Anthropology /ænθrɵˈpɒlədʒi/ is the "science of humanity."
It has origins in the humanities,
the natural sciences, and the social sciences.
The term "anthropology" is from the Greek
anthrōpos (ἄνθρωπος), "man", understood to mean humankind or humanity, and -logia (-λογία),
"discourse" or "study."
Since the work of Franz Boas and Bronisław Malinowski in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, anthropology has been distinguished from other social sciences by its emphasis on in-
depth examination of context, cross-cultural comparisons, and the importance it places on
participant-observation, or long-term, experiential immersion in the area of research. Cultural
anthropology in particular has emphasized cultural relativism, holism, and the use of findings to
frame cultural critiques.
This has been particularly prominent in the United States, from Boas's
arguments against 19th-century racial ideology, through Margaret Mead's advocacy for gender
equality and sexual liberation, to current criticisms of post-colonial oppression and promotion of
multiculturalism. Ethnography is one of its primary methods as well as the text that is generated
from anthropological fieldwork.
In the United States, the discipline is traditionally divided into four sub-fields: cultural
anthropology, archaeology, linguistic anthropology, and biological anthropology. In Europe, the
discipline originated as ethnology and was originally defined as the study of social organization
in non-state societies. It was later renamed social anthropology. It is now sometimes referred to
as sociocultural anthropology in most of Europe, the Commonwealth, and in the parts of the
world that were influenced by the European tradition.
Archaeology, or archeology
(from Greek ἀρχαιολογία, archaiologia – ἀρχαῖος, arkhaios,
"ancient"; and -λογία, -logia, "-logy
"), is the study of human activity in the past, primarily
through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they
have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes (the
archaeological record). Because archaeology employs a wide range of different procedures, it
can be considered to be both a science and a humanity,
and in the United States it is
thought of as a branch of anthropology,
although in Europe it is viewed as a separate
Archaeology studies human prehistory and history from the development of the first stone
tools in eastern Africa 3.4 million years ago up until recent decades.
(Archaeology does not
include the discipline of paleontology.) It is of most importance for learning about prehistoric
societies, when there are no written records for historians to study, making up over 99% of
total human history, from the Palaeolithic until the advent of literacy in any given society.
Archaeology has various goals, which range from studying human evolution to cultural
evolution and understanding culture history.
The discipline involves surveyance, excavation and eventually analysis of data collected to
learn more about the past. In broad scope, archaeology relies on cross-disciplinary research.
It draws upon anthropology, history, art history, classics, ethnology, geography,
linguistics, semiology, physics, information sciences, chemistry, statistics,
paleoecology, paleontology, paleozoology, paleoethnobotany, and paleobotany.
Archaeology developed out of antiquarianism in Europe during the 19th century, and has
since become a discipline practiced across the world. Since its early development, various
specific sub-disciplines of archaeology have developed, including maritime archaeology,
feminist archaeology and archaeoastronomy, and numerous different scientific techniques
have been developed to aid archaeological investigation. Nonetheless, today, archaeologists
face many problems, ranging from dealing with pseudoarchaeology to the looting of artifacts
and opposition to the excavation of human remains.
Biological anthropology (also known as bioanthropology
and physical anthropology) is a
branch of anthropology that studies the physical development of the human species. It plays an
important part in paleoanthropology (the study of human origins), bioarchaeology (the study of
past populations), and in forensic anthropology (the analysis and identification of human remains
for legal purposes). It draws upon human anthropometrics (body measurements), human genetics
(molecular anthropology), human osteology (the study of bones) and includes
neuroanthropology, the study of human brain evolution, and of culture as neurological adaptation
In two centuries biological anthropology has been involved in a range of controversies. The
quest for human origins was accompanied by the evolution debate and various racial theories.
The nature and nurture debate became a political battleground. There have been various attempts
to correlate human physique with psychological traits such as intelligence, criminality and
personality type, many of which proved themselves mistaken and are now obsolete.
The nomenclature of the field is not exact: the relevant subdivision of the American
Anthropological Association is the Biological Anthropology Section while the principal
professional organization is the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. The term
"biological anthropology" emerged with the rise of genetics and incorporates genetic markers as
well as primate ethology.
Paleoanthropology, the study of fossil evidence for human evolution, studying hominid
fossil evidence and dating to determine matters such as the time and manner in which the
mandible evolved, the effect of nature and environment on bipedality or the use of
opposable thumb, with hominid classification and the individual naming of the proposed
species and their place in primatology, the study of primates.
Human behavioral ecology, the study of behavioral adaptations (foraging, reproduction,
ontogeny) from the evolutionary and ecologic perspectives, (see behavioral ecology).
Human adaptation, the study of human adaptive responses (physiologic, developmental,
genetic) to environmental stresses and variation.
Human biology, an interdisciplinary field of biology, biological anthropology, nutrition
and medicine, concentrates upon international, population-level perspectives on health,
evolution, adaptation and population genetics.
Bioarchaeology the combination of human osteology or the study of human bones with
archaeology or the mortuary context where the bones are recovered.
Paleopathology, the study of disease in antiquity. This study focuses not only on
pathogenic conditions observable in bones or mummified soft tissue, but also on
nutritional disorders, variation in stature or the morphology of bones over time, evidence
of physical trauma, or evidence of occupationally derived biomechanic stress.
Forensic anthropology, the application of osteology, paleopathology, archaeology, and
other anthropological techniques for the identification of modern human remains or the
reconstruction of events surrounding a person's death.
Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural
variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political
processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including
participant observation, interviews and surveys. Their research is often called fieldwork
because it involves the anthropologist spending an extended period of time at the research
One of the earliest articulations of the anthropological meaning of the term "culture" came
from Sir Edward Tylor who writes on the first page of his 1897 book: ―Culture, or
civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes
knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by
man as a member of society.‖
The term "civilization" later gave way to definitions by V.
Gordon Childe, with culture forming an umbrella term and civilization becoming a particular
kind of culture.
The anthropological concept of "culture" reflects in part a reaction against earlier Western
discourses based on an opposition between "culture" and "nature", according to which some
human beings lived in a "state of nature".
Anthropologists have argued that
culture is "human nature", and that all people have a capacity to classify experiences, encode
classifications symbolically (i.e. in language), and teach such abstractions to others.
Since humans acquire culture through the learning processes of enculturation and
socialization, people living in different places or different circumstances develop different
cultures. Anthropologists have also pointed out that through culture people can adapt to their
environment in non-genetic ways, so people living in different environments will often have
different cultures. Much of anthropological theory has originated in an appreciation of and
interest in the tension between the local (particular cultures) and the global (a universal
human nature, or the web of connections between people in distinct
The rise of cultural anthropology occurred within the context of the late 19th century, when
questions regarding which cultures were "primitive" and which were "civilized" occupied the
minds of not only Marx and Freud, but many others. Colonialism and its processes
increasingly brought European thinkers in contact, directly or indirectly with "primitive
The relative status of various humans, some of whom had modern advanced
technologies that included engines and telegraphs, while others lacked anything but face-to-
face communication techniques and still lived a Paleolithic lifestyle, was of interest to the
first generation of cultural anthropologists.
Parallel with the rise of cultural anthropology in the United States, social anthropology, in
which sociality is the central concept and which focuses on the study of social statuses and
roles, groups, institutions, and the relations among them, developed as an academic discipline
in Britain. An umbrella term socio-cultural anthropology makes reference to both cultural
and social anthropology traditions.
Linguistic anthropology is the interdisciplinary study of how language influences social life. It
is a branch of anthropology that originated from the endeavor to document endangered
languages, and has grown over the past 100 years to encompass almost any aspect of language
structure and use.
Linguistic anthropology explores how language shapes communication, forms social identity and
group membership, organizes large-scale cultural beliefs and ideologies, and develops a common
cultural representation of natural and social worlds.
Main article: Anthropological linguistics
The first paradigm was originally referred to as "linguistics", although as it and its surrounding
fields of study matured it came to be known as "anthropological linguistics". The field was
devoted to themes unique to the subdiscipline—linguistic documentation of languages then seen
as doomed to extinction (these were the languages of native North America on which the first
members of the subdiscipline focused) such as:
Typological classification (see typology), and
The unresolved issue of linguistic relativity (associated with Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee
Whorf but actually brought to American linguistics by Franz Boas working within a theoretical
framework going back to European thinkers from Vico to Herder to Humboldt). The so-called
Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis is perhaps a misnomer insofar as the approach to science taken by
these two differs from the positivist, hypothesis-driven model of science. In any case, it was
Harry Hoijer (Sapir's student) who coined the term.
Dell Hymes was largely responsible for launching the second paradigm that fixed the name
"linguistic anthropology" in the 1960s, though he also coined the term "ethnography of
speaking" (or "ethnography of communication") to describe the agenda he envisioned for the
field. It would involve taking advantage of new developments in technology, including new
forms of mechanical recording.
A new unit of analysis was also introduced by Hymes. Whereas the first paradigm focused on
ostensibly distinct "languages" (scare quotes indicate that contemporary linguistic
anthropologists treat the concept of "a language" as an ideal construction covering up
complexities within and "across" so-called linguistic boundaries), the unit of analysis in the
second paradigm was new—the "speech event." (The speech event is an event defined by the
speech occurring in it—a lecture, for example—so that a dinner is not a speech event, but a
speech situation, a situation in which speech may or may not occur.) Much attention was devoted
to speech events in which performers were held accountable for the form of their linguistic
performance as such.
Hymes also pioneered a linguistic anthropological approach to ethnopoetics.
Hymes had hoped to link linguistic anthropology more closely with the mother discipline. The
name certainly stresses that the primary identity is with anthropology, whereas "anthropological
linguistics" conveys a sense that the primary identity of its practitioners was with linguistics,
which is a separate academic discipline on most university campuses today (not in the days of
Boas and Sapir). However, Hymes' ambition in a sense backfired; the second paradigm in fact
marked a further distancing of the subdiscipline from the rest of anthropology.
Social Anthropology is one of the four or five branches of anthropology that studies how
contemporary human beings behave in social groups. Practitioners of social anthropology
investigate, often through long-term, intensive field studies (including participant observation
methods), the social organization of a particular person: customs, economic and political
organization, law and conflict resolution, patterns of consumption and exchange, kinship and
family structure, gender relations, childbearing and socialization, religion, and so on.
Social anthropology also explores the role of meanings, ambiguities and contradictions of social
life, patterns of sociality, and the underlying logics of social behavior. Social anthropologists are
trained in the interpretation of narrative, ritual and symbolic behavior, not merely as text, but
with communication examined in relation to action, practice, and the historical context in which
it is embedded. Social anthropologists address the diversity of positions and perspectives to be
found within any social group.
Social Anthropology is the dominant constituent of Anthropology throughout the United
Kingdom and Commonwealth and much of Europe, where it is distinguished from Cultural
In the USA Social Anthropology is commonly subsumed within cultural
anthropology or under the relatively new designation of sociocultural anthropology, which first
appeared in the literature in the 1950s, and has more frequently appeared since the late 1960s.
Today both social and cultural anthropologists, and some who integrate the two, are found in
most institutes of anthropology. Thus the formal names of institutional units no longer
necessarily reflect fully the content of the disciplines these cover. Some, such as the Institute of
Social and Cultural Anthropology
(Oxford) changed their name to reflect the change in
composition, others, such as Social Anthropology at the University of Kent
Anthropology. Most retain the name under which they were founded.