What is Anthropology?
The term anthropology has been coined from two Greek words, anthropos which means 'man' and logy which stands for ' the science of'. It involves the study of the human species at any place on the earth, at any given time; be it in the busy neighborhood of Los Angeles or the dense forests of the Amazon.
While subjects like economics and biology focus on specific aspects of human life, anthropology is the only discipline that addresses all facets of human existence. There are anthropologists who study fossils to solve the riddles of human evolution, while there are others who try to understand the effect of modernization on contemporary societies.
Branches of Anthropology
Culture is an important tool for human survival. It is a complex whole of knowledge, morals, traditions, arts, and customs that we have learned as being a part of a society. It is transferred over generations non-biologically, through words and symbols. Cultural anthropologists try to understand the logic behind cultural norms. They believe that no tradition or cultural practice is wrong.
Cultural Anthropology is Experiential
Scarring of the body might seem bizarre to us, however, a study of the culture of African tribes that follow this ritual has shown that this is a highly relevant practice. During research, cultural anthropologists live within a community, observe their customs, and try to understand them in comparison to the practices of other societies.
Cultural anthropologists may study a society living on the far end of the globe, or may concentrate on certain segments of our own society, like the corporate sector, laborers, or slum dwellers.
Language is an important agent of transmission of culture. It is an accomplishment of the human species that has given it an edge over the rest of the animals in the living world. In their endeavor to understand the origin and evolution of a language and oral traditions, linguistic anthropologists gain valuable insights into the culture of a community.
Linguistic anthropologists understand prehistoric links between various societies and explore the meaning of verbal concepts to learn about the conditions that existed in the past, and how humans adjusted to those. Besides studying language in a cultural aspect, linguistic anthropologists also try to understand the biological implications of the language. This involves studying changes in the human brain and body, which enabled us to organize sounds in a meaningful way.
Archaeology deals with studying the tangible remains of a culture. Fortunately, human beings leave clues about their ways of life, not only in words and alphabets, but also in the form of material remains like potsherds, foundation of houses, stone tools, and burials. These reveal important information about the beliefs and traditions of a particular civilization or community.
Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, deals with tracing the biological origins, evolutionary changes, and the genetic diversity of the human species. In the process, biological anthropologists study primate behavior, and the anatomical variations between primates and human beings in order to understand physical changes that have taken place in humans during their evolutionary journey from apes.
Biological anthropologists may also take up genetic analysis and anthropometric studies to find reasons behind the physical differences between people of various groups.
Anthropology also has other divisions like forensic, medical, and ecological anthropology. Although each branch is a specialized field of study, they are interrelated. This gives anthropologists an edge over researchers from other fields in addressing human problems, as they study human existence, not in isolation but in totality.