Four-Field Anthropology & the Superdisciplinary Approach

Nancy over at Savage Minds has followed up on an earlier post regarding her frustration with the four-field approach to “Introduction to Anthropology” courses (see my post on “Must I Side With or Against My Section?” for a bit about tensions between our subdisciplines).

At any rate, Nancy has found a way to make the course work and it hits along the same lines as my own approach to integrating subdisciplines in anthropology courses…Nancy is integrating the four fields at every step. Instead of spending chunks of the course focusing on one field at a time, she goes through the course focusing on topics. In each topic she examines the contributions of the various subfields.

This is not unlike the way I have described my work which integrates elements of historical archaeology, prehistoric archaeology, cultural anthropology, bioarchaeology and cultural studies to colleagues when they ask about my teaching style. I’d like to develop topical courses on race, gender, households, landscapes, or whatever… and examine sources that cross-cut the traditional “pidgin holes” of our discipline. When taught in this way students will be able to see the interconnections (and disjunctures) between different subdisciplines (and even sub-subdisciplines) of our field.

This, of course, is not an original idea….I’ll credit my version to some of the writings of Critical Theorists (Horkhiemer, Adorno, etc.) who took as a part of their project to build a superdisciplinary understanding of culture…

“Superdisciplinary” is not merely “interdisciplinary”…”interdisciplinary” implies that groups of individuals from various disciplines work together collectively to develop theories… “Superdisciplinary” work, on the other hand, does its best to traverse and undermine the traditional boundaries between disciplines (and, instead, stresses the interconnections between philosophy, economics, politics, biology, etc.)…

That’s my credo & I’m sticking to it….

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Categories: academia, anthropology


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5 Comments on “Four-Field Anthropology & the Superdisciplinary Approach”

  1. February 22, 2006 at 6:21 am #

    great perspective, Jamie!

  2. February 22, 2006 at 4:26 pm #

    This post has been removed by the author.

  3. February 22, 2006 at 4:34 pm #

    I’ve created a complicated and finely naunced chart of my own to illustrate my approach to this issue:

    Above image may be reproduced without my permission, if credit and royalties are promptly rendered. 🙂

  4. February 23, 2006 at 9:11 pm #


    GREAT graphic!!!!! Can I use it in my next intro. class???????

  5. February 24, 2006 at 2:28 am #

    absolutely >:)

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