Note: this is a list of Frequently Asked Questions and not a discussion thread itself, which is why it is a locked thread. However, discussion of any of the information below is certainly welcome as a separate thread. Please feel free to PM me with ideas to add to the FAQ. Unanswered questions that might be listed below will get answers soon!
What is anthropology?
The term anthropology comes from the Greek anthropos, meaning "man," and logos, meaning "study." So, quite simply, it's the study of man. More broadly (and, for some, more politically correct), it's the infinite curiosity and study of human beings, past and present. Anthropologists are interested in how, when, where, and to a certain extent- why human beings appeared on Earth. How we evolved and what we evolved from. What were the driving forces in our evolution and development. What did our ancestors believe and do? How did they live as a culture? How did they interact with other cultures? What, if anything, can the past tell us about the present and vice versa?
What are the four major fields of anthropology?
There are four major fields of study in anthropology, but some will say there are two, with one having three sub-fields within. Certainly, biological (physical) anthropology is indisputably a major field of anthropology. Cultural anthropology is the second, with three sub-fields: ethnology, anthropological linguistics, and archaeology. But lets explore them as four separate fields.
Biological (physical) anthropology. This field of anthropology is concerned with two main points of focus: paleoanthropology and medical anthropology. Researchers in the first seek to answer questions about human emergence, evolution, and migration. These researchers might be interested in the fossil hominids of the Olduvai Gorge for instance. Researchers of the second seek to explain biological variation and environmental interaction with contemporary human individuals and societies. Researchers of this latter group might study fetal development in developing nations or forensic discovery for a medical examiner.
Ethnology is the study of modern peoples and those of the recent past in an effort to discover patterns of thought and behavior among societies and cultural or ethnic groups. This branch is often referred to as cultural anthropology and its researchers are often referred to as ethnologists or, more commonly, ethnographers. The ethnographer generally spends time with the cultural group he or she is studying using methods like participant observation in an effort to answer questions about economics and subsistence, political and religious motivations, etc.
Anthropological linguistics. These anthropologists are among the rarest in number compared to the other fields, but they can also be among the more interesting. Anthropological linguists study the social, descriptive, and historical linguistic aspects of a culture. They're interested in how languages evolved over time, how sounds and words are constructed into speech, and how people interact socially through conversation. They're also interested in how culture influences language and how language influences culture.
Archaeology. This is the study of cultures and societies through their material remains. Archaeologist reach back much further in time than historians, but their goals are often the same, which is often to answer questions about social structure, political and religious motivations, subsistence strategies and economic exchange, cultural origins and even cultural and economic collapse.
What is culture?
Culture is the shared rules, ideas, aspects, etc. that surround behavior within one or more social groups. The definitions of culture vary, but a good definition for anthropological purposes comes from Ralph Linton:
Culture refers to the total way of life of any society, not simply to those parts of this way which the society regards as higher or more desirable. Thus culture, when applied to our own way of life, has nothing to do with playing the piano or reading Browning. For the social scientist such activities are simply elements within the totality of our culture. This totality also includes such mundane activities as washing dishes or driving an automobile, and for the purposes of cultural studies these stand quite on a par with "the finer things of life." It follows that for the social scientist there are no uncultured societies or even individuals. Every society has a culture, no matter how simple this culture may be, and every human being is cultured, in the sense of participating in some culture or other.
I'll be adding more to this FAQ in the very near future!
What are some major theories and theorists in anthropology?
What are some major theories and theorists in archaeology?
What are some major debates in anthropology?
What are some good resources in anthropology?