What is Anthropology?
The study of humankind
Anthropology is the holistic study of people and cultures in every corner of the globe, from prehistoric times to the present day.
Anthropologists are interested in anything and everything having to do with humans, including our biology, languages, evolution, migrations, technology, economics, politics, social organization, arts and religions.
Anthropology's major fields of study
Archaeologists seek to understand the lives of people in the past by studying the things they left behind.
Biological anthropologists study the origin and evolution of the human species and how human populations adapt biologically to different environments.
Cultural anthropologists explore the lifeways of communities around the world today.
Linguistic anthropologists focus on the nature, structure and evolution of language, and the critical role it plays in the human experience.
Characteristics of anthropology
Anthropology is a distinctive field of study and perspective on humanity. It is characterized by the following elements:
- Holistic. Anthropology seeks to explore every facet of an issue or topic, making it inherently interdisciplinary.
- A global perspective. Anthropology compares cultures in order to make generalizations and develop theories that apply to all societies in all times and places.
- Evolutionary. Anthropology seeks to discover the origins of humanity and human institutions, and how people and cultures change over time.
- Study of culture. Anthropology explores the learned and shared bodies of knowledge that humans have developed to adapt to their environments.
- Biocultural. Anthropologists study biological as well as cultural factors, seeking to discover relationships between “nature” and “nurture.”
- Fieldwork. Anthropology relies on gathering information through extended periods of intense empirical investigation, which include observation of behaviors, excavation of artifacts and interaction with the peoples of the world.
- A natural science, a social science and one of the humanities. As the anthropologist Eric Wolf said, it is “the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanistic of the sciences.”
- Respect for human diversity. Ruth Benedict, one of the founders of American anthropology, said the mission of anthropology is “to make the world safe for human differences.”