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Open Access Dissertation

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First Advisor

Allen Batteau


This ethnographic case study attempts to understand how neoliberalism, which emphasizes education for employment, contradicts, complements, or coexists with the values of the liberal arts discipline of anthropology. Liberal arts education, the broader type of education that anthropology fits into, is called into question in this neoliberal era because its goal is not to train workers but to educate liberally. Historical data show a trend away from liberal arts degrees towards technical and professional degrees over the last thirty years (Fogg, Harrington, and Harrington 2004). Though the most important reason for earning a bachelor's degree cited among college freshman is improved career opportunities, only 20 percent of those who graduate with a bachelor's degree in anthropology report their jobs are closely related to their major (Fogg, Harrington, and Harrington 2004). Bachelor's degree holders in anthropology either go to graduate school to receive additional education and training to increase the likelihood of finding jobs in their major field of study, or they find employment in fields other than anthropology (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008).

This study used ethnographic methods at one university in Southeastern Michigan during the 2008-2009 academic year to explore the social, institutional, and personal factors that shape student motivations for choosing a major in anthropology, the delivery of anthropology education from faculty perspectives, and advising regarding academic course work, career preparation, and career options. Further, this study examined what happens after graduation, when anthropology majors found themselves facing the work environment.

Findings suggest academic advising and career services departments, infused with neoliberal values, focus on getting students in and out of the university and into jobs as efficiently as possible. Findings also suggest the academic faculty of the department of anthropology embody academic anthropology disciplinary values and ideals through teaching. Students pick up the multiple and conflicting values of neoliberalism and anthropology through interactions in the learning settings; the conflicts produce uncertainty and anxiety about choosing a major, a career path, and finding jobs, resulting in identity dissonance that must be resolved. Patterns of resolving identity dissonance based on internal and external beliefs about the value and prestige of education and work may have implications for the discipline of anthropology more broadly.