The discipline of anthropology studies humanity. Its origin can be found in the natural, social sciences, as well as humanities. The term itself came from Greek, where anthropos meant mankind and logia meant study or discourse. For the first time the term was used in the beginning of the XVI century by Magnus Hundt, German philosopher. In order to understand the whole complexity of humankind, anthropologists apply knowledge from different disciplines, such as sociology and biology, as well as physics and humanities. The other disciplines, in their turn, cannot get full-scale-view of people without anthropological perspective. The central concern of the discipline is the solution of problems that humans experience. Thus, it is evident that anthropology is a science with strong foundation and highly important problems that have to be solved for the sake of the whole humankind. In what way can it do so and what are the major constituents of this interesting science? What are its origins and what distinguishes the views of cultural and social anthropologists? Answers to these questions can be found in this paper.
Historians of anthropology define two main frameworks, in which empirical anthropology arose: interest in human process viewed through time and interest in comparison between people over space. Both these interests can be traced back to the time of the Classical Greece and Rome. Herodotus was one of the first to formulate the anthropological problems that are still topical as of today (Wolf 1994). The scholars in medieval times also conducted various studies on human variations across space. Among the first anthropologists there also was Abu Rayhan Biruni, who in the XI century described culture and religions of the Indian subcontinent.
The modern anthropology is often seen as the outgrowth of the Age of Enlightenment, as people at that time tried to describe and study the human behavior in detail. In this period of time traditions of history, philology, jurisprudence and sociology evolved into a set of views that can be called the basis of anthropology. Early anthropology was subdivided between non-lineal theorists who supported such ideas as diffusionism and those who supported unilinealism. The latter ones argued that societies around the world passed a common evolutionary process. In the course of the XIX century anthropology became rather independent from the biological, literary and historical fields.
In the United States in the beginning of the XIX century and to the early XX, anthropology was considerably influenced by the Native Americans. Franz Boas was the first to establish academic anthropology in the country, which was opposed to the evolutionary perspective. He based his approach on empirical foundation and wanted to find universal laws. The scientist distinguished various cultures in the world, which have to be studied particularly in order to reach the best result. Since that time anthropology developed greatly and now is one of the main sciences in the world.
Today there are four areas defined in the field of anthropology: sociocultural, linguistic, biological anthropology and archaeology (Wolf 1994). Often these areas overlap, but at the same time they use different techniques and methodologies. Sociocultural anthropology is mainly based on ethnography and examines social practices in different cultures. Its main interest is the way people live and organize their lives, as well as differences and similarities between different cultures, as well as within them. Among the other focuses of anthropology’s attention there are sexuality, gender, class, race and nationality. The main technique used in the sociocultural anthropology is participant observation, which consists in long-term placing of a scientist in the context interesting for the particular research. In this way, it is possible to get first-hand experience of how people solve problems in the given context and what knowledge they use for this purpose (Salzmann 1993). The main topics of concern involve education, work, health, agriculture and development, ecology and environment, and social change.
Biological anthropology, also called physical, is focused on the understanding of the way cultural and biological process cooperate to shape development and growth of people, how people adapt to different situations and what causes early death and various diseases. Biological origins of people, as well as their variation and evolution are also interesting for biological anthropologists (Barth et al. 2005). To understand the above listed phenomena, scientists study primates, prehistoric people, the fossil record, genetics and biology. Anthropologists in this area developed theories of how our planet became populated with people and also made attempts to explain the variation of human geography and race.
Linguistic anthropology first of all aims at understanding the way language influences and reflects social life of people. To do it, scientists study the ways, in which communication patterns are defined by the language practices, how group membership and social identity are formulated and general cultural beliefs are organized. Linguistic anthropology also tries to understand the concepts of inequality, power and social change in particular by observing how they are represented with the help of discourse and language. There are the following subfields of the linguistic anthropology: historical linguistics, which reconstructs past languages, from which the current ones descend; descriptive linguistics, which deals with lexicon and grammars of languages that are unstudied; sociolinguistics, which studies social functions of languages; and ethnolinguistics, which discovers relationship between culture and language.
The last of the four areas of anthropology is archaeology. It is concerned with the study of the deepest prehistory of people by analyzing various material remains. These remains are analyzed in the context of theoretical paradigms, with the help of which it becomes possible to address such topics as social groupings formation, subsistence patterns, interaction with environment and creation of ideologies. It is a comparative science, analyzing basic human continuities over place and time. Archaeologists cooperate with biological anthropologists closely, as well as with physics laboratories, museums and art historians.
Owing to the holistic nature of the anthropological research, the above described branches have widespread practical application in different fields of life. For instance, marketing specialists use anthropological data and tools to find proper placement for advertisements and military men employ this discipline to discern strategic footholds.
Although often there is sociocultural anthropology distinguished, there are certain peculiarities that can define the approaches of cultural and social scientists. Social anthropology is focused around the study of the way people behave in their social groups (Gellner 1998).
Anthropologists here often use field research in order to better understand the social organization of people, which involves all the parts of human life (Salzmann 1993). Bronislaw Malinowski founded the school of social anthropology, in which he stated that culture functioned so as to satisfy the needs of individuals instead of the whole society. Only in this way can the needs of society be met as well. In his view, in order to understand the way society functions, it is necessary to observe the behavior and feelings of people (Stewart 1989). Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown was the founder of the structural functionalism theory, which described the basic concepts of the social structure primitive civilizations had. In his opinion, the main task of social anthropology was the study of primitive societies and defining generalizations about the structure of the society. He considered that institutions were the key to the global social order of society in the same way, as the body organs. Marcel Mauss was a French sociologist who traversed the boundaries between anthropology and sociology. He is well-known for the analysis of such topics as sacrifice, gift exchange and magic, which considerably influenced the science in general and the founder of structural anthropology Claude Levi-Strauss in particular (Geertz 1977).
Cultural anthropology is focused on the cultural variations found in societies. It studies the impact of global political and economic processes on local cultures with the use of different methods, such as interviews, surveys and participant observations (Rosaldo 1993). The cultural anthropology emerged in the XIX century, when scientists were interested in the differences between cultures and tried to distinguish primitive and civilized ones (Gellner 1998). Franz Boas, who was one of the founding fathers of anthropology, promoted cultural anthropology, which in his view had the following fundamentals: the notion of culture was dynamic and fluid; there was a strong commitment to empiricism and ethnographic fieldwork was used for the research purposes. The scientist believed that in order to study a group of people, it is necessary to understand their culture in the local context (Bourgois 2002). So, it is evident that social and cultural anthropologies, although having a lot in common, have different points of focus, the first one – society and the other – culture.
Barth, Fredrik, et al. One Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French, and American anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Print.
Gellner, Ernest. Language and solitude: Wittgenstein, Malinowski, and the Habsburg dilemma. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.
Rosaldo, Renato. Culture and Truth. Beach Press, 1993. Print.
Salzmann, Zdenek. Language, culture, and society: an introduction to linguistic anthropology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993. Print.
Wolf, Eric. “Perilous Ideas: Race, Culture, People.” Current Anthropology 35 (1994): 1-7. Print.
Stewart, J.O. Drinkers, Drummers and Decent Folk: Ethnographic Narratives of Village Trinidad. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989.
Bourgois, Philippe. In search of respect. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1977.