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.