Understanding Cultural Anthropology


Anthropology is an academic discipline concerned with the study of human societies, cultural aspects and their development. The main objective in the study of anthropology is to understand, describe and explain observed human similarities or variations as well as the various differences among people over time & across space. As anthropologists we interest ourselves with not just observing or describing people’s cultures in societies but also attempting to account for the differences and similarities. We aim at stating the various conditions behind the similarities and differences that we observe as well as the changes that may over time in certain populations. Cultural variations, people’s behaviors, beliefs and in the various environments are therefore very important aspects of the study of anthropology. 

The four field approach has brought about certain inter-disciplinary norms that inform the standards in modern anthropological studies. The field is divided into four major sub-disciplines that clearly determine the areas of responsibility in solving problems. These include archeology, biological/physical anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. Archeology involves the use of remains of past cultures to study human behaviors and adaptations. The biological field on the other hand studies human biological systems such as diversity, evolution and medical anthropology.  Cultural anthropology is concerned with the study of behaviors and belief systems in the world’s cultures. The linguistic field on its part documents language patterns, acquisition, use and transfer between cultures (Miller, 2016). 

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Culture is the sum total of socially learned attributes of knowledge, belief systems, values, morals, arts customs, laws and other capabilities that are acquired by people in societies. The socially learned knowledge encompasses beliefs, concepts, rules, strategies and ideas. Values on the hand involve sentiments and preferences. The knowledge and values together generate behavior such as material artifacts, speech and actions. Culture is acquired by members of society and as such can’t be observed in a direct manner. It is therefore inferred through study and observation of artifacts and phenomenal representations. Components culture include rules that determine behavior and beliefs explaining why and how certain things occur in society. 

Culturally anthropologists attempt to understand the various cultures of the world and explain the differences in cultures of the world. They are interested in how people in different cultures behave and the factors behind the existing differences of cultures. Their work therefore basically involves the use of material artifacts to make inferences on the differences between cultures. Therefore the most common research methods for cultural anthropologies include joining the societies, recording observations of their cultural behaviors and analyzing the same to arrive at conclusions regarding conditions behind the behaviors. Ethics is very important for anthropologies since their research involves living in societies so as to study their cultures. They must therefore adhere to ethical standards when interacting with people in their communities so as to avoid undermining their research (Gatewood, 2012).

Anthropological perspectives apply to my discipline in one major way. Observation and inference which is an important aspect of anthropology is also very important in my discipline and many others when it comes to understanding phenomena. Whereas there may be more precise methodical ways explaining phenomena such as statistical approaches and the scientific method, observation of a phenomena is a must. One thing that I will be taking away from the course is the importance of anthropology in the field of medicine.

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  1. Barbara D. Miller. (2016). REVEL for Cultural Anthropology, 8th Ed. Pearson. 
  2. John B. Gatewood. (2012). Cultural Models, Consensus Analysis, and the Social Organization of Knowledge. 
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