Anthropology: a brief summary

What is Anthropology exactly?  Oh so you want to dig dinosaur bones?  Archaeology- that means you’re going to be like Indiana Jones, right? 

Questions like those have plagued my life since declaring an Anthropology major.  To set the record straight and prevent any further confusion, I’m going to briefly explain the four subfields of Anthropology (I say briefly because as a holistic discipline, it is VERY broad)

  1. The first subfield, and perhaps the most well known, is Cultural Anthropology.  Cultural Anthropology is the comparative study of human cultures.  Taking different approaches in studying human cultures, from economic perspectives to kinship perspectives, cultural anthropologists study different cultures by doing ethnography.  Doing ethnography is submersing yourself into a culture and actively participating in that culture to truly understand it.  By participant observation (observing while actively participating to the extent possible), interviews, and other like methods, anthropologists attempt to understand cultural practices and identities. 

2.  The subfield, in my opinion, most related to Cultural Anthropology is Linguistic Anthropology, or the study of human language.  Linguistic Anthropologists study the ways in which language is used in a culture and how components of their language are culturally bound.  By studying the directness or indirectness of language use, language in regards to women, and other such aspects, linguistic anthropologists are understanding culture through language. 

3.  Archaeology is a subfield that studies ancient cultures and lifeways.  By examining material culture, materials found through archaeological methods such as excavation, archaeologists recreate past lifeways of ancient cultures.  Archaeologists generally study prehistoric cultures (before writing), although historic archaeology (writing present) is practiced and utilize a variety of different disciplines, such as geography and geology, to understand ancient civilizations. 

4.  Physical Anthropology, sometimes called biological anthropology, is the subfield which studies human evolution, biological aspects of humans such as genes and biological makeup, and our closest relatives, primates.  In this diverse field, physical anthropologists utilize cultural phenomena to understand human evolution and fossil humans, as well as the cultures of certain primates, such as bonobos and orangs. 


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    mark said,

    as a 30 yr vegan Ive grown to value the views of second wave feminists that point to the gynocentrism of plant based culture. I find some native-american groups rewarding in that regard, recently looking at the Pawnee. Facinating dinamic between the male and female aspects within the tribe, and between that tribe and her neighbors. Very interested in Thai culture as well, do you know the agricultural deities mae po sop{rice mother}mae thalanee{earth mother} mae fie{fire mother}? Could you suggest for me some further reading?

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