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Bram Tucker prioritizes people in work to understand cultures

Amit Kaushik

Bram Tucker is an associate professor in the University of Georgia’s Department of Anthropology, where his Behavioral Ecology and Economic Decisions Labstudies how people make decisions under risks, vulnerabilities and changes.

He works primarily with Mikea hunter-gatherers, Masikoro farmers and Vezo fishers in southwestern Madagascar, and previously served as president of the Society for Economic Anthropology with the American Anthropological Association. Recently, he completed a five-year NSF-funded project in Madagascar that included over 3,000 interviews and concluded with an academic conference at his partner institution, the Université de Toliara in Madagascar.

Tucker spoke with the Office of Research about his path to studying cultural anthropology, what exactly cultural anthropology is and how one might pursue a similar path for themselves.

Research Communications: Can you share a bit about your background?

Bram Tucker: I grew up in the very boring suburbs of Ohio and Georgia. I always knew that the world was more than I could see around me. I mean, the world must be more interesting than all the boring things that were present in my very limited world. When I was 11, there was a community pottery studio down the street from us in Columbus, Georgia. The guy who ran it, his name was Mr. Dodson, was really interested in Native American pottery from archeological settings. We went to Cartersville, Georgia, to the Etowah Indian Mounds. I remember that was the day I realized, wow, this is right here, where I live in Georgia—ancient cultures and people who lived on this very land in ways that are very different from today. And pyramids! I remember that moment when I wanted to become an anthropologist.

Can you tell us what anthropologists do, and specifically what cultural anthropologists do?

A big part of what any anthropologist does is imagine. Many anthropologists are also science fiction and fantasy fans. There’s a similar skill of trying to imagine different worlds or ways of living. For cultural anthropology, we’re lucky because we can go and visit those places, meet people and talk to them.

The real significance of anthropology is that there are many ways to live and many kinds of people, and their stories aren’t known by us. If anthropologists don’t go and learn about people different from those around us, the urban world just makes up stories about them—most of which are totally false. Like, they are primitive or backward people, or that we’re more advanced. Those are fanciful ideas that don’t give credit to people. So, the job of a cultural anthropologist is to learn how people really live. What are people thinking about? How do they understand the world that’s very different from the way we do? We explore that difference.

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Image: Bram Tucker (left) in conversation with his partner, a scholar at the Université de Toliara in Madagascar. (Photo courtesy of Bram Tucker)


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