Has Our Vocabulary Stagnated? Using the Incest Taboo to Explore the State of Definitions in Anthropology
Anthropology textbooks are the chief conduit through which students attending colleges in the United States are exposed to anthropology for the first time, either as a glancing contact to meet a graduation requirement or as the first step in finding a career and passion. Textbooks synthesize the field into approachable and digestible pieces. This synthesis helps students develop a solid base knowledge of the field so they are prepared to engage in more specialized courses. Exploring these definitions from time to time provides an interesting assessment of the materials used to teach college students. Exploring one such term found in a variety of textbooks used in introductory anthropology courses in the United States, namely incest and its taboo, found that the definition may be in need of re-examination and re-work. For example, definitions found in a sampling of textbooks changed very little in several decades and did not address issues such as sexual orientation and erroneous, yet persistent, ties to marriage regulation. This article seeks not to offer or propose changes in the methodological approach to kinship studies, but rather to start discussion and suggest a change in the pedagogy of anthropology, especially as it is practiced in the United States. Undergraduate anthropology education reaches more non-majors than majors and provides an opportunity—a mere chance really—to impart some information that could help students understand the world.