You may be familiar with the iconic line up of man's evolution from a stooped ape-like figure to a man with a briefcase, and you would be correct in associating the concept with anthropology. However, evolutionary theory is just a small subset of fields that fall within the grand arch of anthropological studies. The field, ultimately, analyzes humans as a whole — behavior, language, culture, societies, archaeology, and, of course, biological aspects like evolution. These branches constitute a significant discipline in our world. As such, these ten outstanding anthropologists are making strides to enhance the field.
Krystal D’Costa — Digital Anthropologist
In working to identify how technology impacts human behavior, Krystal D’Costa's anthropological specialty has made large contributions to the field. Her titles include both digital anthropologist (often called digital strategist) and writer. She is the founder of Anthropology in Practice (AiP), a blog under Scientific American, that aims to help everyday people understand their own behaviors through anthropology. Moreover, she also provides consultation to help people develop digital and other communication strategies to build meaningful communities online.
She graduated from Queens College of the City University of New York with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Choosing to further her studies, she went on to The New School to earn her master’s degree in the field. Uniquely, D'Costa's writing is intended for laymen rather than academic audiences, widening the impact of her work.
Uniquely, D'Costa's writing is intended for laymen rather than academic audiences, widening the impact of her work. Her writings have been consistently published by The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, among others. Additionally, she is the Senior Digital and Creative Operations Lead at Accenture Interactive.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about Krystal D’Costa.
Susan Crate, Ph.D. — Cultural Anthropologist
An anthropologist who helped popularize cultural anthropology in America, Susan Crate, is most famous for her work on climate change. Her main goal is developing an understanding of the specifics of human-environment interactions. Much of her research can be found in books and academic articles.
She graduated from Warren Wilson College with a bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies. As she continued her education at the University of North Carolina, she earned both a master's degree in folklore and a Ph.D. in Ecology. Given her stellar academic background, she went on to teach. Crate is a Professor of Anthropology at George Mason University.
Interestingly, she is also the subject of “The Anthropologist,” a film highlighting the struggle different cultures face given the impact of climate change. This is the crux of Crate’s research. She focuses on understanding how climate change is affecting communities and their adaptation to those environmental issues.
Of note, Crate was a part of the American Anthropology Association’s Task Force on Climate Change and currently lectures on the topic around the country. Through this research, she seeks sustainability, or the ability to use natural resources in a regenerative way that promotes balance between people and their environment.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about Susan Crate.
Lee R. Berger, Ph.D. — Paleoanthropologist
Lee Berger is a paleoanthropologist credited with two of the most important recent discoveries of humankind: Australopithecus Sediba and Homo naledi. These discoveries show that humans still do not have the full story of evolution, which is why the work of contemporary anthropologists is vital.
Berger graduated from Georgia Southern University with a bachelor's degree in anthropology/archaeology. He then pursued his Ph.D. in paleoanthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He currently resides in South Africa and works at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Moreover, he is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. National Geographic Magazine was one of the first publications to announce Berger's unique findings in the evolutionary chain. Additionally, Berger was recognized by Discover Magazine and by Time as one of their “100 Most Influential People.” He also won the National Press Photographer’s Humanitarian Award for tossing his camera down and saving a woman who was drowning in the Savannah River.
Berger is well-known for his humanitarian acts along with his research. The latter set the groundwork for years of research to come on evolution. He has, without doubt, redefined our understanding of the history of humankind.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about Lee R. Berger.
Paul Farmer, Ph.D., M.D. — Medical Anthropologist
Not only an extraordinary anthropologist, Paul Farmer is also a human rights activist and physician. His education began at Duke by earning a Bachelor’s in medical anthropology. Then he then continued onto Harvard to earn his M.D. and Ph.D. in medical anthropology. His research is primarily focused on health and human rights.
With a lengthy track-record of accomplishments, there are a few “most important” notes. He is a co-founder of Partners in Health and the Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Additionally, Farmer chairs the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard. He is also the United Nations Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Community Based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti.
Farmer dedicates his life to serving those in the absolute poorest of communities to ensure they survive the most drastic medical problems. He also works toward the prevention of disease in these regions. Because of his work, he was appointed by the World Health Organization to help launch an international multi-drug resistant tuberculosis treatment and establish effective antibiotic delivery to those in poor communities around the world.
Moreover, his work is highly recognized by the community. He is the recipient of the Outstanding International Physician Award, the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, among others.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about Paul Farmer.
Sarah Pink, Ph.D. — Visual Anthropologist
In implementing anthropological expertise in engineering, design, and art projects, Sarah Pink has carved a unique path in the field. A majority of her research focuses on audio-visual methods and media, and she has written a multitude of books on these topics. She is also a part-time professor of Social Sciences at RMIT University in Melbourne.
Pink earned her master’s degree in visual anthropology from the University of Manchester. She went on to receive her Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Kent. Her strong suit is uniting the academic theories of the field with real-life situations. Of note, she has published consistently since 1997 and has received a multitude of grants for her research.
Her most recent publication is Digital Ethnography: Principles and Practice. Additionally, she has various visiting professorships at Halmstad University, Loughborough University, and Free University in Berlin. As such, Pink is an international leader who aims to understand the impact of digital technologies on our well-being.
Moreover, Pink’s research is extremely relevant to today as technology is a part of our every day lives. Her research sets the foundation for years of research to come on understanding how digital technologies affect our lives.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about Sarah Pink.
Anna Tsing, Ph.D. — Global Anthropologist
An accomplished anthropologist, Anna Tsing is currently a leading faculty member at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Moreover, she has earned a Guggenheim Fellowship and is developing a program utilizing multi-disciplinary approaches to study the Anthropocene epoch.
Of note, Tsing earned her bachelor’s degree from Yale. She went on to Stanford University to complete her graduate coursework. Her research shows the profound impact humans have on Earth’s ecosystems.
Tsing has published a plethora of research focused on everything from feminist theory to globalization to multi-species anthropology. Additionally, she is the author of two books, both of which have won various awards. In addition to her teaching post at UCSC, she is a visiting professor. These past positions include Harvard and the University of Chicago.
Her guest lectures are strongly attended by students and peers alike who hope to better understand the interdisciplinary research between the arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and the humanities. Her work has most recently been awarded the Huxley Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. In conclusion, Tsing maintains a global perspective on anthropology, allowing her to see connections that others may not find.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about Anna Tsing.
Arjun Appadurai, Ph.D. — Global Anthropologist
As a renowned global anthropologist, Arjun Appadurai remains active in the anthropological community. Many organizations seek Appadurai’s expertise. As such, he advises UNESCO, The World Bank, the US National Endowment for the Humanities, the Natural Science Foundation and the Infosys Foundation, to name a few organizations on his resume.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and his graduate degrees from the University of Chicago. Appadurai is currently a professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. He also holds visiting professorships at Stanford, Harvard, and Witwatersrand University, among other institutions.
His most well-known research is his meta-theory of disjuncture. He explains the concept fully in “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy” (1990). Since the formulation of that theory, Appadurai authored several award-winning books and numerous academic papers. His focus is on the importance of modernity of nation-states and globalization.
Moreover, his research funding showcases its significance. He has held numerous fellowships and grants. Additionally, he won honors such as residential fellowships and an honorary doctorate. Beyond his work as a professor and active researcher, Appadurai is a co-founder of the peer-reviewed journal Public Culture. He also co-founded and co-directs the Interdisciplinary Network of Globalization.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about Arjun Appadurai.
Holly Dunsworth, Ph.D. – Biological Anthropologist
As a biological anthropologist, Holly Dunsworth utilizes fossil and metabolic evidence to reconstruct the process of evolution. She is a Professor at the University of Rhode Island and the author of Origins, a blog discussing her research findings.
Prior to her groundbreaking research, she completed her undergraduate work at the University of Florida. She then went on to finish her graduate work at Pennsylvania State University.
Dunsworth's research is groundbreaking. Her focus on understanding the human origin to better know why humans are as they exist yields unique findings in the field. For example, in connecting the evolution process through human pregnancy, she revealed that physiological restrictions are most important in determining gestation. In short, babies are born due to the mother’s physiological restrictions of maxed energy use into gestation and fetal growth. This contradicts former scholarship on the physical restrictions of pelvic tightness in females creating a nine-month gestation.
Of note, she has also been featured on NPR for her views on evolution. In her curriculum, she strongly believes in dispelling any misconceptions her students may have about the field. The world of anthropology will greatly benefit from her research to better understand from where we came.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about Holly Dunsworth.
David Graeber, Ph.D. — Cultural Theorist
In addition to being an anthropologist and professor at the London School of Economics, David Graeber is an activist. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Purchase and his graduate degrees at the University of Chicago. Of note, he also received the highly sought-after Fulbright Fellowship, which he used in Madagascar for ethnographic research.
Graeber's work as a theorist gained much notoriety after 2011. That year, he published Debt: The First 5000 Years. The book explores the relationship between debt and social institutions throughout history, showcasing a basis for society. He argues that the eight-hour workday is not an efficient use of human time, sparking controversy beyond anthropological studies.
Beyond his scholarship, Graeber is an activist. He famously protested at the World Economic Forum, the 3rd Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, and as a leader in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Despite his wide array of publications, he is more notoriously a figure of controversy. Protests marked by his research have found him at the forefront of both public minds and scholars alike.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about David Graeber.
Aihwa Ong, Ph.D. — Ethnographer
Currently serving as the Department Chair of the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, Aihwa Ong is a leading figure in the field. She received her Bachelor’s from Barnard College and her Ph.D. from Columbia University. Her focus is on ethnographic research with a primary geographical focus of the Pacific Rim.
Additionally, her work works to understand the anthropology of knowledge and the intersection of humans and technology. Within that, she analyzes global technologies, methods of governing, and citizenship. She publishes frequently in academic journals. Moreover, she authored Fungible Life, an exploration of bioscience research intersecting with cosmopolitan life in Asia.
Ong is best known for creating the terms “flexible citizenship,” “graduated sovereignty,” and global assemblages,” which are widely used and discussed among her peers. Her research on neoliberalism has had a major impact on understanding the implications of privatization around the world.
Of note, Ong is also a member of the Science Council of the International Panel on Social Progress. She was a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, too, which allowed her to study citizenship and sovereignty abroad.
Outstanding Anthropologist: Read more about Aihwa Ong.