An introduction to Anthropology

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The word ‘anthropology’ came from the Greek words: ‘Anthropos’ and ‘logos’. ‘Anthropos’ means ‘man’ which we can extend to mean ‘all of humanity’. Certainly, we all know what ‘logos’ means; ‘the study of’. So the word ‘anthropology’ means the study of all of humanity.


Definition One: Anthropology is the study of the human, humanity, and human condition with an approach to include everything.

Definition Two: "Anthropology is less a subject matter than a bond between subject matters. It is part history, part literature; in part natural science, part social science; it strives to study men both from within and without; it represents both a manner of looking at man and a vision of man--the most scientific of the humanities, the most humanist of sciences.” -- Eric Wolf, Anthropology, 1964.

Place in Modern Academia:

Anthropology is usually a Social Science. It was developed in the 19th century as part of the birth of social sciences, along with Sociology, Psychology, and Political Science.

Scopes of Study:

Anthropology is regarded as the umbrella discipline that includes every other discipline that studies human and any aspect of human. If humans are involved in anything, anthropology studies it. Thus, it is a very broad discipline of study, perhaps so broad that you cannot get a clear idea what you might begin with. However, anthropologists have broken it into four subfields: this breaking up into four fields is called the ‘quadripartite approach’ in anthropology.

Quadripartite Approach:

The subfields of anthropology are:

  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Biological Anthropology
  • Archaeology

a. Cultural Anthropology:

Cultural Anthropology focuses on the living (or recently living) cultures. This subfield of anthropology identifies and analyzes the rules of social behavior and it studies the ways people recognize themselves in their societies and the world.

b. Linguistic Anthropology:

Linguistic Anthropology focuses on human communication. This subfield of anthropology studies the ways we (human beings) structure our communication. It includes components on how the brain and speech emerged together. Both psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics are the major subjects of linguistic anthropology. However, linguistics and applied linguistics are themselves become an autonomous discipline now and they are inseparable from linguistic anthropology.

c. Biological Anthropology:

Biological anthropology studies the human being as a species. The focus of biological anthropology is the evolution of human beings as a species. Biological anthropology covers a lot of subjects which are associated with biology and history of human beings. One of the most important and valuable subjects of biological anthropology is forensic anthropology. It is a subfield of applied physical anthropology. Forensic anthropology studies the human remains to identify the human in a legal setting.

d. Archeology:

Though archeology has emerged as an autonomous discipline itself like linguistics, it is still and always will be regarded as a subfield of anthropology because of its relation to humanity. Archeology studies humanity and the history of humanity through the remains left behind by the people of the past. It provides a unique view of culture, language, and physical forms according to the evidence it finds in different parts of the world. It explores the lost civilizations & cultures of the past.

These four fields are interconnected and you cannot leave one in the discussion of the others because they are all related to humans. Anthropology is a unique discipline of knowledge and education in the history of human development.   

The Approach of Anthropology:

Anthropology is unique because it has a unique approach which is called holism or holistic approach. Holism is the notion that sets anthropology apart from other social sciences. Anthropology adds factors and looks for interrelatedness whereas other social sciences often look for prime movers and single causal factors.

Application of Anthropology:

Application of anthropology is much wider nowadays than any other discipline of social sciences. Applied anthropology is becoming popular and mighty effective in professional sector as a discipline. The methods and approaches of theoretical anthropology are being used to solve many practical problems. Forensic anthropology is a popular field of applied anthropology with many other fields. 

Read More: Basic Concepts of Archeology

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