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Prof. Carla Guerrón Montero is a cultural anthropologist.
years, as America seems increasingly divided politically and culturally,
countless observers and editorial writers have urged more civil
discussions among those who disagree, encouraging us to listen and try
to understand different points of view.
It’s not always an easy thing to do, but the University of Delaware’s
Carla Guerrón Montero thinks one way to accomplish it may lie in a
particular discipline: Anthropology.
“I think that one of the key contributions of anthropology is
highlighting the value of careful and patient observation” of people and
their interactions, she said. “Another great contribution — the
exercise of suspending our judgment about any issue or activity in order
to understand why people act in a certain way — is incredibly
Guerrón Montero, a professor in UD’s Department of Anthropology, clearly feels strongly about the subject. She is a co-editor of a new book, Why the World Needs Anthropologists, in which she also co-wrote the concluding essay, “Back to the Future of Applied Anthropology.”
The essays in the book, written by prominent academic and practicing
anthropologists, seek to explain the field to students and the general
public, as well as exploring issues of interest to new and established
professionals. The authors point out that today’s problems in the world
are both new and old, and they suggest that solutions lie in a
combination of established and innovative approaches. They discuss
practical ways to use anthropology to change the world for the better.
Guerrón Montero recently answered a few questions about topics covered in the book.
Q: Does the public understand what anthropology is?
Guerrón Montero: I believe the discipline is going through a
self-reflective process about its public role and about how to
communicate the value of anthropology to the public. I should note that
from its origins, anthropologists have worked outside academia, but we
have not been good at communicating the value of our discipline to the
public. That is why people continue to have dated and incorrect
stereotypes about what anthropology is all about. Very often people
believe anthropologists “only” study dinosaurs (that is what
paleontologists study), or that anthropologists “only” study so-called
exotic, distant places or that anthropologists “only” study issues that
have no immediate relevance for the world beyond the academic context.
Q: What jobs do anthropologists hold?
Guerrón Montero: Anthropologists work everywhere! They work in
academia as faculty, but they also work as assistants for U.S.
senators, as representatives of social movements pursuing transformative
economic worlds, or as researchers for companies as diverse as Intel,
Boeing, Motorola or even Hallmark. Why the World Needs Anthropologists offers a diverse list of activities carried out by anthropologists in the United States and Europe
Q: How can anthropology help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems?
Guerrón Montero: In addition to highlighting the value of
careful and patient observation of peoples and of suspending our
judgment while we try to understand why people act the way they do,
anthropologists also can show the value of taking a holistic approach.
In its broadest sense, that approach refers to focusing on the larger
context to understand cultures and practices.
Q: Do anthropologists have any specific insights into the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?
Guerrón Montero: Anthropologists can help us understand why
people around the world react to a global pandemic like this and why
some populations have been more affected than others. For example,
anthropological research conducted in several countries in Africa shows
that a dynamic informal market has contributed to the quick
proliferation of elaborate and fashionable masks to follow governmental
requirements, even though the masks themselves were not produced
following those standards. In addition, in these regions people were
open to wear masks rather quickly because there already existed
socio-cultural practices that required the use of veils or turbans that
covered noses and mouths. This swift adoption of masks did not happen in
some countries in the global north. An insight like this can be
achieved through anthropological research and can contribute to
providing appropriate public health recommendations.
My co-editor Dan Podjed notes that the pandemic is a huge challenge
but also an opportunity for social reset. As we seek sustainable
solutions for the future in areas like mobility and energy consumption,
he says, the help of anthropologists and other social scientists will be
Q: Does anthropology offer tools the general public can use?
Guerrón Montero: My co-editor Meta Gorup believes that we can
all benefit from the anthropological technique of understanding
another’s point of view. Instead of drawing lines between “us” and
“them,” she recommends that we put more effort into trying to grasp why
another person thinks and acts differently than we do, given their
different life circumstances. That doesn’t mean we’ll all start agreeing
with one another, or that our divisions will disappear, but at least
we’ll be able to show more empathy.
Why the World Needs Anthropologists was published in November
2020 by Routledge and was No. 1 on Amazon’s list of “Hot New Releases”
in the anthropology category and No. 2 in sociology.
The book was edited by Dan Podjed, an associate professor of
anthropology at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia; Meta Gorup, an
anthropology doctoral candidate at Ghent University in Belgium; Pavel
Borecky, an anthropology doctoral candidate at the University of Bern in
Switzerland; and Guerrón Montero.
Guerrón Montero is a cultural and applied anthropologist who trained
in the United States and Latin America and specializes in the
anthropology of tourism, the anthropology of food and the African
diaspora. At UD, she has joint appointments in Latin American and
Iberian studies, Africana studies and women and gender studies.
She studies the complex and multiple meanings and representations of
identity among marginalized populations in modern Latin American and
Caribbean nation-states, particularly Brazil, Ecuador, Grenada and
She is the author of The Color of the Panela: Study of Afro-Ecuadorian Women in the Afro-Ecuadorian Andes and From Temporary Migrants to Permanent Attractions: Tourism, Cultural Heritage, and Afro-Antillean Identities in Panama and the editor of Careers in Applied Anthropology: Advice from Academics and Practicing Anthropologists.
Article by Ann Manser; photo courtesy of Carla Guerrón Montero; illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase
Published March 1, 2021
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