What Is Anthropology?

Anthropology is concerned with everything that is human, in all parts of the world, both present and past. It is unique among the social sciences in the breadth of its scope. Most disciplines focus only on modern civilization or concentrate on single aspects of life, such as government or the economy. Anthropology is interested in all human societies and views life as a complexly integrated whole that is more than the sum of its parts. It is the human experience as a whole that anthropology seeks to understand.

The breadth of anthropology is reflected in its four subfields. Physical anthropology studies biological evolution and how heredity conditions that ways we conduct life. Cultural anthropology, by studying the enormous diversity of lifeways in contemporary cultures throughout the world, attempts to explain both differences and similarities in the way different peoples carry out the process of living. Archaeology explores the human past far beyond the range of written records, using specialized techniques to probe human prehistory. Linguistic anthropology investigates the nature of language and the critical role it has played in developing our unique intellectual capabilities and behavior. The central concept in anthropology is culture, and it is this vital idea which binds the subfields into an integrated discipline.