Cultural Anthropology | Fastweb

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans. It is in contrast to social anthropology, which perceives cultural variation as a subset of the anthropological constant.

Cultural anthropology has a rich methodology, including participant observation (often called fieldwork because it requires the anthropologist spending an extended period of time at the research location), interviews, and surveys.

One of the earliest articulations of the anthropological meaning of the term "culture" came from Sir Edward Tylor who writes on the first page of his 1871 book: "Culture, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." The term "civilization" later gave way to definitions given by V. Gordon Childe, with culture forming an umbrella term and civilization becoming a particular kind of culture.

The anthropological concept of "culture" reflects in part a reaction against earlier Western discourses based on an opposition between "culture" and "nature", according to which some human beings lived in a "state of nature".[citation needed] Anthropologists have argued that culture is "human nature", and that all people have a capacity to classify experiences, encode classifications symbolically (i.e. in language), and teach such abstractions to others.

Since humans acquire culture through the learning processes of enculturation and socialization, people living in different places or different circumstances develop different cultures. Anthropologists have also pointed out that through culture people can adapt to their environment in non-genetic ways, so people living in different environments will often have different cultures. Much of anthropological theory has originated in an appreciation of and interest in the tension between the local (particular cultures) and the global (a universal human nature, or the web of connections between people in distinct places/circumstances).

The rise of cultural anthropology took place within the context of the late 19th century, when questions regarding which cultures were "primitive" and which were "civilized" occupied the minds of not only Marx and Freud, but many others. Colonialism and its processes increasingly brought European thinkers into direct or indirect contact with "primitive others." The relative status of various humans, some of whom had modern advanced technologies that included engines and telegraphs, while others lacked anything but face-to-face communication techniques and still lived a Paleolithic lifestyle, was of interest to the first generation of cultural anthropologists.

Parallel with the rise of cultural anthropology in the United States, social anthropology, in which sociality is the central concept and which focuses on the study of social statuses and roles, groups, institutions, and the relations among them—developed as an academic discipline in Britain and in France. The umbrella term socio-cultural anthropology draws upon both cultural and social anthropology traditions.

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