Harry Potter would be Sociocultural

hominum studium est scientia humanitatis

The Four Houses of Anthropology*

Now I know this is going to be a contentious topic, but sometimes a person just has to stand up and decide which branch of anthropology corresponds best to each of the Houses of Hogwarts from Harry Potter.

Gryffindor is the House of Sociocultural Anthropology:
Headed by the professor of Transfiguration (a “theory based subject” says Wikipedia, concerned with the changing properties of people and things), Minerva McGonagall; According to Phineas Nigellus Black, members of other houses sometimes feel that Gryffindors engage in “pointless heroics.” Being daring (to the point of recklessness) seems somehow related to sociocultural fieldwork to me, but I am almost certainly biased. And then, of course, there is the fact that many of the most widely known anthropologists (Mead, Malinowski, etc) were cultural anthropologists, just as many of the most well-known wizards were from Gryffindor …

Hufflepuff is the House of Archaeology:
Where else could the one field of anthropology that really labors belong? They are diggers (like the Hufflepuff’s badger) and if there’s an element associated with archaeology, it is undoubtedly earth (which is, of course, the element of the Hufflepuff House). Despite the obvious symbolic connections between the House and the Subfield, this didn’t feel all the way right because archaeology has so much cachet and Hufflepuff is a more humble House, but the archaeologists I know are good natured enough that I don’t think they’ll mind …

Slytherin is the House of Biological Anthropology:
The “spirit” of the house is all wrong – this is hardly the subfield of anthropology I would consider motivated by Machiavellian ambition. However, the theory of evolution does share with Slytherin a belief in survival of the fittest! Slytherin is headed by the Potions instructor, who shares with Biological Anthropology an interest in the effect of substances on the body. Founder Salazar Slytherin is described as monkey-like, and as we know, primatology is an important part of this subfield. The Bloody Baron was the only ghost to actually kill someone (and biological anthropologists are the only ones in our discipline who we are okay with killing their subjects! Poor rats …).

Ravenclaw is the House of Linguistic Anthropology:
If linguistic anthropologists had an element, they would, like Ravenclaw , be represented by the element of air – how else would speech be possible? Ravenclaws are concerned with erudition, and although many of the linguistic anthropologists I know do very grounded work, the image of the linguist certainly evokes that kind of aura. Finally, Ravenclaw is led by the Charms professor – a subject that is all about incantation which seems like the class of spell a linguistic anthropologist would be most interested in.

*A note on the Four Houses of Anthropology image: That picture is one that I made for a hypothetical t-shirt, but that didn’t pan out. The Latin at the bottom was a collaborative effort with three awesome friends from my days in the Oberlin College Classics Department who have now grown up to be Classics PhDs and profs, and says something like “the study of humans is the science of humanity” (but with a little play on words in studium and is also a reference to the famous Kroeber quotation about anthropology).

Squee on Learning New Things, or, Biological Anthropology Is Super Different

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Student T-shirt

a relevant t-shirt that coincidentally happens to be available for sale through my store

I am determined to become more of a curmudgeon. When I came here after working as a case worker for an awesome non-profit, I thought I left my earnest optimism behind. But these moments of squee keep popping up and quashing my cynicism.

One thing I really value about the anthropology graduate program I’m in at the University of Arizona is the four field approach. Nevertheless, I have mostly lived between sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and medical anthropology.* Archaeology and biological anthropology mostly enter my world as “things my friends do”.** But, suddenly, a burgeoning interest in bringing together work on age and life course in biological and sociocultural anthro is pushing me to wade into something unexpected.

I love it. I am SO into thinking through the social implications of different models of getting really old (like, 1) your body just falls apart through a bunch of different processes, which epidemiologists and evolutionary biologists are into, or 2) your body has a clock, and there’s a maximum life span we can achieve if we can take care of the pesky diseases and whatnot, which gerontologists are into). And it had never occurred to me before that humans demonstrate more variation in older ages (though, now that I think about it, it totally makes evolutionary sense and fits with my experiences).*** Sure, I’m into age and all this stuff is at least somewhat relevant to my research, but the real reason I’m so stoked is that it’s TOTALLY NEW to me!

And I think, when I am reminded of the likelihood there will be no good jobs waiting for me after my 8 years of graduate training, that this is a dream worth trying for. The joy of this – of a life of getting to learn TOTALLY NEW STUFF, of building on that stuff with research and of sharing it through teaching – is worth a lot of risk.

Do you have these moments too? What was your last moment of work related squee?

*Unclear about the differences between these and actually want to know more? Check out the American Anthropological Association‘s attempt to answer the question What is Anthropology?
**I may be selling myself a little short here, as I am trying to put together stuff like a course design for a four field anthropology intro classes built around age, but still …
***Both of these things are covered in a chapter I read called “Human Population Biology and the Evolution of Aging” by Wood et al in the edited volume Biological Anthropology and Aging: Perspectives of Human Variation over the Life Span by Crews and Garruto in 1994.