Message from the Chair

January 11, 2021

Ej Sobo

Welcome to the new year, and the new semester. Despite the trauma of 2020, here we are: ready to begin again. In many cultural traditions, beginnings are a time for reflection—for thinking deeply about how we might be our best selves and how we might help others achieve their dreams also. Given recent events, we must ask ourselves about our own roles in sustaining various forms of structural oppression, and in feeding the now-rampant polarization that plagues our democracy. When we are not part of the solution we are part of the problem. And that’s where anthropology comes in.

Now more than ever, we need to make good on our discipline’s goal of ‘making the strange familiar.’ Even those groups whose views seem outrageous have reasons for holding such views. As anthropologists, we must try to illuminate those reasons and to gain clarity on how they may make sense in context. We also must ‘make the familiar strange’: we must question the biased thought and action that our own points of view animate.

Here please note that comprehending is not the same as condoning. A vast store of anthropological work has shown that understanding the emic or ‘insider’ point of view is an essential step toward enabling effective, considered, and productive communication between groups. More than that, it is crucial to identifying on-ramps for reconciliation and for effective reforms. The latter are justifiable and necessary — yes, even within anthropology's relativist framework — when particular shared beliefs undercut another group's basic human rights, undermining our nation's earliest motto, 'E pluribus unum' (Out of many, one).

In these turbulent times, I take some comfort in knowing that anthropology is doing its part to make the world a better place, and I hope that you do too. While our physical offices are closed for the duration, please be in contact via 619-594-5527 or [email protected] Please also feel free to contact me directly at [email protected]. I’m here to help.

Sincerely yours,
EJ Sobo, Chair
Department of Anthropology