Skip to main content

About Anthropology
About Anthropology

What do we study?

Anthropology is the study of human beings, both physically and culturally, in the past and present, mostly in the non-Western world, mostly through the method of fieldwork.

  • "Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities." (Eric Wolf)
  • "Anthropology is the only discipline that can access evidence about the entire human experience on this planet." (Michael Brian Schiffer)
  • "Anthropology provides a scientific basis for dealing with the crucial dilemma of the world today: how can peoples of different appearance, mutually unintelligible languages, and dissimilar ways of life get along peaceably together?" (Clyde Kluckhohn)
  • "The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences." (Ruth Benedict)

Characteristics of Anthropology

What makes anthropology unique in the way people are studied?

  • Holistic -- Whole approach -- looking at everything about people, studying people both culturally and physically -- a general rather than a specialized approach.
  • Evolutionary -- Studying people during all time periods from the distant past through ancient civilizations to the present.
  • Non-Western Emphasis -- Studying and comparing people all over the world, emphasizing those non-Western cultures (Africa, Middle East, Asia, Australia, Oceania, Latin America, North American Indians, etc.) and ethnic groups that other disciplines tend to de-emphasize.
  • Fieldwork Method -- Studying people mainly through fieldwork (participant observation), the first-hand study of people that requires an anthropologist to live where he/she is doing research, to learn the local language, and to become as much a part of the group as any outsider can.

Subfields of Anthropology

  • Cultural Anthropology --The study of living peoples' ways of life, mostly in the non-Western world, and mostly through fieldwork.
  • Biological/Physical Anthropology --The study of peoples and non-human primates as biological beings both in the past (evolution) and the present.
  • Anthropological Linguistics --The study of languages, mostly non-Western and mostly preliterate, and of the nature of language.
  • Archaeology --The study of past peoples' ways of life, through the excavation and analysis of artifacts.

Applications of Anthropology

  • Academic Anthropology -- The study of any of the above four subfields for the knowledge and insights they provide about humankind.
  • Practicing (Applied) Anthropology --The use of any of the above four subfields to solve peoples' practical, and often pressing, problems.
  • Public Anthropology --The communication of anthropological knoweledge to the public in museums, parks, and other public educations settings.