Collective Statement: What is the Anthropological Endeavor for the 21st Century?

Editorial Note: In this collective statement, Crossroads presents the thoughts of undergraduate students from ANTHRCUL 222, “The Comparative Study of Cultures,” from the Fall 2023 semester, taught by Prof. Alyssa Paredes. This statement is part of our organizational effort to encourage conversations that are vital to anthropology. The students wrote statements in response the question: “What is the anthropological endeavor for the 21st century?” Although each original statement is thoughtful and concise, presenting them all together is technically infeasible. In response, our editor, Shay X. Zhang, has opted to select one quote from each individual statement to compile the collective statement you are currently reading. This statement aims to reflect a limited consensus within our undergraduate anthropology community while preserving the diversity of opinions. We acknowledge the limitations inherent in formulating a statement based on a single sociocultural anthropology course and invite you to view this statement as both an exemplar and a component of an ongoing dialogue. Links to the original statements are attached to the quotes.

Please feel free to send us a message if you have any thoughts and concerns that you would like to share. Our email is (UGAnthroJournal@umich.edu).

Shay Xianyang Zhang (2024)


Among other schools, University of Michigan Anthropology is sometimes referred to by contemporary scholars as one of the “historical institutions” of American anthropology, which is esteemed for its intellectual contributions but also bears the weight of its colonial heritage. There would have been no Michigan Anthropology without colonial encounters with and oppressions against multiple communities. The University of Michigan resides on the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg—The Three Fire Confederacy of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations, as well as the Wyandot Nation. The Department of Anthropology, in particular, was founded in response to the “increased interest in the anthropological collections of the University,” (Carl E. Guthe 1942) that were collected during the University of Michigan Philippine Expedition (1922-1925), often through deeply problematic means, including but not limited to entombment and police interrogation.

Nonetheless, from earlier generations to the most recent, generations of anthropologists have also proposed and practiced different methods to move anthropology beyond colonialism and reimburse the colonial harm. It is important for us to not only learn the history of anthropology but also to acknowledge that there has never been an academic ivory tower and recognize the accelerating disappearance of the boundaries between the academic and the engaged in the contemporary world.

It is now the time for us to start thinking and sharing thoughts about the future...

This is what we, the undergraduate anthropology students, think about the anthropological endeavor for the 21st century:

“I believe the anthropological endeavor for the 21st century is to eradicate corporate discrimination as well as the racial discrimination enacted in everyday society against black people.” (Jayce Biles 2023)

“I, a student of ANTHRCUL222, believe that the anthropological endeavor of the 21st century is to overcome the ascendency of partisanship in the modern political atmosphere.” (Allison Hughes 2023)

“I, a student of ANTHRCUL 222, believe that the anthropological endeavor in the 21st century is to channel resentments into political action in order to reform the systems that engender this emotion.” (Anya Coffeen Vandeven 2023)

“We call for a change in the US government’s diplomatic practices, as we cannot allow neocolonial and imperialistic perspectives to dictate our actions, and thus refuse to persist western agendas disguised as humanitarian efforts.” (Pilar Steward 2023)

“Changes should be made in order for detention centers to be more humane and a place where they [immigrants] can stay where it is warm, hygienic, and have basic necessities such as food, water, private and clean bathrooms.” (Valeria Rivera 2023) 

“We need to understand why people use social media in this manner, and how to raise our children to change the trajectory and make not only the internet a safer place but our world.” (Rachel Sonnett 2023) 

“The idea that cultural relativism forces inaction and neutrality is an idea of the past, and one that is extremely harmful and incongruent with the sentiment, ideals, and goals of modern anthropology.” (Shiv Karwal 2023)

“If we as individual anthropologists, and as the collective discipline of anthropology, strive to flip the omniscient gaze, transposing these traditional narratives of the Self and the Other, we can reinvent anthropology.” (Ava Tackabury 2023)

“An amalgamation or new sect of anthropology between the “culture broker” notion of development anthropology (a cultural and economic approach) and the ethical obligations of public anthropology should be developed or studied more in relation to economic issues in order to implement a more holistic solution to the financial woes of the exploited.” (Maggie Fleury 2023)

“We must continue to focus on economic inequality in teaching curriculums and research projects which together can lead to changes in public policy. And more generally, it is imperative to promote engagement across disciplines to tackle, or at least take steps forward in such an issue.” (Maxwell Iseler 2023)

“It is essential to work from both within these universities and companies, and outside of them in order to further actions of change for the improvement of accessibility to opportunities.” (Kiley Chavez 2023) 

As the instructor of the course, Prof. Paredes says:

Statements can be used to express feelings of solidarity, affirmation, and commitment to certain causes. They can be used to declare resolve and articulate a different vision for the future. Sometimes statements can take on a critical tone, identifying the failures of existing strategies and the need for new ones. Sometimes they offer clarifying explanations about phenomena that the public has misunderstood. They are always motivated by a sense of urgency, by prevailing events that illuminate, exasperate, or awaken one’s sense of resolve.”  

Alyssa Paredes 2023 

While there will always be disagreements about how to “do anthropology” to foster both intellectual endeavors and social justice, we hope that our statement shows our undergraduate community’s dedication to contribute to the changing discipline and the world as we are learning to become better anthropological actors.

Let us be heard and hear from each other!