IB Cultural Anthropology/The Nature of Anthropology/Fields of Anthropology

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Anthropology is the study of humans. There are four major subdivisions of this discipline: physical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, and cultural anthropology. This course will concentrate on cultural anthropology.

Physical Anthropology[edit]

Physical Anthropology is the study of the connection between human physiology and culture. It seeks to explain human variation and evolution in biological terms. For example, why do the Netsilik Eskimos tend to be short and stout, whereas the Nuer and Afar of Ethiopia are generally tall and slim?

Within physical anthropology are several subfields such as forensic anthropology, paleoanthropology, and primate anthropology. Forensic anthropology is concerned with studying the remains of humans for legal purposes. Paleoanthropology is the study of human evolution. Primatology is the study of non-human primates in order to find connections between these species and humans that help understand the evolution of Homo sapiens. Behaviors and physical features found in both human and non-human primates sometimes point to ancient traits held by a shared ancestor more than six million years ago.

Linguistic Anthropology[edit]

This is the study of the connection between human language and culture. It seeks to explain why a culture communicates the way it does. For example, why do the Yanomamo not have a word for “thank you” in their language?

Linguistic anthropology also has several subfields, some of which being sociolinguistics and historical linguistics.


This is the study of extinct human cultures by excavating their remains.

Certain subfields of archaeology cross over with other disciplines. For example, paleoanthropology is both a subfield of archaeology and physical anthropology. It is actually a part of a more general subfield of archaeology- prehistoric archaeology. Other subfields of archaeology include classical archaeology and modern archaeology. Classical archaeology is the study of past cultures with a written history (the Greeks, for example). Modern archaeology is the study of modern cultures through excavations. Modern archaeologists might, for example, conduct excavations in city dumps to understand American culture in the 1950s.

Cultural Anthropology[edit]

This course will spend most of its time on this subfield of anthropology. This is the study of the cultures of present-day groups.

Like the other three, this subfield has its own subfields. Some of these include applied anthropology, medical anthropology, ethnology, and ethnography.

Applied Anthropology[edit]

Applied anthropology is the use of the knowledge of the culture of a group to ease interaction between that group and a group with a different culture. 50% of all anthropologists are applied anthropologists. They are used by the UN, corporations, and other organizations. It’s the most profitable field of anthropology, with many jobs in the six-figure range.

Medical Anthropologyy[edit]

Medical anthropology is a branch of applied anthropology. It is the joint use of both a group’s culture and Western medicine to treat illnesses in developing nations. Knowledge of the local culture can be very important. The Trobrianders, for example, believe in witchcraft. If you are sick, then someone has used witchcraft to make you sick. Thus, saying that a previously sick person made someone sick is accusing them of witchcraft. Needless to say, the consequences of that accusation can be severe!

Ethnology and Ethnography[edit]

Ethnology is the comparative study of multiple cultures. Ethnography is a detailed study of a single culture.

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