When people find out that my educational background and most of my research interests are in anthropology, I often get looks of confusion. "Then why are you... ?" questions hang in the air. The answer, "Because you're clueless," seems so obvious to the other person that they rarely formulate the question out loud.
That's probably a good thing most of the time, because I'm not sure I have a good answer most of the time. When it comes to, "Then why are you writing?" I actually do have a good answer. In fact, I have a lot of good answers. Some of them are the obvious sort of appeal to an interest in the human experience. Some of them are a little more precise.
One of the most important things to me about anthropology is the anthropological method, which has researchers moving from an outside observer's descriptive stand-point toward an insider's experiential perspective. Both are important, and both most be included.
This anthropological approach has really come to define how I engage with people. I try to move from the description and analysis that I can do on the outside to come closer to an understanding of their real experience. That's nearly impossible to do with real people, one-on-one in the context of daily interaction. One of the things that I get personally out of writing is a chance to do just this thing. Developing characters in writing is my chance to take those external descriptives to create a model of a person and then I toss a narrative at them to get an idea of how they actually experience things. It's one of the reasons why I've come to enjoy writing in the first person so much, and why I place such value on voice.
It's not really the same thing as doing anthropology, but it's close enough to get me by.