Discipline One: Anthropology   no comments

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What is anthropology and what do anthropologists do?

Anthropologists can study just about anything that involves human behaviour. Strange (2009) states that the broadest definition of anthropology classes it as a social science involving the study of human groups and their behaviour, their interactions with each other and their physical environments.

Anthropology can also interact with many other disciplines; such as archaeology and the study of past societies, or in studying contemporary societies an anthropologist can sit alongside sociologists and psychologists to employ more quantitative methods or focus more on individuals.

Anthropology is therefore a very broad discipline with large sub-disciplinary areas – such as social anthropology, cultural anthropology, political anthropology, the anthropology of religion, environmental anthropology… basically, if it exists, anthropologists can study it.

It might seem as if nothing can unite this diversity but anthropology is holistic at heart, attempting to place whatever behaviour it examines within its social and environmental context. By nature, anthropology also aims to be very in-depth to fully understand the full range of people’s lives. To do this it relies on data collected in the field and since this is often hard to operationalize and measure, anthropology tends to be more qualitative, often employing the methodology known as ethnography to study its participants. Ethnography creates a portrait of a group and its dynamics – looking at the groups history and composition, its institutions and belief systems.

Therefore, anthropology attempts to account for the social and cultural variation in the world but a crucial part of the discipline is centred around conceptualising and understanding similarities between social systems and human relationships – therefore anthropologists ‘ask large questions while at the same time draw on the important insights of small places’ (Eriksen, 2010:2).


Eriksen, T H (2010) Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology London: Pluto Press

Strang, V (2009) What Anthropologists Do Oxford: Berg


Written by Amy Lynch on October 25th, 2013

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