Amelia Frank-Vitale

Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology

People. Humans. Who we are, what we do, what makes us, well, us. What makes me an anthropologist, though, is our method - ethnography. We are unique among social scientists in that our discipline demands closeness, long-term engagement, and really digging into the worlds that we choose to study. For me, this makes us uniquely suited to help explain the world - because, if we’re doing it right, not only do we know another culture/community/society/place but we care about the people there.

Franny MeLampy

Evolutionary Anthropology, Alumna, 2018

My name is Franny MeLampy, I graduated with honors in Evolutionary Anthropology in 2018 and I also was the co-founder and co-president of Anthropology Club! To me, anthropology means family. And not just family in the traditional sense, but the entire worldwide human and nonhuman family. The Department of Anthropology opened my eyes to the connectedness of the world, for both humans and all organisms we share the Earth with. Anthropology helped me understand the bonds between us all, culturally and biologically, and I use that knowledge every day as a teacher. With support from my past Anthropology professors, I am now pursuing my masters degree in education, and I will never forget my favorite phrase from the Anthropology Department - "What can you do with an Anthropology degree? Anything!"


Megan Knittel

Anthropology, Alumna, 2018

My experiences in the Anthropology department at U of M sparked my interest in being a researcher and gave me the tools and experiences to prepare to enter a Ph.D. program straight from undergrad. In particular, the honors thesis seminar that Will Thomson taught really helped me find a supportive and exciting community of emerging scholars to learn and share with. Dr. Judy Irvine was my thesis advisor and I am very grateful for her mentorship as well.

I graduated in 2018, and I'm now a second-year Ph.D. student at Michigan State in the Department of Media & Information. My work nowadays centers broadly on how social technologies like the Internet influences people's experience of the world and their place within it. I recently presented my paper on ideological discourses surrounding trust in Bitcoin at a conference. I'm also working on a project about LGBTQ+ experiences with social technologies like dating phone apps. My anthropology training from U of M, I feel, gave me deep critical thinking skills and a methodological toolkit to support my interdisciplinary work.

Rachel Hurwitz

Anthropology, Alumna, 2018

Evolutionary Anthropology means…
studying the bones of our ancestors to learn more about ourselves, fighting current health epidemics by understanding our dietary past, researching our closest living relatives can teach us about our background and our future, knowing that culture influences biology and biology influences culture, our fat, gut flora, and reproductive habits, are all part of the puzzle of Homo sapiens, diving deeper into what it is to be human.

Benjamin Hollenbach

Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology

I once Google-ed "is anthropology a social science or in the humanities?" and could not find a definitive answer, to my initial dismay. But that lack of an answer has turned out to be one of my favorite things about anthropology. We can be both. After all, we have both the methodical data collection of the sciences and the imaginative spirit of the humanities. To me, anthropology means leaning into this ambiguity, and being both methodical and imaginative, as we seek to learn what makes us human and how to better appreciate one another.

Adrian Deoanca

Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology

“A well-worn cliché says that “anthropology is the study of what makes us human.” Little is said, however, about how studying humans can make one a different, dare I say better, person. Ethnographic practice along the years has taught me a lesson of humility. Realizing that notwithstanding the fancy degrees you have you are still the cultural rookie when going to the field compels one to constantly reassess one’s values, ideas, and social position. Each time the Romanian railroaders whose labor I studied gave me funny nicknames, played gentle pranks on me, or friendly mocked my lack of technical mastery they taught me not only about the rituals of blue-collar masculine sociality, but also provided me with a blueprint of how to gain cultural competence. Being the village idiot - the workshop idiot in my case – has taught me how to pay attention to others’ needs and how to find ways to be better at helping out. Put differently, it has made me aware that building and maintaining social relations takes labor. Lots of it. And if that’s not what it means to be human, then I don’t know what does.”

Nina Jackson Levin

Doctoral Student in Social Work and Anthropology

At its best, anthropology affords social science the opportunity to conduct sociocultural knowledge production in the expressive register of the humanities. The narrative requisite of ethnography obligates a literary approach to questions and problems of the social sciences. Residing in the interstices between research and literature, the artistic quality of ethnographic inquiry is integral to its rigor. The primary instrument of data collection in anthropology is relationship. The discipline’s unique potential to interrogate subjectivity is both productive and nuanced; ethically charged and emotionally challenging. As a field that is preoccupied with the study of humankind, foregrounding relationship as both object of study and source of data is consistent with anthropology’s commitments to questions of humanity. Anthropology maintains that person-to-person bonds are generative instruments of knowledge production. My favorite part of being an anthropologist is reflecting critically upon interpersonal connections (or lack thereof) as both method and source of sociocultural research. To me, when anthropology is at its best, humanity is the heart of the endeavor not only in its object of study but also in its signature methodology.

Jennifer Sierra

Doctoral Student in Anthropology

I am sitting on a corner hanging out with the “cool” boys during prom in my senior year of High School. My inability to dance allows me to observe everyone on the dance floor. They don’t know that I am watching them. They are lost in the moment. I watch in amazement to how they move their bodies to match the rhythms of salsa songs and just minutes later to the rhythm of the greatest music hit of the year “I kissed a Girl” by Katie Perry. From their point of view: “Yo no soy chevere, soy una amargada” which translates to “being uncool” while the boys who refused to dance next to me were “cool”.

This encounter may sound mundane and hopefully relatable, for at least most of us have participated in an event where there was dancing and witnessed participants divide between those who danced and those who didn’t. In these events, participating in the act of dancing or not acquire special meanings, in my case it made me “uncool” and, as I was often reminded, this characteristic matched my identity as a “nerd” throughout high school. How is it that something as mundane as dancing can acquire meanings that become defining of how we describe, perceive and categorize people?

Anthropology allows you to ask these questions and in the process of answering them, you realize that mundane actions, like dancing, are connected to societies’ values, histories, economies, and socio-political systems. Anthropology deals with the messiness of everyday actions and makes sense of them through rigorous ethnographic research. Anthropological-generated understandings of human behavior have high stakes in informing how a new law or policy could affect a community, or developing a piece of software that is sensitive to a communities’ needs and lifestyle. Anthropology is the study of quotidian actions that become fundamental to the way we understand each other and the societies we live in.

Nicholas Caverly

Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology; Science, Technology, and Society

To me, the discipline of anthropology demands understanding the complexity of human existence, especially through connections across time and space. We live in a moment that is defined by complex problems --- racism, economic inequality, and environmental change, to name only a few. Anthropology offers me a means of analyzing these problems in their complexity so I can contribute to the development of more robust ways of addressing them.