, sometimes alarmed, the banality of human life.

Professionalization: great absentee of the training offers

The fact that teachers who inhabit the degrees of anthropology can’t answer the question of “what to do with anthropology?” affects directly and negatively on the training offer for the students. It’s enough to take a look at the study plans of Anthropology in Spain to realize how little focused they are on the practice of anthropology outside the academy. In the case of the University of Granada, where I studied, from a program of 240 undergraduate credits, only 6 electives (one subject) are focused on the extra-academic labor market. A simple rule of three shows that only 2.5% of the subjects in this grade are intended to guide the student beyond academic exits. A 2.5%, I repeat, optional.
A fact that shows the derisory commitment of the degree with the labor market. And from what I have learned through my colleagues from other universities in Spain, Granada is not an exception.

If we analyze the offer of postgraduate (master) of Spain, nothing to write home about either. There are a few Masters in Anthropology which advocate a truly applied aspect, something that again is related to the lack of “applied” knowledge of teachers. Also, there is not much interest in it. At least from what I have been able to perceive in my home university, the masters are designed FOR teachers and not for students. I hope I can expand on this issue in the future.

The applied anthropology ghost

The historical opposition between applied and academic anthropology is an issue that today is absolutely useless. Although brilliant anthropologists have pointed out the benefits that both ways of understanding anthropology can bring to discipline, the specter of applicability persists. The speech is subtle, filtered drop by drop through those master classes that demonize applied anthropology and warn the scary students about Sol Tax or the Hawthrone project. And although fields such as Anthropology of Health or Development are already more or less tolerated, slopes such as organizational or digital anthropology are perceived with suspicion and considered disciplinary heresies.

I believe that the demonization of applied anthropology only serves to maintain the status quo in departments. If the departments and only the departments control the discipline, the quota of anthropologists in Spain will be covered … by them and only by them. Crouched in departmental corners, Spanish anthropology will continue to shout its social utility while in the shade it will build its defenses around the university institution. It requires an “outside” pressure coming from students, demanding a site in the anthropology of tomorrow, beyond the walls of Olympus.

Journal Impact Factor: endogamy and graphocentrism

It would be very difficult to understand the departmental micro-world if we did not attend to the logics that exist around impact journals: liturgy and supreme bitterness of every academic who values ​​himself and wants to scale in his career. These logics would well deserve a separate article, which we will undoubtedly offer in the future, but which is not the subject of this article. Impact jurnals are the main channel through which social anthropology circulates. And who reads this impact journals …?

Bingo! You guessed it!

The fact that academics write only for academics generates an ominous endogamy that has more to do with how many times they are quoted (there are authentic clientele networks of the I-quote-you-you-quote-me) than with the real visibility of the discipline, having nothing to do with the future work of students. The logic of endogamy is at the service of the curricula of departmental teachers and researchers. Never from the professionalized anthropologist.

On the other hand, the choice of impact journals as a showcase for anthropology precipitates us towards an old-fashioned graphocentrism, a form of communication turned exclusively to that abstract and postmodern writing that anthropologists like so much and that barely understand other groups. Academy values ​​and privileges Frankenstein writing over emerging (and much more popular) formats such as blogs, YouTube videos or computer graphics.


I have tried to present four ideas that I consider fundamental to understand the phenomenon of the kidnapping of anthropology. Each of them deserves nuances and hours of discussion. And undoubtedly, the choice of the academic as a “collective subject” is a license that does not delve into the varied and heterogeneous departmental life of the Ibero-American sphere, not even Spanish. Numerous teachers and associations continue to make impressive efforts to remove anthropology from its abduction, and we certainly encourage you to contact us so that we can meet and join forces. Moving forward towards a professionalized anthropology. Only among all; Students, teachers, researchers, professionals, associations, bloggers, sympathizers … we can generate a critical mass with the current state of our discipline, reinvent it, improve it.

Only among all we can rescue Genímides from his long captivity in the lands of Olympus.


Similar Posts