Professor of anthropology Natalie Porter focuses her research primarily on interactions between humans and animals, and how these interactions affect human and environmental health. Scholastic spoke with Porter to understand her research and learn about her travels.
How did you come to do what you’re doing now and what got you interested in Anthropology?
Growing up in a family with that kind of dynamic, living in America with an American father and a Vietnamese mother [influenced me]. In [my first year] of college, I took a class called Global Studies and it was just an elective. I [distinctly] remember the TA was an amazing person that had all this energy and had been to Thailand and talked about what it is to be an anthropologist ... So I just got really interested not even so much anthropology, [in the beginning] but just the idea of traveling around and learning.
In a broad sense, what kind of impact do you think anthropology has on the average student? Why is anthropology relevant?
That is a question we are often asked. For me, the value of anthropology is that it really prompts us to think of the human condition as something that is full of diversity and multiplicity and heterogeneity. It sort of forces us to reconsider all of our taken-for-granted assumptions about what humans do, what they believe, how they behave and what they are like. What anthropology allows us to do is take other examples from different places to reconceptualize and reconsider our basic understandings of the world around us. It is sometimes difficult, frustrating and [even] scary when we’re confronted with radical difference, but it’s also really liberating, because it provides us with different models and different opportunities to live better in the world and live better with others. Anthropology [prompts us] to suspend our suppositions about what’s normal, what’s natural and what’s right in order to allow us to step back for a moment and think about all the different ways of being normal and being right. For me, anthropology is a celebration of humans in all of our diversity and all of our weird idiosyncrasies and our mistakes but it is based on a fundamental acceptance of our similarities.