Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

1: The Development of Anthropological Ideas (Nader)

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  • Identify the central concepts of cultural anthropology and describe how each of these concepts contributed to the development of the discipline.
  • Describe the role anthropologists play in examining cultural assumptions and explain how the anthropological perspective differs from both ethnocentrism and American exceptionalism.
  • Explain the relationship between early anthropology and colonialism and assess the ways inwhich the demise of colonialism changed the practice of anthropology.
  • Evaluate the topical or thematic specializations that exist within contemporary anthropologyas examples of the range of questions and concerns anthropologists address.

Anthropology is the study of humankind, otherwise known as Homo sapiens, the wise primate. It is about our history, our prehistory before written records, our biology, our language, our distribution of peoples all over the planet, and the cultural and social aspects of our existence. The methods we use on this journey are varied and eclectic—an unusual discipline. What is perhaps unique about anthropology is its global quality, its comparative potential, and its integrative possibilities, which result from its examination of histories, biologies, languages, and socio-cultural variations.

  • 1.1: Introduction to the Development of Anthropological Ideas
    n the nineteenth century, archaeology challenged short chronologies of biblical origin with longer time depth, while biological and cultural anthropology questioned stereotyped thinking about race and ethnicity. Socio-cultural anthropology moved from armchair theorizing to first-hand fieldwork and, with the concept of cultural relativism, challenged predominant theories of the day, including scientific theories.
  • 1.2: Central Concepts
    A central concept in our discipline is the idea of culture, a concept that changed how we explain human differences. The four fields—archeological, cultural, linguistic, and physical anthropology—defined most departments in the United States until more recently when four became five with medical anthropology. y the mid-twentieth century, the major concepts were in place for the discipline—culture, comparison, and ethnography as participation fieldwork.
  • 1.3: The Fall of Colonialism and The Rise of Newly Independent States
    The demise of colonialism and emergence of new independent states gave rise to issues such as plundering of resources, and the new nations produced their own ethnographers whose approaches to anthropology were different from the approaches used by the Euro-American colonial powers. Anthropologists from Mexico, Brazil, and the Indian subcontinent primarily studied their own people. Only the travelers from these former colonial countries thought about the colonialists as their “other.”
  • 1.4: Specialization—A Wide Range
  • 1.5: Conclusion to the Development of Anthropological Ideas
  • 1.S: Discussion Quesions and Glossary