Introduction to Anthropology
Anthropology is the systematic study of humans, in all time periods, all geographic locations, and all social contexts. As anthropologists we are interested in understanding what it is that makes us human, what it means to be human in all of these different contexts, and why humans are the many varied ways we are.
- Human Biology – Biological/Physical Anthropology
- Human Societies – Social/Cultural Anthropology
- Products of Past Humans – Archaeology
- Human Communication – Linguistic Anthropology
Often these subfields of anthropology overlap and intersect, and it’s not unusual for modern anthropological studies to combine elements of two or more subfields.
What might biological anthropology tell us about the products of past humans?
What might linguistic anthropology tell us about human societies?
This allows us to look at changes over time (historical), differences and similarities (comparative), and why we see specific behaviours, systems, or biological peculiarities in any particular group (contextual). But, rather than just focusing on one aspect of humanity, we want to see how all of these aspects work together to form the human experience (holistic).
Anthropology investigates the cultural and biological diversity of humans. We start by examining our assumptions, by looking at ways in which other societies and parts of societies differ from ours and from one another. Then, we can look at our own societies and understand what they look like to others and why they are the way they are.
Read Gina Crosley-Corcoran’s short article, Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person, and you’ll get a bit of a sense of both how easy it is to take our own perspective for granted and how complex those divided perspectives can be.
What three words would you use to describe yourself and your place in society to a complete stranger?
What social categories do you think define your identity?
And to do that we employ the scientific method. We systematically observe the world around us, and employ inductive and deductive reasoning to explain our observations and test our hypotheses. In inductive reasoning we work with observations to develop models. In deductive reasoning we use established models to explain new observations. Throughout this process we test our hypotheses and, if the hypotheses stand up to repeated tests, those hypotheses can become reliable theories. If new data proves them wrong, though, we need to rethink the theory to explain the new data.
Can science be truly objective?
How can we be sure of our observations?
Read Alex “Rex” Golub’s opinion piece, Human Nature: It’s Not What You Think, and you’ll see that anthropology is a scientific and practical study of human nature, in ways that many other fields of social science are not.
How would you sell your anthropology experience to a potential employer?