What is Anthropology? Anthropology is the study of people and culture. It differs from other social sciences in that it looks at individual social phenomena from a grassroots level rather than at macro societal conditions from a remote or removed perspective. Participant-observation fieldwork is the main methodological tool used by anthropologists as it brings them into direct contact with the people they are studying. As such, anthropological fieldwork is particularly effective in a secluded or isolated setting, since such conditions enable anthropologists to become intimately familiar with their subject of study.
What do Anthropologists do?
This is the situation for anthropologist Dr. Joshua Schmidt in Mitzpe Ramon, a remote but ethnically rich town in the Negev highlands (pop. 5000). Mitzpe Ramon contains an interesting mix of multifarious communities who mostly live in parallel to one another but share a fundamental common denominator: they are each characterized by a high degree of cultural preservation. In other words, due to its isolated location, Mitzpe Ramon has undergone a limited amount of socio-economic development, a situation that has allowed the town’s various residential groups to maintain dated behavioral norms and societal mores.
While generally the researchers at the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center are plagued by their physical distance from the center of the country, this potential obstacle has in fact proven to be an advantage in Schmidt’s study of the peoples and cultures of Mitzpe Ramon. Thus, the field of anthropology, which has only recently been introduced at the DSASC, is set to contribute a unique and insightful perspective in the overall body of research generated by the center. At present, ethnographic research, including a visual anthropology project, is being conducted on the town’s veteran populations. Moreover, studies are being done on a number of other topics such as the impact of the Isrotel Breishit luxury hotel on the town’s economy, the different manner in which diverse local communities relate to their environmental surroundings and how certain socio-cultural transformations are effecting local Bedouin communities.