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Anthropology Is the study of the origins, evolution, and development of human

beings and their various cultures and societies.

Four subdisciplines bridge science and humanities:

Physical Anthropology



Cultural Anthropology

Physical or Biological Anthropolog In seeking to understand human variation,

adaptation, and change, physical anthropologists study many forms of life, human
and nonhuman, past and present. This field deals with topics ranging from
evolutionary theory to the human fossil record and the identification of human
skeletal remains from crime scenes and accidents.

Genetics, anatomy, animal and human behavior, ecology, nutrition, and forensics
are subject areas included in this field. Many physical anthropologists do research
on animals other than humans in order to understand human origins or to use them
as models for understanding contemporary human behavior.

Physical Anthropology

Primarily concerned with humans as a biological species

Most closely related to natural sciences

Major research areas:

Human evolution

Modern human variation


Palaeoanthropology, primatology, forensics, palaeopathology, human

osteology, genetics

Archaeology - This field is devoted to studying the lifeways of past cultures by

examining material remains. Data include stone and bone tools, skeletal material,
remains of buildings, and refuse such as pot shards and coprolites.

Archaeologists seek out and examine the artifacts (material products) of past

Archaeology is not treasure-hunting (a la Indiana Jones).

Subdisciplines of archaeology:

Prehistoric, historic, Classical, Biblical, underwater

Modern trash

Linguistic Anthropology Linguistic anthropology is the study of how language

influences social life. It 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. It 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

Subfield of anthropology, philosophy, and English

Main research areas:

How language is used

Relationship between language and culture

How humans acquire language

Fields of linguistics:

Structural, historical, sociolinguistics

What is Cultural Anthropology? It is devoted to studying how cultures differ

from or resemble one another, and why, and how different cultures influence each

Cultural Anthropology encompasses all aspects of human behavior and beliefs. Its
subject matter includes making a living and distributing goods and services,
reproduction and group formation, political patterns, religious systems, forms of
communication, and expressive aspect of culture such as art, dance, and music.

Sometimes known as ethnology, cultural anthropology examines

contemporary societies and cultures throughout the world.

Participant observation:


Ethnographic data

Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging another society by the values and
standards of ones own society.

Cultural relativism is the view that cultural traditions must be understood

within the context of a particular societys responses to problems and

Ethnography studies people, ethnic groups and other ethnic formations, their
ethnogenesis, composition, resettlement, social welfare characteristics, as well as
their material and spiritual culture.

Ethnographic studies are usually holistic. Ethnography has connections to genres as

diverse as travel writing, colonial office reports, the play and the novel.

Ethnology is the study of a particular topic in more than one culture using
ethnographic material. Ethnologists have compared such topics marriage forms,
economic practices, religious beliefs, and childrearing practices in order to discover
patterns of similarity and variation and possible causes for them.

Cultural Relativism is the idea that each culture must be understood in terms of
its own values and beliefs and not by the standards of another culture. Cultural
relativism assumes that no culture is better than any other.

The values of one culture should not be used as standards to evaluate the
behavior of persons from outside that culture; a societys custom and beliefs
should by described objectively.

Modern approach: We should strive for objectivity and not be too quick to
judge; however, there are some moral absolutes that are removed from

Ethnocentrism is judging other cultures by the standards of ones own culture

rather than by the standards of that particular culture. Ethnocentric views have
fueled centuries of efforts at changing other people in the world, sometimes in the
guise of religious missionizing and sometimes in the form of colonial domination.

Cultural imperialism happens when one dominant group claims supremacy over
minority cultures and proceeds to change the situation in its own interests and at
the expense of the other cultures.

Absolute cultural relativism states that whatever goes on in a particular

culture must not be questioned or changed because no one has the right to
question any behavior or idea anywhere.

Valuing and Sustaining Diversity Cultural anthropologists regret the decline

and extinction of different cultures. Anthropologists contribute to the preservation of
cultural diversity by describing cultures as they have existed, as they now exist, and
as they change.

Contemporary Debates

Biological Determinism versus Cultural Constructionism

Biological determinism gives priority to such biological features as

peoples genes and hormones in explaining human behavior and ideas.

Cultural constructionism says that human behavior and ideas are best
explained as products of culturally shaped learning.

Ideationism versus Cultural Materialism

Ideationism is a perspective that focuses on understanding culture by

studying what people think about, their interpretation of their lives, and the
meanings that are important to them.

Cultural materialism attempts to learn about culture by first examining the

material aspects of life: the natural environment and how people make a
living within particular environments.

Individual Agency versus Structurism

In individual agency, the individual is supposed to be able to choose how to

behave and think.

Structurism emphasizes that free choice is an illusion since choices are

structured by larger forces such as the economy, social and political
organization, and ideological systems.

The Concept of Culture 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. (Sir Edward Burnett Tylor)

- A culture is the total socially acquired life-way or life-style of a group of people.

It consists of the patterned repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that
are characteristic of the members of a particular society or segment of society.
(Marvin Harris)

Microculture refers to distinct patterns of learned and shared behavior and

ideas found in localized regions and particular groups.

Macroculture refers to shared and learned ways of behaving and thinking

that cross local boundaries, such as a sense of national culture that some
government seek to promote to enhance unity, or the global consumer
culture that pervades upper-middle and upper-class groups transnationally.
Characteristics of Culture

Culture Is Adaptive

The ways of making a living and providing food and shelter, human
cultures that promote certain forms of social organization, intergroup
communication, and even leisure behaviour are adaptive within their
contexts. In many ways, culture is humanitys most powerful strategy
for survival.

Culture Is Not the Same as Nature





(Requirement for shelter and clothing vary depending on the climate). Natural
demands are such that, if they are not met in a certain time period, a person will
die. Thus nature dictates that in all cultures, people will eat, drink, sleep and

Culture Is Based on Symbols

The making of money, creating art, or practicing religion are all based
on symbols.

Culture Is Learned

Cultures Are Integrated

Cultures Interact and Change

Multiple Cultural Worlds

Class refers to a category based on peoples economic position in society

usually measured in terms of income or wealth and exhibited in terms of

Race refers to bounded groups of people distinguished by selected

biological traits.

Ethnicity refers to a sense of group affiliation based on a distinct heritage or

worldview as a people.
Gender refers to patterns of culturally constructed and learned behaviors
and ideas attributed to males, females, or sometimes a blended or third


Institutions enduring group settings formed for a particular purpose, have

their own characteristic microcultures.