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Encountering Anthropology: An Exploratory Study of Degree Choice

David Bennett

Keywords: CULTURAL CAPITAL; DEEP LEARNING; DEGREE CHOICE; DISCIPLINARY CULTURE; DISCIPLINARY SOCIALIZATION

Abstract

Social anthropology in the U.K. is largely absent from the pre-university curriculum, contributing to the discipline's marginal status within higher education. My paper reports a small-scale empirical study of the transition to undergraduate anthropology as a socializing process that begins with the choice of discipline, continues as a learning experience and enables students to acquire elements of the discipline's 'culture'. The study identified 'chance' factors, serendipity and opportunism as important influences on choice of degree. These factors reflected the availability to applicants of cultural and economic capital. Students demonstrated varying degrees of socialization in identifying with anthropology's epistemological and social norms and values. My findings justify current attempts to increase the visibility of anthropology among pre-university students. They also support teaching initiatives that promote deep learning at undergraduate level. Both developments are necessary to sustain anthropology as a university discipline.

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