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Anthropology is 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 the notion that human nature is culture; 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:

More recently, some anthropology programs in the U.S. began dividing the field into two, one emphasizing the humanities and critical theory, the other emphasizing the natural sciences and positivism.

Table of contents
1 Historical and institutional context
2 Anthropology in the U.S.
3 Anthropology in Britain
4 Anthropology in France
5 Anthropology After World War Two
6 Anthropological concepts
7 Anthropological fields and subfields
8 See also

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.

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 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 African 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.

Anthropology in the U.S.

Anthropology in the United States was essentially founded 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 generalizations. Boas studied immigrant children in order to demonstrate that biological race was not immutable and that humans conduct and behavior was the result of nature rather than nurture. 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.

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 evolutionary theory. 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 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 Emile 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.

Anthropological concepts

Anthropological fields and subfields

See also