Anthropology, or “the science of mankind,” is the study of human beings. It studies them in areas spanning from biology and evolutionary history to social and cultural characteristics. Anthropology has evolved into a collection of increasingly specialised areas, particularly since the mid-twentieth century.
Branches of Anthropology
Cultural anthropology is the primary branch of anthropology that describes culture in all of its facets. It is founded on the gathering, analysis, and explanation (or interpretation) of primary data from long-term ethnographic field research. Culture-and-personality studies, cultural history, cultural ecology, cultural materialism, ethnohistory, and historical anthropology are all offshoots of this field. These subdisciplines use methodologies of the sciences and the humanities in a variety of ways. Cultural anthropology has evolved into a family of methods centred on the idea of culture.
The concept of culture has long been a source of contention. Edward Burnett Tylor’s 1871 definition is the first and most frequently quoted:
In its broad anthropological definition, culture or civilization is that complex totality that encompasses knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, tradition, and any other capacities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.
This definition highlights three points of lasting importance. For starters, it uses the terms culture and civilisation interchangeably. Second, it focuses on ethnography. Third, it emphasises what is acquired via social interaction rather than what is inherited physically.
Social Anthropology is a comprehensive study of the manner in which people live in different social and diversified cultural settings around the world. Societies differ in the way they are organized, their cultural traditions, religious practices, political and different economic arrangements. Social anthropologists and experts devote their skills to studying diversification, with the notion of contributing their best to a wider understanding of what it can be and is to be a – the binding that unites all human beings, and also makes everyone diverse.
Linguistic anthropology is an interdisciplinary study of language as a cultural resource and speaking as a cultural practise. It posits that the human language faculty is a cognitive and social accomplishment that offers intellectual tools for thinking and acting in the world. Its investigation must be accompanied by meticulous documentation of what speakers say as they go about their everyday social activities. This documentation is based on participant observation as well as additional approaches such as audiovisual recording, annotated transcription, and participant interviews.
Linguistic anthropology, being an interdisciplinary subject, has frequently been drawn on and contributed to the development of various theoretical frameworks. Some of its own history may be seen in the oscillation that occurs between a variety of words that are not usually synonyms: linguistic anthropology, anthropological linguistics, ethnolinguistics, and sociolinguistics. Its primary areas of study have shifted over time, from an almost complete focus on the recording of aboriginal language grammar to an examination of the uses of speaking in everyday contact and over a life span.
Psychological anthropology focuses on the mind, body, and subjectivity of the person through whom culture and society are actualized in their lives and experiences. There is no coherent theoretical or methodological agreement within this vast area, but rather intense disputes over the relative relevance of culture vs individual psychology in determining human behaviour and about the universality versus the intrinsic diversity of human life. The discipline brings together a variety of divergent research traditions and intellectual objectives, but it also provides a forum for serious debate regarding the existence of a shared human nature.
Because of its emphasis on the human who lives and embodies culture, psychological anthropological literature is frequently based on the study of one or a few real people. Such “person-centered” ethnography adds to a schematic perspective of cultural and social systems by describing and evoking the experience of participating in such a system.
Archaeology is primarily a historical discipline, with the broad goals of recreating, interpreting, and comprehending past human cultures. In the effort to create history, archaeologists find themselves associated (often simultaneously) with practitioners of the scientific sciences, social sciences, and humanities.
Archaeologists use analytic tools from a variety of scientific fields, including botany, chemistry, computer science, ecology, evolutionary biology, genetics, geology, and statistics, to recover and interpret the material remnants of previous human activity. However, archaeologists, like historians, try to recreate the events and processes that created and altered ancient civilizations, as well as, to the greatest extent possible, comprehend how those events and processes were viewed and impacted by humans.
The primary distinction between archaeology and history is the source of knowledge utilised to recreate and interpret the past. Historians focus on the evidence of written texts, but archaeologists investigate all elements of a society’s material culture—its architecture, art, and artefacts, including texts—the actual things produced, used, and discarded by humans.
As a result, unlike history, archaeology considers all previous human cultures, whether preliterate (prehistoric), nonliterate, or literate. Archaeology’s immediate purpose is to reconstruct the material world of previous civilizations as completely as possible; archaeology’s ultimate goal is to understand the historical relevance and cultural meaning of that material world.
Physical anthropology studies the origin, evolution, and variety of human beings. Human and nonhuman primate evolution, human diversity and its importance, and the biological underpinnings of human behaviour are three important areas of study for physical anthropologists. Physical anthropologists examine previous populations of fossil hominins as well as nonhuman primates to explain the variety within and between human groups. Physical anthropologists gather genetic and anthropometric data to learn more about not just the groups that live on the planet, but also the people that make up those groups.
Paleoanthropology, often known as Human Paleontology, is an interdisciplinary discipline of anthropology concerned with the origins and evolution of early humans. Physical anthropology, comparative anatomy, and evolutionary theory are used to evaluate fossils. Archaeology and ethnology methods are used to identify artefacts such as bone and stone tools and evaluate their relevance for the physical and mental development of early people. The ability to date fossils using geologic layers, chemical testing, or radioactive decay rates necessitates understanding of the physical sciences.
Other than modern humans, primatology is the study of the primate order of animals (Homo sapiens). The species is distinguished by advanced development of binocular vision, specialisation of gripping appendages, and expansion of the brain hemispheres.
The study of heredity in general, and of genes in particular, is known as genetics. It is a crucial part of biology and blends in several fields into agriculture, medicine, and biotechnology. Knowledge of human variability requires an understanding of inherited characteristics in individuals as well as the activities of the genes responsible for them in populations. Although blood types were initially the most studied molecular features, many other molecular properties, notably DNA sequences, have been studied. The data combined with linguistic and in-depth archaeological evidence helps to resolve several queries about the population across continents and archipelagoes.
Human Ecology is the study of man’s relationships with nature in various civilizations. It integrates concepts and methodologies from several disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, biology, economic history, and archaeology. Problems with population composition, size, and stability are significant in a variety of ways. The variable pace of change that may occur in populations of various sizes is an obvious concern. Small populations, in theory, are more vulnerable to random fluctuations than big ones. Population numbers are influenced by both the natural environment and the economics of a given civilization. Human physiological adaptations to high-altitude, dry, cold, and other settings, as well as nutrition and epidemiological research, have demonstrated exactly how adaptable and susceptible people are.
The discipline of bioarcheology combines thorough knowledge of diverse cultural features and artifacts with an in-depth understanding of the disciplines of paleonutrition, paleopathology, and the discrete traits detectable from skeletons. These data then tests hypotheses about disparate mortality, various population counts, wars, social stature, political beliefs, and other demographic, epidemiological, and social phenomena relevant to past societies.
Anthropometry is the measuring of human beings. It was an early physical anthropological tool that was used for identification, studying human physical diversity, paleoanthropology, and other attempts to connect physical with racial and psychological characteristics.
Forensics is a sub branch of physical anthropology that includes the study of skeletal analysis and usage of archaeological techniques to solve criminal cases. The forensic experts study hard tissues like bones.
Applied anthropologists, sometimes known as practical anthropologists, play an essential role in the field of anthropology. The experts of applied anthropologists use anthropological methods and concepts to tackle real-world issues. They may, for example, work with local communities to assist in the resolution of health, education, or environmental issues. The experts may also work for museums or national or state parks, interpreting history. They might work for the municipal, state, or federal governments, as well as for non-profit groups. Others may work with organisations such as retail stores or software and technology firms to learn more about how people utilise items or technology in their everyday lives.
Special Fields of Anthropology
Anthropological Study of Religion
The comparative study of religions in their cultural, social, historical, and material settings is known as anthropology of religion. Religious anthropologists are not interested in determining whether religion is true or untrue. They are more curious about how religious beliefs represent a person’s cosmology. Many people examine rituals that use symbols and see how they frequently assist to bring communities together during times of crisis or important events on the calendar. The acts of religious professionals, such as priests, prophets, shamans, and spirit mediums, are likewise scrutinised. Such professionals have major political, economic, and religious responsibilities in many civilizations.
The study of cultural systems and identities in cities, as well as the many political, social, economic, and cultural influences that affect urban forms and processes, is known as urban anthropology. Interest in urban concerns arose as a result of anthropological interest in peasants and rural regions. Anthropologists examined spatially restricted groups such as ghettos, ethnic neighbourhoods, and “urban villages” using research methodologies established for and through studies of tiny tribes and other civilizations. The majority of urban anthropological studies focused on social issues.
The study of how health and sickness are shaped, experienced, and understood in the context of global, historical, and political influences is known as medical anthropology. It is one of anthropology’s most fascinating subfields, with growing significance for students and professionals interested in the complexities of illness states, diagnostic categories, and what constitutes pathology or health.
Anthropology Study of Food
Food anthropology is a branch of anthropology that links ethnographic and historical perspectives with present social concerns in food production and consumption systems. Food’s tangible and metaphorical value, as well as how it interacts, have been studied. Food as a means of difference, commensality, and the function of food in industrialization and globalising labour and commodity networks are examples of recurring topics.
Environmental anthropology is a subfield of anthropology that actively investigates the links between humans and their environments throughout place and time.
The application of anthropological concepts to the interdisciplinary field of development studies is referred to as development anthropology. It prioritises international development and international help.
Visual anthropology is the study of visual occurrences in culture and society. It is also the practise of anthropology using visual media. Although it has been associated with anthropology from the mid-to-late nineteenth century, it has not yet achieved the stature of a subdiscipline with its own set of ideas and techniques. In a historical sense, it refers to a collection of various interests and practises, particularly of visual data, film and photography as important tools in field research. It also relates to the offering of anthropological ideas through visual media, pedagogical and additional public interest applications in education, museums, and commercial and public media.
Ethnomusicology has been characterised as the study of music in its social and cultural context. It is derived from the Greek word ethnos, which means “study of community music.”
Ethnomusicology is a hybrid of anthropology and musicology, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, and folklore on the one hand, and musicology, music theory, art history, and literary criticism on the other. Although the study dates back to the late 1800s, the name ethnomusicology wasn’t popular until the 1950s.
Anthropology is different from other human studies in that its practitioners adopt a “holistic” approach to the subject. They believe the idea of “culture” to be important to their research. Furthermore, they take into account all human groups and communities, from today to millions of years ago, spanning civilizations.