What is Anthropology? – from the American Anthropological Association
Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. To understand the full sweep and complexity of cultures across all of human history, Anthropology draws upon knowledge from the social and biological sciences as well as the humanities and physical sciences. Historically, in the US, anthropologists usually have been trained in one of four areas, socio-cultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics. Often, however, anthropologists integrate the perspectives of several of these areas into their work.
- Sociocultural Anthropology - Sociocultural anthropologists examine patterns and processes of cultural change, with a special interest in how people live in particular places, how they organize, govern, and create meaning. Research in sociocultural anthropology relies on participant observation, which involves placing oneself in the research context for extended periods to gain a first-hand sense of how local knowledge is put to work in grappling with practical problems of everyday life and with basic philosophical problems of knowledge, truth, power, and justice.
- Biological (or Physical) Anthropology - Biological (or physical) anthropologists are interested in human biological origins, evolution and variation. They investigate questions having to do with evolutionary theory, our place in nature, adaptation and human biological variation. Biological anthropologists study other primates (primatology), the fossil record (paleoanthropology), prehistoric people (bioarchaeology), and the biology (health, growth and development) and genetics of living populations. Biological anthropologists want to understand how humans adapt to diverse environments, how biological and cultural processes work together to shape growth, development and behavior, and what causes disease and death.
- Archaeology - Archaeologists study past peoples, from the deepest prehistory to the recent past, through the analysis of material remains, ranging from artifacts and evidence of past environments to architecture and landscapes. Material evidence, such as pottery, stone tools, animal bone, and remains of structures, is examined within the context of theoretical paradigms, to address such topics as the formation of social groupings, ideologies, subsistence patterns, and interaction with the environment. Archaeology is a comparative discipline; it assumes basic human continuities over time and place, but also recognizes that every society is the product of its own unique history and that within every society there are commonalities as well as variation.
Anthropologists are employed in a number of different sectors, from colleges and universities to government agencies, NGOs, businesses, and medicine. Within the university, they teach undergraduate and graduate anthropology, and anthropology in other schools and departments such as business, education, design, allied and public health. Applied anthropologists may work in government agencies, in private businesses, in community organizations, independent research institutes, service organizations, the media or as evaluators or independent consultants for agencies such as the World Bank. More than half of all anthropologists now work in organizations outside the university. Their interesting work may involve building research partnerships, assessing product markets, evaluating policies, developing new educational programs, and testing services to improve community health.