I came to study anthropology almost by accident and I have my ex-girlfriend to thank for it. I went through high school almost totally focused on science. I went to uni determined to become a doctor, partly because it seemed like the most practical way to help people and do something useful in the world. Halfway through my science degree (majoring in organic chem and neuroscience), I started to realise that I wanted to try other things—art, music etc—and that practicing med is so consuming. I thought I’d try an arts degree because I was interested in art history (this is in Perth so no breadth units then).
My girlfriend at the time was doing a first year anth unit focused on the history of globalisation and capitalism. I was looking through her reader and got excited about learning about economic history decided to switch into that unit. I ended up majoring in anth alongside art history. After my arts degree I considered going straight into honours but I ended up going and doing a visual art degree at VCA (in drawing and printmaking), and then working in galleries. I did this knowing I would probably come back to do further study in anthropology. I like anth because it’s built around people’s varying lived experiences—it feels so grounded compared to art history, philosophy etc. It also challenges you to suspend your assumptions and try to think differently about your own common sense.
My thesis is on The Barista Championships i.e. competitive coffee making. They are very theatrical events, where the barista-competitor makes and presents their coffee to the judges on a stage. They often use props and will have a backing soundtrack. I have a friend who works in specialty coffee, who has competed & judged before, and he first showed me videos of the competition. I found them so strange at first and I wanted to understand them better. I was particularly struck by how they presented the origins of the coffee as well as the use of scientific language + labcoats and beakers. My thesis is about communities of taste-making, i.e. how taste (in the literal sense as well as what’s deemed ‘good’) is heavily influenced by cultural and social factors. Part of this is also how these forms of taste are marketed and, in the case of coffee, our ideas of how coffee tastes is built around their global supply chains. So it brings in ideas around the performance of commodity supply chains and how value is created in commodities. There is actually quite a large amount of research done on the anthropology and sociology of food, looking at the social and cultural factors around food production and consumption.