As the word suggests, cultural anthropology is the study of human cultures. It involves the analysis of social groups to understand the different beliefs, values, and practices that characterize those communities. Anthropologists have traditionally focused on non-Western cultures and recently have become interested in studying our digital society from a sociological perspective. Cultural anthropology is an interdisciplinary field covering a variety of topics such as rituals, education, marriage, art, music, technology, and customs. In this article, we will explore the history of cultural anthropology and what anthropologists do.
What Does an Anthropologist Do?
Anthropologists are social scientists who conduct research to study human cultures and societies. They are interested in the way that people live and interact with one another and with the effects of social structures and cultural norms on human behavior. Anthropologists explore these issues through a combination of fieldwork and the analysis of data. There is a wide range of specializations within the field of anthropology. A cultural anthropologist researches how the beliefs, values, and practices of a specific social function within the social and economic context of that society. A biological anthropologist studies human evolution and health, and a linguistic anthropologist examines the development of language and communication. Anthropologists specializing in archaeology investigate the history of humans through the study of physical remains, such as tools, pottery, and architecture. And anthropologists who are sociologists study the relationship between individuals and society, and the ways that society organizes resources and power.
The History of Cultural Anthropology
Cultural anthropology as we know it today has its roots in the 19th century when scholars started studying the world's cultures. Many of these early cultural anthropologists traveled to exotic, far-flung places to record the way people lived and to collect artifacts that would shed light on the past. The subjects of their research were often non-Western peoples in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. However, they weren’t interested in these people as in other cultures. They were often looking for traces of their own culture that they thought they saw in the customs and beliefs of those they studied. For example, they would find motifs in Native American pottery that resembled Greek architecture, or they would notice that Polynesian words sounded like Latin. They had no other explanation for these similarities than the notion that people living in very distant parts of the world must have somehow come into contact with each other. This idea of cultural diffusion was the prevailing theory of cultural anthropology until the 1950s. The theory of cultural evolution, which was developed by Charles Darwin and became the prevailing scientific theory of human development, also influenced cultural anthropology. Darwin argued that all life evolved from one single source and that all cultures emerged from a single culture and developed as a result of biological and environmental pressures.
Cultural Anthropology subfields
Cultural anthropology is a very broad field that can be divided into many subfields. These subfields include cultural and linguistic anthropology, archaeology, and sociological anthropology. Cultural anthropologists are interested in studying different types of cultures to gain insight into the ways that humans thrive in society. Cultural anthropologists are often interested in studying specific topics, such as the relationship between health and culture. They may choose to specialize in a certain region, group of people or type of society. Linguistic anthropologists focus on studying language and communication between humans. They may look at how a specific language affects the way its speakers see the world, or at the relationship between language and social identity. Archaeologists focus on studying past cultures through the analysis of artifacts and physical remains. They may study how the history of a particular region is reflected in the cultures that once inhabited the area, or they may examine how the development of new technologies has changed human society over time.
Cultural Competence and Applied Anthropology
Applied anthropology is a subfield of cultural anthropology that focuses on applying the research done by cultural anthropologists to real-world issues. In this way, applied anthropologists help communities understand the challenges they face, and they may suggest possible solutions that could improve the quality of life for those people. Cultural competency is an important concept in applied anthropology. Cultural anthropologists strive to be culturally competent in their work, which means understanding the difference between one’s own culture and the culture being studied. This allows anthropologists to avoid imposing their ideas and values on the people they are studying, which would result in inaccurate conclusions. Cultural anthropologists often use the term “local knowledge” to describe the information gathered by people who are familiar with the customs and social norms of a specific society. Applied anthropologists believe that local knowledge must be valued and used in conjunction with more scientific methods of inquiry. This allows cultural anthropologists to tap into a wide variety of sources of information, including the observations and experiences of native people.
Criticisms of Cultural Anthropology
Cultural anthropology has traditionally focused on non-Western cultures, which has led to some criticism. Some cultural anthropologists have accused their colleagues of being ethnocentric or focused on studying the cultures of their society or the societies that are similar to their own. In other words, they’re looking for similarities in other cultures rather than differences. Cultural anthropologists have responded to this criticism by studying more Western cultures, such as American society, and also by studying other disciplines, including economics, law, and psychology. This criticism can also be applied to applied anthropology. Critics have argued that local knowledge isn’t always accurate or reliable. They’ve also argued that the solutions suggested by applied anthropologists often don’t take into account the broader social and economic context in which the problem exists.
Cultural anthropology is a very broad field of research that can be applied to many different areas. Cultural anthropologists may choose to focus on a certain group of people, or they may be interested in studying a particular topic, such as the relationship between health and culture. Cultural anthropologists strive to be culturally competent in their work, which means understanding the difference between one’s own culture and the culture being studied.