Admitting otherwise: Diversity work, contextuality and the future of anthropology
The difficult work of decolonizing UK anthropology teaches us important lessons about our field. Rethinking the curriculum may be the easy part. Making university admissions fairer is a harder task. The biggest challenge of all is transforming the institutional cultures and demographic profile of anthropology’s students and faculty. The Covid-19 pandemic showed that rapid change is possible: its aftermath is an opportunity for more radical rethinking of this diversity work in anthropology.
Many UK universities currently use ‘contextual’ information about undergraduate applicants to make admissions ‘fairer’. Would a more self-reflective understanding of ‘contextuality’ include the institutional contexts of universities themselves? Most social anthropology departments are found in ‘Russell group’ and ‘Sutton-30’ universities. Their student populations are more likely to be able-bodied, white, female and middle class than those in other universities: these students have a disproportionate opportunity to access PhD research funding. The growth in postgraduate education also exacerbates these differences. This paper combines institutional history and student data to reconceputalise and broaden debates around ‘contextual admissions’. Acknowledging the institutional racism within UK universities, a more encompassing definition of ‘contextuality’ would allow a critical attention to the academic cultures that create barriers to widening participation, retention and progression to postgraduate study.
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