Dr Alanna Cant
Archaeology and Anthropology joint undergraduate courses launched at the University of Reading in 2020. Studying these subjects together will help students unravel the complexities of the human behaviour past and present, how we evolved, and why we developed such differences and commonalities.
Dr Alanna Cant is Programme Lead in Anthropology, and has been on a journey of discovery during her academic career; conducting primary research in social anthropology, with a keen focus on economic and political impacts of culture in southern Mexico. Her research highlights critical themes of anthropology such as cultural production, heritage and conservation, architecture, religion, and the contemporary uses of the past.
Alanna is now looking forward to inspiring a new wave of anthropologists through her teaching at Reading.
Growing up in Alberta, Canada, an area with a significant number of First Nations indigenous people, Alanna became interested in how the violence of the colonial past continues to have ripple effects to this day.
In addition to this, Alanna has been aware of diverse cultures around the world, and the ways in which they are depicted and stereotyped through travel literature, storytelling and other means.
“I've always been curious about other cultures around the world, especially in the different foods, arts and folktales that I would read about in books or see on television.”
This interest eventually led Alanna to the discovery of social and cultural anthropology during her undergraduate degree.
“The study of anthropology helped show me how I could better understand both cultural difference and how politics and economics play out in real people's everyday lives."
time in the field
A significant element of anthropology is conducting primary research in and alongside communities. For Alanna, digging deeper into key issues and getting first hand insight was a real eye-opener.
“During my undergraduate degree I travelled to southern Mexico for the first time on an archaeology and anthropology field school. It was my first real experience living outside of my own culture for more than a few days, and at times it was a real shock. I became completely fascinated with the country's culture and history and this is what lead me back to southern Mexico for my own research.”
Anthropological primary research methods include living in a community for long periods of time, participating in activities and getting to know people informally, as well as through interviews. Alanna has spent almost two and half years in small Mexican villages to strengthen her research and understanding.
“My research has involved interviewing and spending time with foreign tourists, art collectors, government officials, heritage experts, priests and other people from Mexico so that I can get a good sense of all the different perspectives on the issues that I study."
Alanna's valuable time in the field provided her with the unique insight needed to publish a book on the aesthetics and practices of woodcarving in Mexico - the result of over ten years of research and writing.
“My research has been used by organisations such as the World Crafts Council and I have also worked with a researcher at Mexico's National Institute for Industrial Property on issues of cultural appropriation in craft and fashion design.”
bringing experience into teaching
Alanna's research feeds into the modules she teaches at Reading, meaning students get first-hand insight into global issues of importance today.
"In my Part 1 module, World Cultures: An Introduction to Social Anthropology, we discuss contemporary practices and experiences of religion and witchcraft, which is something that my current project deals with. We also discuss exchange and economics, which I investigated through my earlier work on Mexican art markets.
"My Part 3 module, The Anthropology of Heritage and Cultural Property is more directly connected to my research, as it deals with issues of heritagisation, cultural tourism and cultural appropriation, all of which are topics that I have researched and written about for many years."
At Reading, students will study anthropology with archaeology; meaning they are a member of a supportive and collaborative international community of students, staff, and alumni.
“Our students are fully part of life in the Department of Archaeology. Our staff share thematic and regional interests, which leads to a high level of engagement and cohesion across modules. Anthropology modules are open to all students in the School and the University more widely, so students come with a wide variety of interests and backgrounds.”
why study anthropology
"Studying anthropology will give you an opportunity to learn about the amazing diversity of cultures and perspectives around the world: all of the different ways that we as human beings understand and experience our families, gender, relationships of power, our changing climates and our needs and desires.
"But more importantly, anthropology gives you a set of analytical skills through which you can make sense of the world as it changes around you. The ability to look at a political, economic or social situation and understand its complex relationships with other parts of society and the physical world is something that is undeniably important today."