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Wade Davis is a cultural anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author, filmmaker and photographer. An Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society from 01999 to 02013, Davis is currently Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. He has published 22 books including The Serpent And the Rainbow, The Wayfinders and most recently, Magdalena: River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia.
What is the role and purpose of Anthropology today? Wade Davis looks back at the pioneering work of Franz Boas in the early 20th century that upended long-held Western assumptions on race & gender, along with definitions of "social progress". Boas and his students used comparative ethnography to advance “cultural relativism”-- the idea that every culture is as “correct” as every other culture. Boas showed that our differences can be completely explained by social conditioning, not inherent genetic makeup, upending a deep history of scientific racism.
This fundamental change in understanding laid the intellectual foundations for the political movements for racial, gender, and cultural equality in the 20th century. But over the last few decades, the field of Anthropology has turned inward, and seems increasingly unable to address global challenges like linguistic loss, cultural erasure, environmental destruction, and economic injustice. Davis offers ideas on how the field could change direction and reclaim global activism as part of its core once again.
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