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The Anthropologist - What is Anthropology?

Updated on December 30, 2011

What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of humans - their culture (way of life), where they came from, comparing and contrasting different cultures, societies and languages. Anthropology is interesting because it studies where did we came from as Homo Sapiens plus what characteristics defines the human being.

Anthropology gives an explanation and describe how we behave using different approaches - biology, archeology, linguistics and social anthropology. One of the subject matter of anthropology is providing answers to the question what aspect in our past affect the way of life and our social organizations?Anthropology is under social sciences or liberal arts. In some universities, physical anthropology and cultural anthropology can be found in the same department but separated usually by rooms. An anthropologist is the one who specializes or studies anthropology. You can get a college and a graduate degree in Anthropology.

The Anthropologist

An anthropologist is the one who studies the above mentioned concerns or field of study within anthropology. Since we will know (look at the discussions below) later on that there are four main divisions of anthropology, an anthropologist could be studying any or a combination of it.

The Anthropology Song

What Makes Anthropology Interesting?

What makes anthropology interesting is the capacity to understand culture and make you more “understand” other culture. That makes one respect other culture and avoid the greatest sin in anthropology - being ethnocentric - the belief that ones culture is the more superior than others. It make a person accepting, so to speak.

Aside from this, when one knows the basic understanding and appreciation of culture study you will appreciate other people more. Even just sitting down at a café and observing how people do their things is an example of methods in anthropology.

This image was that of  Tui Manu'a Elisala -- "the last sovereign of Manu'a Islands in the American Samoa" from wikipedia
This image was that of Tui Manu'a Elisala -- "the last sovereign of Manu'a Islands in the American Samoa" from wikipedia

The Method of Research in Anthropology

  • Fieldwork - is the method of data gathering in which one goes to the field and conduct a research or investigation. This is called “participatory observation” - this can be done either by living in the community or joining the people you are observing and jotting down your everyday experiences. There is ethical consideration involve here. This is also termed as ethnography, case report or field study which main aim is to get an empirical data in a certain place.
  • Another way of doing fieldwork is just observing what the people are doing in a certain setting, for example sitting down at a café and observe the activities of the people going there - what did they order, how long they stayed, social status of people going there etc. Then you can write or jot down your observation.
  • For some aspect of anthropology, like biological anthropology they usually apply their knowledge learn in carbon dating when they go to an excavation site etc. They also use biological theories

Interview - Another methods in data gathering used in anthropology is the in depth interview of people who are in a specific culture or their account of their lives.

The different branches of anthropology

There are four various fields in anthropology : biological, social or cultural, linguistics and archeology. Social or cultural anthropology uses the structuralist approach in which behavior is explained in structures of society, while the rest use more positivist ways of research using or borrowing some methods of scientific researches. Forensic anthropology is widely used in investigative works.

  • Cultural Anthropology or sometimes referred to as Social Anthropology is the field of anthropology which deals with human culture. It is the study of behavior of humans across history and in a society. The methods used in social anthropology is fieldwork or participant observation. Kinship, social organization are some subjects of social anthropology.
  • Biological Anthropology : is the field of study in which the main concern is the race and differentiation of humans by geographical area. It largely used the methods pf biology by studying differentiation in race. They are also studying human ecology - which uses the human evolution theories to study the differentiation among humans. It is also related to social biology.
  • Archeology - is the field of study which studies the remnants of civilizations and thus such they cam tell the way of life of culture of people way back then. They divide the time starting from the Paleolithic era. In short archeology investigates the remnants and objects of humans which define their way of life.
  • Linguistics Anthropology is simply the study of human linguistics across times and society concentrating on verbal and non verbal ways of communications to ascertain what is the relationship between culture and language.

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