International Journal of Anthropology

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 65-88

First online:

Has anthropology any future?

  • C. SusanneAffiliated withLaboratory Anthropogenetics, Free University of Brussels

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Anthropology has a future and a very pertinent role to play, if we are sensitive to and aware of the new developments in the fields of medicine, biology and ecology which are undergoing dramatic changes. Most definitely these fields will need an anthropological dimension to be added.

The natural history and diversity of Man remains the basis of anthropology, but it is time to reassess the training available to students today, in order to keep the discipline alive, growing and significant. Undoubtedly we must offer our students a broad, general basis of knowledge in the first years. Thereafter we must include biomedical disciplines such as anatomy, molecular biology, genetics, epidemiology, and other pertinent subjects, such as statistics, ecology, prehistory, etc.

With these “tools” the future student would be well equipped to introduce anthropological aspects into many fields. As European universities cannot provide all these disciplines at a single institution at a level equivalent to PhD studies, we must work towards a tradition of exchange, co-operation and joint projects and universally acknowledged academic degrees such as a Masters and Ph.D. The Erasmus Biology Programme has already achieved some results in this respect and is ready with a proposal of a European Masters Degree in anthropology.

The “tools” of modern science together with the more traditional training will enrich the discipline, but more importantly enable the anthropologist to address controversial and often frightening prospects left in the wake of for example gene technology and gene manipulation, in a competent and scientific manner.

Many societies have allowed anthropologists to study their populations in detail. We, on the other hand, have an obligation to ensure that the data we have acquired and accumulated are not misused by those who practise racist, eugenic or nationalistic ideals.

The ability to carry out these obligations lies to a great extent in a strong, dynamic and diverse organisation, such as an EAA which is open to renewal and willing to address future social and political issues. A fragmented EAA cannot cope with these. There must be room for all in our organisation, ranging from the traditional to the very specialised anthropologist.

If we achieve the necessary unity, we will be able to participate in the challenges that the technology of the 20th and 21st centuries imposes on the daily lives of all of us.

To err is characteristic of everyone but only idiots persevere in it (Cicero).