“In this class we do not look at Samurais and Katanas!”, my first year Introduction to Japanese Culture class’ professor yelled as he introduced the students to Sociocultural Anthropology. For a self proclaimed Japanophile such as myself, this statement gave an immediate yet lasting sense of regret as it left me dispirited and demotivated for my new undergraduate life. I can confidently confess now, hiding behind a computer screen and a high degree of anonymity, that I enrolled in the class because of the sole presumption that we would be looking at historical photos of real life samurais. Although a disappointing slap on the face on one hand, the statement in fact became the defining moment in my foundational understanding of what Sociocultural Anthropology is on the other.
It is quite common and unblamable to think of examining ‘pottery art’ or ‘historical architecture’ when first hearing that Sociocultural Anthropology is the study of human Culture. While ‘pottery art’ or ‘historical architecture’ of different communities are certainly great representations of human sociocultural life, Anthropology entails much more than that. It is the rigorous analysis, and in some cases, a critique of what it means to be a human being. The very essence of our species, the very meaning of what it means to be a homo sapien, is defined by the very curse that is our strongest asset: Culture.
From language to body art, between religion and nation-state formation, through the socially defined ideas of race and gender, Anthropologists study such social mental constructs; the “unwritten rules” which govern communities and produce “invisible social glues” to increase the interconnectedness of different individuals. In more simpler words, anything we see, hear, taste, smell, think of, or feel as human beings living life, can ultimately be traced back to the concept of Culture. Hence, by studying Culture maybe we can become one step closer to understanding the human race and consequently understanding one another, something it seems we desperately need.