My first encounter with anthropology was watching the TV show Bones in year 7—my friend was watching House and wanted to become a doctor; I was watching Bones and wanted to become a forensic anthropologist—that’s how you decide your future career path, right? Beyond that I don’t really think I had any concept of what anthropology was.
As a person with a lot of social anxiety I think I have always had a curiosity for how humans interact and relate to each other. At school I was torn between my interests in visual arts and chemistry. So when I began uni, I decided to try out anthro and psychology—kind of in the middle of art and science. As it turned out psych didn’t really suit me. Maybe it was just the way it was taught at uni…? Anthro on the other hand, I found fascinating.
It was actually in my French class at uni where my interest in anthro solidified. We had a reading on the difference between French ways of acting and communicating in the workplace and Anglo-Australian ones and how that often leads to misunderstandings and conflicts. I realised then that my greatest interest in how people relate to each other is about how they do so in culturally specific ways, and that understanding how people relate could help us solve conflicts.
I am doing honours in anthro because I am pretty keen to do my own research project where I get to talk to and observe people with a specific purpose of a puzzle I want to answer. When I did my undergrad in anthro at melb uni, there weren’t many opportunities to engage in the practical side of anthropology, so I feel like honours is an opportunity to learn those practical skills.
My thesis is on functional living share houses in melbourne. Briefly, functional living means that the house is arranged so that each room serves a specific function, and typically no one has their own bedroom. So, there will be one room where everyone sleeps, and the other rooms might be for studying, making music, for a quiet space, cooking etc. (Maybe you are in first year and so this is too early to sink in…but) the best advice I got for choosing a thesis topic was to think about a phenomenon I know about, that I find weird or surprising. I cannot imagine living in a functional living house, but there are people who are doing it…so what are their motivations? I’m curious and surprised about how people who live so communally could maintain a sense of privacy. How are they doing that? But also… what is privacy really and how much are our needs for privacy culturally constructed?
Anthropology to me is about being open minded to cultural differences and taking a step back from immediately judging other cultures from your own cultural framework where possible. We are all as weird as each other, we just express that weirdness in culturally different ways.