Anthropology Essay

This essay has a total of 1436 words and 9 pages.

Anthropology



Anthropology may be dissected into four main perspectives, firstly physical or biological
anthropology, which is an area of study concerned with human evolution and human
adaptation. Its main components are human paleontology, the study of our fossil records,
and human genetics, which examines the ways in which human beings differ from each other.
Also adopted are aspects of human ecology, ethnology, demography, nutrition, and
environmental physiology. From the physical anthropologist we learn the capabilities for
bearing culture that distinguish us from other species.

Secondly archaeology, which follows from physical anthropology, reassembles the evolution
of culture by examining the physical remains of past societies. Its difference from
physical anthropology being its concern with culture rather than the biological aspects
off the human species. Archaeologists must assess and analyse their subject culture from
accidental remains, which can only provide an incomplete picture.

Thirdly, Anthropological linguistics is a field within anthropology which focuses upon the
relationship between language and cultural behaviour. Anthropological linguists ask
questions about language and communication to aid the appraisement of society rather than
a descriptive or linguistic assessment. For example Freil and Pfeiffer (1977) cite an
assessment of the Inuit language where there are twelve unrelated words for wind and
twenty-two for snow, showing the difference in significance by comparison with our own
society. The deduction being that wind and snow are more significant to the Inuit so they
scrutinise them more rigorously and can clearly define them accordingly. This kind of
linguistic analysis facilitates a better understanding of a foreign culture to help place
it into context to allow contrast.

Fourthly, social anthropology is the study of human social life or society, concerned with
examining social behavior and social relationships. As the focus of social anthropology is
on patterns of social connection, it is commonly contrasted with the branch of
anthropology that examines culture, that is, learnt and inherited beliefs and standards of
behavior and in particular the meanings, values and codes of conduct. Cultural
anthropology (the study of culture in its social context) is associated particularly with
American anthropology (specifically, in the United States), and social anthropology with
European, especially British studies, which have tended to be more sociological, that is,
they are more concerned with understanding society. However, culture and society are
interdependent, and today the single term "sociocultural anthropology" is sometimes used.

The social anthropologist uses a number of cultural ethnographic studies to construct an
ethnological study. A social anthropological definition of culture is given by J.P.Spenley
in 'The Ethnographic Interview' (1979), culture is "the acquired knowledge that people use
to interpret, experience and generate social behaviour". By this interpretation culture is
not the physical characteristics of any society but the reasoning behind those
characteristics, it is a body of implicit and explicit knowledge shared by a group of
people. It is used by people individually as a map to determine their behaviour in any
given situation. Spendley's definition does not divert from the significance of behaviour,
customs, objects or emotions, these are essential tools for the anthropologist which allow
the interpretation of culture to facilitate the tracking down of cultural meaning.
Ethnographic study is a search to uncover this meaning which is the root cause of cultural
differences and can therefore be seen as the definition of any culture.

There has been considerable theoretical debate by anthropologists over the most useful
attributes that a technical concept of culture should stress. For example, in 1952 Alfred
Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, American anthropologists, published a list of 160 different
definitions of culture. A brief table of this list next page, shows the diversity of the
anthropological concept of culture.



TABLE: Diverse Definitions of Culture:

Topical:
Culture consists of everything on a list of topics, or categories, such as social
organization, religion, or economy
Historical:
Culture is social heritage, or tradition, that is passed on to future generations
Behavioral:
Culture is shared, learned human behavior, a way of life
Normative:
Culture is ideals, values, or rules for living
Functional:
Culture is the way humans solve problems of adapting to the environment or living together
Mental:
Culture is a complex of ideas, or learned habits, that inhibit impulses and distinguish people from animals
Structural:
Culture consists of patterned and interrelated ideas, symbols, or behaviors
Symbolic:
Culture is based on arbitrarily assigned meanings that are shared by a society.

(John H. Bodley, An Anthropological Perspective 1994)

We tend not to be aware of our cultural meaning expressed through our cultural norms, we
tend to accept as correct our cultural definitions unless confronted by cultural
difference, as Anthony P. Cohen is quoted in Small Places, Big Issues, "People become
aware of their culture when they stand at its boundaries: when they encounter other
cultures, or when they become aware of other ways of doing things, or merely
contradictions to their own culture". Without ethnographic difference culture itself
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