Although there is a lot of great food for thought here and a lot of causes that I believe are linked to this problem that warrant much more elaboration, I think many academics within anthropology and humanities ultimately tend to suffer from a perennial problem of poor communication and personal connection with the wider public. I've heard a number of academics within humanities even declare that it isn't our job to do so. That's shameful to me.

When I first began my tour into anthropology as an undergraduate I was immediately struck by how unintelligible many professors and graduate students were when discussing their ideas. I came from a small rural midwestern town where I knew that people who speak in convoluted sentences are met with suspicion and the very minute you are perceived to be talking down to someone you lose respect and any hope of establishing rapport. You'd think this would be Anthropology 101, but I've only seen this inability to speak to wider audiences exacerbated over the years as the humanities churns out evermore unintelligible jargon and condescending tones and behaviors that slow-drips into our public discourse in perplexing and unfortunate ways.

I think virtually everyone in academia suffers from the "curse of knowledge" which is understandable because one has to learn the specialized language and conceptual frameworks of any discipline or trade by default, but you can't get so wrapped up in your ivory tower lingo and political echo chamber that you forget how to speak and relate to the rest of humanity, especially if your position largely depends on state and federal funds coming from taxpayers. I've always thought we needed courses specifically for those of us interested in writing and speaking to the public (kudos to those at This Anthro Life for pushing that envelope into the new media space).

I place a lot of the onus on those within the humanities at the moment for the failure to show (not tell) people why anthropology is important. The humanities may be under assault from the outside, but their wounds are also self-inflicted to some extent. I worry that too many are not willing to examine their first principles and lend an ear to their critics and have open honest discussions.

Part of why I'm on Substack trying to learn how to write and connect with a wider audience right now is because I LOVE anthropology and think what anthropology and archaeology have to offer us is an incredibly valuable perspective-maybe THE most important perspective-but I don't see the current trajectory that the discipline is on all that attractive or compelling to vast swaths of our population.

If I am correct, many of those taxpayers and their representatives perceive the humanities not just as impractical, but incoherent, out-of-touch, and sanctimonious. We've spent so much energy over the years TELLING people what we're against and left no room for SHOWING people what we are for. I agree wholeheartedly with the statement "It is not wise to be ignorant about the practical value of the humanities." But I worry our problems are much deeper than listing out what the practical applications of anthropology and the humanities are.

I'd love to be a part of an anthropology that is curious, civil, and has a sense of humor and humility about itself. I don't have the impression that those are the personality types being drawn to this discipline at the moment and we need a far more optimistic and hopeful outlook on humanity moving forward.

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Great thoughts, Justin. I also applaud your push into writing and speaking to wider publics. Agreed that anthropology has such a wealth of human knowledge and insights but the major work now is to re-train and reorient scholars and practitioners to craft and share those insights in relevant, easy to understand and impactful ways. The only way to change the discourse that anthropology isn't relevant to the world is to do what you note - to SHOW how anthropology impacts everyday civic life, storytelling, business and the like. I love the idea of an anthropology that is curious, civil, humorous and humble - let's keep building this.

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Well said. Often with clients, the first hurdle I have to address is the general perception of what anthropologists do; study old bones. Then explaining that it's a much broader discipline. My training in cultural anthropology stood me well for 20 years as a marketer of technology. Now I do a lot of netnography work for businesses; UX research, brand analysis and product development and launches. As Justin says below so well, it's about communications. Anthropology is about telling stories, so we should be good at telling the story of anthropology to the wider world. But we're not. Some of us are, but as we know, perception is everything.

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