Why I Majored in Anthropology

Carrie Zaremba ’22

I have long sought to understand space and place in all of its physical and metaphorical manifestations. Following this passion, I enrolled in “Imagined Cities” for my ID1 course, taught by Anthropology Professor Joanne Nucho, who is now my advisor. Completely unfamiliar with the discipline before college, this course marked my first exposure to the field and its potential for radical social transformation. I particularly remember one class when Professor Nucho described anthropology as the “most humanistic of the social sciences.” As a first-year student curious about the world in general, and without a clue where to start, I reasoned that anthropology would provide me with the most comprehensive liberal arts experience.

I see anthropology less as a rigid discipline and more as a lens through which to perceive the world. With the world as your laboratory, anthropology is an ongoing process of defamiliarization and reinterpretation. In deconstructing macro-level structures to the mundane, the “anthropological perspective” uniquely captures how the local informs the global and vice-versa in an ever-changing human society. Equipped with such an interdisciplinary perspective, anthropology majors often find success in advanced courses in other departments through anthropology’s ability to examine complex phenomena from various modes of inquiry, geographic scales and socio-historical contexts. Similarly, my schedule tends to be considerably more flexible than that of my peers in other disciplines since I can take courses that count as major elective credits in everything from art history to linguistics.

Above all, my interest in anthropology emerges from its emancipatory potential beyond the academy. Located at the nexus of scholarship and activism, the discipline’s increasing emphasis on reflexivity, Indigenous epistemologies, and anticolonial and abolitionist approaches signifies how critical anthropology can help us reimagine and realize a more just world order. It is no coincidence that anthropology professors are some of the most community-oriented and politically active faculty members beyond the walls of the consortium. This dynamic directly translates into praxis-oriented course offerings such as “Cooperative Filmmaking for Social Change” and “Museums: Behind the Glass.” Against this backdrop, majoring in anthropology at Pomona has left me well-prepared to engage in community-based participatory research.

Through the Pomona College Internship Program (PCIP), I received funding to conduct community-based research with the Right to the City Alliance (RTTC), a network of dozens of grassroots organizations across the U.S. committed to building a unified land and housing justice movement. Grounded in Henri Lefebvre's concept of the “right to the city”—which I first learned about in ID1—RTTC prioritizes translocal base-building within an internationalist solidarity framework. Such multi-scalar analysis requires an understanding of space and place that can only be achieved via an anthropological perspective. Working in tandem with our member organizations to fight against the affordable housing crisis exasperated by COVID-19, I employed GIS spatial analysis and social movements theory to support RTTC’s anti-eviction campaign strategy. I enjoyed my PCIP summer with RTTC so much that I decided to continue working alongside them as a research assistant throughout the year. In applying the anthropological perspective to real movement-building praxis, I gained a newfound awareness of the possibilities for social transformation presented by the discipline. In May, I will transition to a new internship in the Office of Public Policy and Planning at the City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department, with the ultimate goal of pursuing radical planning with a focus on community-controlled alternatives to neoliberal urban development. I look forward to exploring all that the anthropology major has to offer upon returning to campus for the fall 2021 semester.