Diversity of Conflict: Anthropological Perspective

Tricia Hepner in Uganda, Africa

Tricia Hepner is the director of a unique program that explores aspects of conflict and disasters in the human experience across three sub-disciplines of anthropology: cultural, biological, and archaeological.

The Disasters, Displacement, and Human Rights Program (DDHR) within the Department of Anthropology draws students from all over the county who are interested in collaborating on cross-disciplinary research projects.

“Simply put, there is no other anthropology program doing what we are doing,” says Hepner, associate professor of anthropology.

Each sub-discipline studies human culture in unique and specific ways. Through the DDHR Program, students and faculty work together to discover answers to global and local issues including migration, displacement, inequality, and human rights violations associated with war. Faculty in the program research issues from food security and environmental sustainability in East Tennessee to examining the spiritual and political significance of improper burials in Uganda, Africa.

“With scientific evidence, we can investigate the big, existential questions about the nature of being human and if we are destined for war and conflict,” Hepner says.

The DDHR Program also impacts how students think about anthropology at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Undergraduate majors are required to take classes in each sub-discipline before choosing a focus for research at the graduate level.

“Our program really demonstrates the value of exploring all the sub-disciplines of anthropology,” Hepner says.

Graduate students in the DDHR Program broaden their training as anthropologists and become more competitive in their field because they are not narrow, technical specialists.

“Our graduates are well-trained, broad-based scholars with critical imaginations and a specific kind of skill set that prepares them for their careers,” Hepner says. “They have the opportunity to see what you can do on a research project when you bring together the sub-disciplines in anthropology.”

Although the program is only three years old, it provides students the unique opportunity to discuss problems about natural and human-made disasters, displacement of people and cultures, and human rights issues from an anthropological perspective.

“We are training researchers who will go on and use the basis of their research to inform policies, interventions, and strategies for dealing with some of the most pressing problems facing the world,” Hepner says. “We are not training people to be humanitarian workers; we are training anthropologists.”