|  Introduction to Anthropology  |  Overview

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Overview



What Makes Anthropology Unique?

What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of humankind. This may sound like a bold statement, but it's true. Of course, other disciplines can lay claim to humanity as a central focus; scholars of history, sociology, art, economics, philosophy, for example, all study humankind. So what, then, makes anthropology unique?

While other disciplines may focus on humankind, anthropology does so in a unique fashion. Fields of study like sociology, psychology, and art history all focus on one particular aspect of the human experience (e.g. society, the psyche, art). Anthropology, however, considers humanity from a much broader perspective. Indeed, it could be said that anthropology is the study of all people everywhere throughout all of time.

This holism is what makes anthropology unique. Anthropologists examine the interaction of all aspects of human life. Also, anthropologists attempt to do so in a comparative manner; if you really want to study humanity as a whole, then you must visit and compare societies from every corner of the planet. Wherever people are, there is anthropology. Many anthropologists have studied native people in far off lands. In the interest of true holism, however, many anthropologists have also studied people much closer to home. Anthropological studies of restaurants, gyms, and small Midwestern American towns exist alongside studies of village life in southern India and the trading practices of the Trobriand Islanders.

People change. Any holistic examination of humanity must seek to describe and explain the changes so common to our social lives. Consider gender. What was a 'manly' mode of American dress in the late 18th century? Surely, the framers of the constitution were exemplary men. It is doubtful, however, that their powdered wigs, tights, ruffles, and heels would be considered 'manly' attire now. Similarly, many items of women's apparel in contemporary America are essentially subtle variations of male attire. Female students can be commonly seen in jeans, tee shirts, and baseball hats; one hundred and fifty years ago this would be unheard of. In essence, when compared to dress modes of the past, today's women are cross-dressing. So, to study gender and dress is to study and ever-changing social phenomena. Anthropologists recognize this change as an essential and important aspect of our species.

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