Anthropology (from the Greek word άνθρωπος = human) consists of the study of humankind (see genus Homo). It is holistic in two senses: it is concerned with all humans at all times, and with all dimensions of humanity. Central to anthropology is the concept of culture and that our species has evolved a universal capacity to conceive of the world symbolically, to teach and learn such symbols socially, and to transform the world (and ourselves) based on such symbols.
In the United States, anthropology is traditionally divided into four fields:
- physical anthropology, which studies primate behavior, human evolution, and population genetics; this field is also sometimes called biological anthropology.
- cultural anthropology, (called social anthropology in the United Kingdom and now often known as socio_cultural anthropology). Areas studied by cultural anthropologists include social networks, social behavior, kinship patterns, law, politics, ideology, religion, beliefs, patterns in production and consumption, exchange, socialization, gender, and other expressions of culture, with strong emphasis on the importance of fieldwork, i.e living among the social group being studied for an extended period of time;
- linguistic anthropology, which studies variation in language across time and space, the social uses of language, and the relationship between language and culture; and
- archaeology, which studies the material remains of human societies. Archaeology itself is normally treated as a separate (but related) field in the rest of the world, although closely related to the anthropological field of material culture, which deals with physical objects created or used within a living or past group as mediums of understanding its cultural values.
More recently, some anthropology programs began dividing the field into two, one emphasizing the humanities and critical theory, the other emphasizing the natural sciences and positivism.
Historical and institutional context
The anthropologist Eric Wolf once characterized anthropology as the most scientific of the humanities, and the most humanistic of the social sciences. Understanding how anthropology developed contributes to understanding how it fits into other academic disciplines.
Contemporary anthropologists claim a number of earlier thinkers as their forebearers and the discipline itself has many sources. However, anthropology can best be understood as an outgrowth of the Age of Enlightenment. It was during this period that Europeans attempted systematically to study human behavior. Traditions of jurisprudence, history, philology and sociology developed during this time and informed the development of the social sciences of which anthropology was a part. At the same time, the romantic reaction to the Enlightenment produced thinkers such as Herder and later Wilhelm Dilthey whose work formed the basis for the culture concept which is central to the discipline.
These intellectual movements in part grappled with one of the greatest paradoxes of modernity: as the world is becoming smaller and more integrated, people's experience of the world is increasingly atomized and dispersed. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels observed in the 1840s:
- All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.
Ironically, this universal interdependence, rather than leading to greater human solidarity, has coincided with increasing racial, ethnic, religious, and class divisions, and new – and to some confusing or disturbing – cultural expressions. These are the conditions of life with which people today must contend, but they have their origins in processes that began in the 16th century and accelerated in the 19th century.
Institutionally anthropology emerged from natural history (expounded by authors such as Buffon). This was the study of human beings - typically people living in European colonies. Thus studying the language, culture, physiology, and artifacts of European colonies was more or less equivalent to studying the flora and fauna of those places. It was for this reason, for instance, that Lewis Henry Morgan could write monographs on both The League of the Iroquois and The American Beaver and His Works. This is also why the material culture of 'civilized' nations such as China have historically been displayed in fine arts museums alongside European art while artifacts from Africa or Native North American cultures were displayed in Natural History Museums with dinosaur bones and nature dioramas. This being said, curatorial practice has changed dramatically in recent years, and it would be wrong to see anthropology as merely an extension of colonial rule and European chauvinism, since its relationship to imperialism was and is complex.
Anthropology grew increasingly distinct from natural history and by the end of the nineteenth century the discipline began to crystallize into its modern form - by 1935, for example, it was possible for T.K. Penniman to write a history of the discipline entitled A Hundred Years of Anthropology. At the time, the field was dominated by 'the comparative method'. It was assumed that all societies passed through a single evolutionary process from the most primitive to most advanced. Non-European societies were thus seen as evolutionary 'living fossils' that could be studied in order to understand the European past. Scholars wrote histories of prehistoric migrations which were sometimes valuable but often also fanciful. It was during this time that Europeans first accurately traced Polynesian migrations across the Pacific Ocean for instance - although some of them believed it originated in Egypt. Finally, the concept of race was actively discussed as a way to classify - and rank - human beings based on inherent biological difference.
In the twentieth century academic disciplines began to organize around three main domains. The "sciences" seeks to derive natural laws through reproducible and falsifiable experiments. The "humanities" reflected an attempt to study different national traditions, in the form of history and the arts, as an attempt to provide people in emerging nation-states with a sense of coherence. The "social sciences" emerged at this time as an attempt to develop scientific methods to address social phenomena, in an attempt to provide a universal basis for social knowledge. Anthropology does not easily fit into one of these categories, and different branches of anthropology draw on one or more of these domains.
Drawing on the methods of the natural sciences as well as developing new techniques involving not only structured interviews but unstructured "participant-observation" – and drawing on the new theory of evolution through natural selection, they proposed the scientific study of a new object: "humankind," conceived of as a whole. Crucial to this study is the concept "culture," which anthropologists defined both as a universal capacity and propensity for social learning, thinking, and acting (which they see as a product of human evolution and something that distinguishes Homo sapiens – and perhaps all species of genus Homo – from other species), and as a particular adaptation to local conditions that takes the form of highly variable beliefs and practices. Thus, "culture" not only transcends the opposition between nature and nurture; it transcends and absorbs the peculiarly European distinction between politics, religion, kinship, and the economy as autonomous domains. Anthropology thus transcends the divisions between the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities to explore the biological, linguistic, material, and symbolic dimensions of humankind in all forms.
Anthropology in the U.S.
Anthropology in the United States was pioniered by staff of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology, such as John Wesley Powell and Frank Hamilton Cushing. Academic Anthropology was established by Franz Boas, who used his positions at Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History to train and develop multiple generations of students. Boasian anthropology was politically active and suspicious of research dictated by the U.S. government or wealthy patrons. It was also rigorously empirical and skeptical of over_generalizations and attempts to establish universal laws. Boas studied immigrant children in order to demonstrate that biological race was not immutable and that humans conduct and behavior was the result of nurture rather than nature.
Drawing on his German roots, he argued that the world was full of distinct 'cultures' rather than societies whose evolution could be measured by how much or how little 'civilization' they had. Boas felt that each culture has to be studied in its particularity, and argued that cross_cultural generalizations like those made in the natural sciences were not possible. In doing so Boas fought discrimination against immigrants, African Americans, and Native North Americans. Many American anthropologists adopted Boas' agenda for social reform, and theories of race continue to be popular targets for anthropologists today.
Boas's first generation of students included Alfred Kroeber, Robert Lowie, and Edward Sapir. All of these scholars produced richly detailed studies which were to first to describe Native North America. In doing so they provided a wealth of details used to attack the theory of a single evolutionary process. Their focus on Native American languages also helped establish linguistics as a truly general science and free it from its historical focus on Indo-European languages.
The publication of Alfred Kroeber's textbook Anthropology marked a turning point in American anthropology. After three decades of amassing material the urge to generalize grew. This was most obvious in the 'Culture and Personality' studies carried out by younger Boasians such as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Influenced by psychoanalytic psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, these authors sought to understand that way that individual personalities were shaped by the wider cultural and social forces in which they grew up. While Culture and Personality works such as Coming of Age in Samoa and The Chrysanthemum and the Sword remain popular with the American public, Mead and Benedict never had the impact on the discipline of anthropology that some expected. While Boas had planned that Ruth Benedict succeed him as chair of Columbia's anthropology department, she was sidelined by Ralph Linton, and Mead was limited to her offices at the ANHM.
Anthropology in Britain
Whereas Boas picked his opponents to pieces through attention to detail, in Britain modern anthropology was formed by rejecting historical reconstruction in the name of a science of society that focused on analyzing how societies held together in the present.
The two most important names in this tradition were Alfred Reginald Radcliffe_Brown and Bronislaw Malinowski, both of whom released seminal works in 1922. Radcliffe_Brown's initial fieldwork in the Andaman Islands was carried out in the old style, but after reading Émile Durkheim he published an account of his research (entitled simply The Andaman Islanders) which drew heavily on the French sociologist. Over time he developed an approach known as structure-functionalism, which focused on how institutions in societies worked to balance out or create an equilibirum in the social system to keep it functioning harmoniously. Malinowski, on the other hand, advocated an unhyphenated 'functionalism' which examined how society functioned to meet individual needs. Malinowski is best known not for his theory, however, but for his detailed ethnography and advances in methodology. His classic Argonauts of the Western Pacific advocated getting 'the native's point of view' and an approach to field work that became standard in the field.
Malinowksi and Radcliffe_Brown's success stem from the fact that they, like Boas, actively trained students and aggresively built up institutions which furthered their programmatic ambitions. This was particularly the case with Radcliffe_Brown, who spread his agenda for 'Social Anthropology' by teaching at universities across the Commonwealth. From the late 1930s until the post_war period a string of monographs and edited volumes appeared which cemented the paradigm of British Social Anthropology. Famous ethnographies include The Nuer by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard and The Dynamics of Clanship Among the Tallensi by Meyer Fortes, while well known edited volumes include African Systems of Kinship and Marriage and African Political Systems.
Anthropology in France
Anthropology in France has a less clear genealogy than the British and American traditions. Most commentators consider Marcel Mauss to be the founder of the French anthropological tradition. Mauss was a member of Durkheim's Annee Sociologique group, and while Durkheim and other examined the state of modern societies, Mauss and his collaborators (such as Henri Hubert and Robert Hertz) drew on ethnography and philology to analyze societies which were not as 'differentiated' as European nation states. In particular, Mauss's Essay on the Gift was to prove of enduring relevance in anthropological studies of exchange and reciprocity.
Throughout the interwar years, French interest in anthropology often dovetailed with wider cultural movements such as surrealism and primitivism which drew on ethnography for inspiration. Marcel Griaule and Michel Leiris are examples of people who combined anthropology with the French avant-garde.
Above all, however, it was Claude Levi-Strauss who helped institutionalize anthropology in France. In addition to the enormous influence his structuralism exerted across multiple disciplines, Levi_Strauss established ties with American and British anthropologists. At the same time he established centers and labratories within France to provide an institutional context within anthropology while training influential students such as Maurice Godelier and Francoise Heritier who would prove influential in the world of French anthropology.
Anthropology after World War Two
Before WWII British 'social anthropology' and American 'cultural anthropology' were still distinct traditions. It was after the war that the two would blend to create a 'sociocultural' anthropology.
In the 1950s and mid 1960s anthropology tended increasingly to model itself after the natural sciences. Some such as Llyd Fallers and Clifford Geertz focused on processes on modernization by which newly independent states could develop. Others, such as Julian Steward and Leslie White focused on how societies evolve and fit their ecological niche - an approach popularized by Marvin Harris. Economic Anthropology as influenced by Karl Polanyi and practiced by Marshall Sahlins and Greg Dalton focused on how traditional economics ignored cultural and social factors. In England, British Social Anthropology's paradigm began to fragment as Max Gluckman and Peter Worsley experimented with Marxism and authors such as Rodney Needham and Edmund Leach incorporated Levi-Strauss's structuralism into their work.
Structuralism also influenced a number of development in 1960s and 1970s, including cognitive anthropology and componential analysis. Authors such as David Schneider, Clifford Geertz, and Marshall Sahlins developed a more fleshed out concept of culture as a web or meaning or signification which proved very popular. In keeping with the times, much of anthropology became politicized through its opposition to the Vietnam War and the Algerian War of Independence and the authors of volumes such as Reinventing Anthropology worried about its relevance and Marxism became more and more popular in the discipline.
In the 1980s issues of power, such as those examined in Eric Wolf's Europe and the People Without History - were central to the discipline. Books like Anthropology and the Colonial Equality pondered anthropology's ties to colonial inequality, while the immense popularity of authors such as Antonio Gramsci and Michel Foucault moved issues of power and hegemony into the spotlight. Gender and sexuality became a popular topic, as did the relationship between history and anthropology, influenced by Marshall Sahlins (again) who drew on Levi-Strauss and Fernand Braudel to examine the relationship between cultural structure and individual agency.
In the late 1980s and 1990s authors such as George Marcus and James Clifford pondered ethnographic authority and how and why anthropological knowledge was possible and authoritative. This was part of a more general trend of postmodernism that was popular. Currently anthropology focuses on globalization, medicine and biotechnology, indigenous rights, and the anthropology of Europe.
Politics of anthropology
Anthropology's traditional involvement with nonwestern cultures has involved it in politics in many different ways. Some Native Americans and other indigenous people often feel that anthropology is an academic form of colonization, which exists only by coopting and using indigenous culture, often without permission. In the period prior to World War II British anthropologists, and particularly those working in Africa, were seen as collaborating with colonial forces. Today these concerns take the form of concerns over bioprospecting and ownership of native culture, together with ongoing struggles for the repatriation of indigenous remains and material culture.
American anthropology's emphasis on cultural relativism and its long_standing antipathy to the concept of race has always been political. As mentioned above, Boas was a well_known social reformer whose activism and anthropological teaching went hand in hand. The development of sociobiology in the late 1960s was opposed by anthropologists such as Marshall Sahlins, who argued that these positions were reductive. Authors such as Kevin B. MacDonald have drawn on evolutionary psychology to explain Boasian anthropology, arguing that Boasianism is a part of a Jewish leftist strategy to weaken gentile society. A study by Littlefield et al. supports this view, although many have argued that MacDonald's scholarship is shoddy and his viewpoints are anti-semitic. While authors such John Randal Baker continued to develop the biological concept of race into the 1970s, the rise of genetics has proven to be central to developments on this front. As genetics continues to advance as a science, biological anthropologists such as Jonathan Marks have continued to refine their opposition to folk notions of race while addressing recent developments in biology.
Anthropology also has a history of entanglement with government intelligence agencies and anti-war politics. Boas publicly objected to US participation World War I, and the collaboration that some anthropologists undertook with US intelligence services during that conflict. Anthropologists were also active during World War II. Half of all anthropologists were active in the war effort in some form, and dozens served in the Office of Strategic Services and the Office of War Information. In the 1950s the American Anthropological Association provided the CIA information on the areal specialities of its members, and a number of anthropologists participated in the U.S. government's "Operation Camelot" during the war in Vietnam. However many other anthropologists were active in the anti-War movement and passed resolutions in the American Anthropological Association (AAA) condemning anthropological involvement in covert operations. Anthropologists were also vocal in ther opposition to the war in Iraq. Today, it is not ethically acceptable for anthropologists to give secret briefings. The AAA's current 'Statement of Professional Responsibility' clearly states that "in relation with their own government and with host governments... no secret research, no secret reports or debriefings of any kind should be agreed to or given." Although it is worth noting that a recent AAA commission on ethics stated that the AAA could not enforce its ethical principles, which gives this injunction the status of a guideline rather than an enforced rule.
Anthropological fields and subfields
- The American Anthropological Association Homepage (http://www.aaanet.org/) - the webpage of the largest professional organization of anthropologists in the world.
- Race (http://www.worldcatlibraries.org/wcpa/ow/09dbb3346fc1c2a4.html) - a book by John Randal Barker discussing the origins of racial classification and oppositions to the concept.
- Anthropologists as Spies (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20001120&c=2&s=price) - an article by David Price examining the relationship between American Anthropology and US intelligence services.
- Social and Cultural Anthropology in the News (http://www.antropologi.info/anthropology) - (nearly) daily updated blog
- Anthrobase.com (http://www.anthrobase.com) - Collection of anthropological texts